If you are past the age of twenty-five, you are probably shrinking. Don't celebrate yet. You are not losing weight; you are losing muscle. On average we lose 18% of our muscle mass between the ages of twenty and fifty and an additional 20% between the ages of fifty and eighty.(1) Unfortunately, this does not lead to weight loss. We gain about one pound of fat and lose about a half a pound of muscle between the ages of thirty and sixty.(2) In other words, your increased girth is simply increased fat. Sarcopenia is the term used for the loss of muscle as a result of aging.
Even if your weight remains the same, you may still be overweight or even obese. If you still weigh the same but you lost twenty percent of your muscle mass, guess what happened to the weight? That's right! It turned to fat. Sarcopenic obesity is the term used for people who are not obese by the BMI index but whose body fat percentage makes them overweight or obese.
Why should I care?
The consequences of sarcopenia are substantial. Loss of strength leads to falls, disability, limitations on mobility and fractures. It has been linked to a loss of energy and a decline in cognition. It is also linked to increased mortality.(3) In other words, you risk becoming dysfunctional and a burden unless you find a way to limit your loss in strength and power.
What causes sarcopenia?
While the consequences of sarcopenia are great, the causes of it are still being discovered. However, a few culprits have come to the forefront.
* A decrease in strength may come as a result of a loss of type 2 muscle fibers and a decline in muscle motor units.
* A decline in hormones or the body's response to them may contribute to it.
* Oxidative stress and inflammation may play a role in sarcopenia.
* Finally, a decline in protein synthesis and an increase in protein breakdown may play a role.
Avoiding Sarcopenia - What to do?
All is not lost. You can stop and even reverse the process with a few lifestyle modifications.
1. Exercise limits decline. More specifically, resistance training increases muscle strength, power and mass. Resistance training has been shown to increase muscle mass by over eleven percent and strength by over one hundred percent. Results have been shown in as little as 2 thirty minute sessions a week.(1)
2. Of course, just because you need resistance exercises does not mean you should leave out aerobic ones. Aerobic exercise improves endurance, cardiovascular fitness and reduces body fat. And while it will not increase power, it may increase muscle fibers and mitochondrial volume.
3. Make sure you get enough protein. The recommended amount of protein is.35 grams per pound of weight a day. If you exercise, you should eat more. Don't eat it all in one meal but break it up into twenty-five to thirty grams of high quality protein per meal. Eating protein with the amino acid leucine such as soybeans, beef, fish and beans may be particularly beneficial.(2)
4. Eat foods or supplements with creatine. Creatine may help build muscle through its role in cellular and protein metabolism. It also increases phosphocreatine levels which appear to help increase the intensity of workouts. Beef and other meats are the primary source of creatine in the diet so vegetarians may need to supplement it.
5. Eat foods high in antioxidants. Since oxidative stress may be a part of sarcopenia, reducing it should help limit the decline. Supplements and foods with antioxidants such as beans, berries, apples, and pecans may aid in limiting oxidative stress which will help limit muscle loss.
6. Take a Vitamin D supplement. It aids in metabolism and Vitamin D receptors located on the muscles help with protein synthesis.
7. Consider hormone replacement therapy. Hormones such as growth hormones and bio-identical testosterone may aid in increasing muscle mass and strength. Of course, you should consult a medical professional who is qualified in anti-aging medicine before partaking in it.
You are getting older. Don't let the aging process turn you from an active and productive person to a dysfunctional one. Work to avoid or at least limit sarcopenia and its detrimental consequences. Your future children or grandchildren will thank you for it.