Have you heard about sarcopenia? I hadn’t heard this term before, but it’s a word that older members of this community should add to their vocabulary since it’s something we face as we age.
The International Osteoporosis Foundation defines sarcopenia as “a disease associated with the aging process. Loss of muscle mass and strength, which in turn affects balance, gait and overall ability to perform tasks of daily living, are hallmark signs of this disease.”
In fact, experts point out that people between the age of 40 and 80 can lose between 30-50 percent of their muscle mass as they age. This loss of muscle mass can lead to frailty and poor health as people age. Yet we know that frailty isn’t inevitable, as noted by this CBS News story about a 77-year-old grandmother who can dead-lift more than twice her weight, bench press 125 pounds and do numerous pushups.
The effect of diet and exercise
Still, researchers are not clear on the best methods to prevent sarcopenia. For instance, a study out of the University of Southampton found that currently published evidence is inconsistent about the effect of diet and exercise in preventing muscle loss in older adults. “Poor diets and being physically inactive are common in older age,” said Dr. Sian Robinson, who was the lead author. “Understanding the benefits of maintaining sufficient levels of physical activity and diet quality to prevent sarcopenia is therefore a priority.”
The researchers screened 5,000 scientific articles of combined diet and exercise training trials in men and women who were over the age of 65. From these studies, the researchers selected 100 to review more closely, but only included 17 in their study. Their meta-analysis found that more research is needed in order to learn how to prevent sarcopenia.
Ways to maintain muscle mass
So how can we age healthfully? While the University of Southampton research suggests that more studies need to be done, experts currently recommend the following:
- Start lifting weights or doing other types of resistance exercises at least twice a week to protect muscle mass. Ideally, you’ll be doing these exercises regularly when you reach middle age; however, even if you are older, realize that you can gain strength the more you participate in this type of training.
- Consume a steady intake of fuel in the form of protein to manufacture lean tissue. Some researchers recommend getting about 25-30 grams of protein, which can be found in a three-egg cheese omelet or four ounces of lean beef. Some experts also believe that older adults need double the government’s recommended dietary allowance of 46 grams a day for women and 56 grams for men. They hypothesize that this amount is necessary so that these older adults can avoid faster muscle loss, especially if they suffer a prolonged injury.
- Consume the amino acid leucine, which is found in milk, meat and fish, to build muscle mass later in life.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
International Osteoporosis Foundation. (ND). What Is Sarcopenia?
Kotz, D. (2012).Stopping Age-Related Muscle Loss. Boston Globe.
University of Southampton. (2015). Can Diet and Exercise Prevent Muscle Loss in Old Age?
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.