Here´s a word you don´t hear very often but the meaning of it should be common knowledge. The word is sarcopenia.
What is it and why should I bother knowing about it? Well, for starters, every single living person that reaches an advanced age on the planet will experience it – without exception.
According to PubMed.gov, Sarcopenia is a progressive and generalized skeletal muscle disorder involving the accelerated loss of muscle mass and function that is associated with increased adverse outcomes including falls, functional decline, frailty, and mortality. It occurs commonly as an age-related process in older people, influenced not only by contemporaneous risk factors, but also by genetic and lifestyle factors operating across the life course. It can also occur in mid-life in association with a range of conditions. Sarcopenia has become the focus of intense research aiming to translate current knowledge about its pathophysiology into improved diagnosis and treatment, with particular interest in the development of biomarkers, nutritional interventions, and drugs to augment the beneficial effects of resistance exercise. Designing effective preventive strategies that people can apply during their lifetime is of primary concern. Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sarcopenia is likely to become part of routine clinical practice.
So what are we looking at here as far as the level of decline? The rate of muscle loss varies among individuals, but generally we´re looking at a 3%-5% decline per decade after age 30. According to a 2018 study, typical muscle loss accrues at a rate of 1% per year. There is an acceleration of muscle loss between the ages of 65-80 of up to 8% per decade, and inactive seniors can lose even more. Once in your 80´s and up, the decline can get quite scary.
The PubMed definition offers a list of “increased adverse outcomes” related to the decline. I want to take a minute to look at the first one on the list.
Each year 3 million seniors (approx. 1 out of 4 seniors 65 and above) are treated for fall injuries in emergency rooms. Of those, 800,000 are admitted due to head trauma or hip fractures.
If you´ve fallen once, chances are you will fall again. The anticipation of another fall can lead to fear. Fear of falling leads to inactivity which results in “functional decline and frailty.” It´s a vicious circle.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things we can do to reverse these statistics.
Now for some good news!
For starters, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) offers the following:
“Remarkably, physical activity and exercise are well-established countermeasures against muscle aging, and have been shown to attenuate age-related decreases in muscle mass, strength, and regenerative capacity, and slow or prevent impairments in muscle metabolism. We posit that exercise and physical activity can influence many of the changes in muscle during aging, and thus should be emphasized as part of a lifestyle essential to healthy aging.”
Can´t get around it! Exercise, movement, specifically resistance training is key to maintaining lean muscle as we age.
More on this from the NCBI:
“Strength training in the elderly (>60 years) increases muscle strength by increasing muscle mass, and by improving the recruitment of motor units, and increasing their firing rate. Muscle mass can be increased through training at an intensity corresponding to 60% to 85% of the individual maximum voluntary strength. Improving the rate of force development requires training at a higher intensity (above 85%), in the elderly just as in younger persons. It is now recommended that healthy old people should train 3 or 4 times weekly for the best results; persons with poor performance at the outset can achieve improvement even with less frequent training. Side effects are rare.”
The definition of resistance training goes beyond lifting weights. Other modalities such as yoga offer a combination of strength, flexibility, and balance. All extremely beneficial, especially for seniors. Find a modality that works best for you and get started.
The other half of this equation is nutrition and the importance of protein in your diet. An adequate intake of protein, along with essential vitamins and minerals is essential for the development and maintaining of lean muscle. I would recommend consulting a nutritionist or dietician to assist with creating a nutrition plan that optimizes your unique needs.
Finally there is Hormone(for the ladies)/Testosterone (for the guys) Replacement Therapy. In some cases, hormone/testosterone replacement therapy may be recommended to address hormonal imbalances associated with aging. More on this in a future post.
We can´t stop the decline completely but we can decrease the rate of decline and maintain lean muscle as we age making it possible to live a more active and fulfilling life well into our 80´s and beyond.
If you want to know more about sarcopenia, I´ve included a link below from the National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).
Muscle tissue changes with aging - PMC (nih.gov)
The Intensity and Effects of Strength Training in the Elderly - PMC (nih.gov)
Want to know how to get started with an effective resistance training program? Reach out to us with your questions: email@example.com
Here´s to discovering a happier healthier you!