Your muscles are essential for any kind of physical movement. Making up around 40% of your body weight, they also play an important role in regulating metabolic functions in your body, such as balancing blood glucose levels. With age, muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, can occur, and cause certain health problems.
As we grow older, the size and strength of our muscles progressively deteriorates, and affects day to day activities, like standing up from a chair, or climbing the stairs. Less muscle translates to weakness, and restricted mobility.
The prevalence of sarcopenia among individuals between 65-80 years old is around 15%-50%. Given the condition may affect almost one-third of older adults in the community, we should look at common causes and signs.
- Immobility and sedentary lifestyle - often due to serious illness, resulting in being bed bound. Long periods of low physical activity decreases muscle mass and strength.
- Malnutrition - diet low in calories and protein results in weight loss and diminished muscle mass.
- Inflammation - chronic or long-term diseases can lead to chronic inflammation, which interferes with healing, and may result in muscle loss.
- Hormonal changes - growth hormone and testosterone typically declines with age, with low levels of these hormones being linked to sarcopenia.
Signs of Sarcopenia
- Loss of endurance, poor balance
- Decline in muscle mass
- Trouble climbing stairs
- Weight loss and muscle weakness
Sarcopenia may lead one to reduce their physical activities, which contributes to further muscle loss, and negatively impacts quality of life.
Tips To Prevent Sarcopenia
Resistance and fitness training
Building muscle is not all about strength, you also need to build power - how fast and efficiently you move. Resistance or strength training helps achieve this. Resistance training makes your muscles work against a weight or force, and helps boost your hormone levels. In as little as two weeks, it improves your ability to convert protein to energy, in as little as two weeks, which improves your muscle strength and endurance. Research shows that 1-2 short resistance workouts each week can improve muscle mass and strength. Examples of resistance exercise include leg presses, push ups, sit ups, lunges and step ups.
Sustained exercise that raises your heart rate, such as aerobic exercise and endurance training, can also control sarcopenia. Cycling, jogging or hiking, five days per week has been shown to increase muscle mass. Walking can also prevent and reverse sarcopenia, and it’s an activity most of us can do for free.
A physiotherapist to help you customise a workout plan best suited to your needs. Passive exercises through high-frequency sound waves sent to specific areas of the body are also useful to help preserve muscle, and may be more suited to those who are bed ridden.
A diet that provides sufficient calories, protein, and other vital nutrients plays an important role in preventing and reversing muscle wasting. To prevent sarcopenia, the recommended daily protein intake is 1-1.2g per kg of body weight, or 25-30g of high quality protein per meal.
Key nutrients that help prevent Sarcopenia:
- Omega fatty acids
- Vitamin D
- Leucine (Amino acid)
- NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide)
You can get these nutrients as supplements in the form of tablets or powders. Below are some food combinations you could consider to increase your protein intake:
- Add cheese to vegetables, salads, potatoes, rice, noodles, and casseroles.
- Add hard-cooked eggs to salads.
- Consider Greek yogurt alone or add it to fruit and cereal.
- High-protein bars or a fruit smoothie made with milk or yogurt.
- Mashed potatoes, casseroles, puddings, and milk-based desserts.
- Milk rich in vitamin D and calcium
- Select commercial supplements with high-quality protein such as whey, soy based protein, and powdered egg white protein.
- Add nuts, seeds, or wheat germ to casseroles, breads, pancakes or to fruit, cereal and yogurt
- Add beans (eg, navy, kidney, pinto, black) and lentils to soups or salads.
Preventing the development of sarcopenia through regular muscle strengthening exercises, and muscle building nutrients is the way to preserving your muscle mass in your senior years. Take care of your future self today, and you’ll lessen the likelihood of developing age related degenerative conditions.
About the Author
Dr. Eugene He
Eugene is the founder of Invity, a clinical naturopath and a nutraceutical formulator. He has spent the past twenty years educating and writing about nutrition, phytotherapy and general wellness. His work has been featured in Forbes, Yahoo, Tatler, CEW, Allure and many other publications around the world.
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- Yanai, Hidekatsu. “Nutrition for Sarcopenia.” Journal of clinical medicine research vol. 7,12 (2015): 926-31. doi:10.14740/jocmr2361w