Sarcopenia or muscle loss is a common side effect of ageing. Understand how to minimise muscle loss as you age.

Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass and strength due to the natural ageing process. One of the major symptoms of sarcopenia is muscle weakness. Following a sedentary lifestyle and consuming an unhealthy diet can also contribute to this condition, which mostly affects the elderly population. It can largely impact the quality of life by hindering your ability to perform regular tasks. One can feel a loss of independence and the need for long-term care. However, there are ways to deal with sarcopenia and reduce muscle mass loss with age.

Even though some of the causes of sarcopenia are a consequence of the natural process of ageing, others can be prevented. A well-balanced diet and consistent workout can reverse sarcopenia, increasing the span of your life and quality. Let us dive deeper into the causes of sarcopenia, and how to minimise muscle loss as you age.

What is sarcopenia?

The literal meaning of sarcopenia means “lack of flesh”. It is a condition of age-related degeneration of muscles that becomes more common in people above 50 years of age. After people hit their middle age, they lose 3 percent of their muscle strength each year, on average. This hinders their ability to perform routine activities, as per a Science Direct study.

Unfortunately, sarcopenia also decreases the life span of the affected individuals, in comparison to individuals with normal muscle strength.

How to minimize muscle loss as you age
Know everything about sarcopenia!

Sarcopenia is an outcome of an imbalance between signals for muscle cell growth and signals for teardown. For instance, growth hormones work in unison with protein-destroying enzymes to keep muscles intact through a cycle of growth, stress or injury, destruction, and then healing. This cycle is ongoing and when there is balance, muscle keeps its strength over time.

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However, because of ageing, the body starts resisting the normal growth signals and starts moving towards muscle loss.

Factors that increase muscle loss with age

Even though ageing is the most common reason for sarcopenia, other factors can trigger an imbalance between the muscles of growth and teardown.

1. Sedentary lifestyle

Less or no use of muscle is one of the major triggers of sarcopenia, resulting in accelerated muscle loss and more weakness. Immobility or bed rest due to an injury or illness can result in rapid loss of muscles. Bouts of decreased activity can become a vicious cycle. Muscle strength lessens, leading to more weariness and making it hard to get back to normal activity.

2. Imbalanced diet

A diet that is deficient in calories and protein leads to weight loss and decreased muscle mass. Sadly, such a diet becomes more common with ageing, owing to changes in sense of taste, issues with teeth, gums and swallowing or more issues with shopping and cooking To prevent sarcopenia, scientists reckon taking 25-30 grams of protein at each meal, as per the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research.

3. Inflammation

Patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, kidney disease, HIV, and diabetes are also prone to rapid loss of muscle mass and sarcopenia. A study done on 11,249 adults that having more C-reactive protein levels in the blood, an indicator of inflammation, highly predicted sarcopenia.

4. Extreme stress

People suffering from health conditions that increase stress in the body are more likely to suffer from sarcopenia. People suffering from chronic liver disease and up to 20 percent of people having lived a chronic heart failure, experience sarcopenia, noted a study in The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.

how to minimize muscle loss as you age
Stress can accelerate muscle loss as you age! Image courtesy: Freepik

How can you tell if you have sarcopenia?

Owing to decreased muscle mass, you start seeing the signs of sarcopenia.
Some of its early signs include feeling weak physically with time and having more issues than usual with lifting daily familiar objects.

Due to decreased strength, you notice yourself walking at a slower pace, becoming tired more easily and feeling more prone to staying inactive.
Losing weight without any effort can also be a sign of sarcopenia.

Exercise that can reverse sarcopenia

The best way to fight sarcopenia is by keeping your muscles active.
All kinds of exercise can benefit you, but here are some that are more effective than others.

1. Resistance training

Resistance training includes a combination of exercises like weightlifting, pulling against resistance bands or moving your body against gravity. Resistance exercise is the easiest way to increase muscle mass and reduce its loss. A study done on 57 adults between the age group of 65-94 indicated that indulging in resistance training exercises thrice a week enhanced muscle strength over 12 weeks.

Some of the exercises that showed results in the study included leg presses and extending the knees against resistance on a weight machine.

2. Fitness training

Sustained exercise that amps up your heart rate, including aerobic exercise and endurance training, can also help prevent sarcopenia. A combination of resistance and flexibility training has shown results to prevent and reverse sarcopenia, although it is still not clear whether aerobic exercise without doing any resistance training would be effective.

3. Walking

Consistent walking can also aid in preventing and even reversing sarcopenia, and the best part is that it is this activity that costs nothing and can be done by people anywhere they live. A study of 227 Japanese adults who were over 65 years of age found that six months of walking could increase muscle mass, specifically in those who had low muscle mass.

Nutrients that fight sarcopenia or muscle mass loss

If you are deficient in calories, protein, or even certain vitamins and minerals, you might have more chance of muscle loss. However, nourishing your body with those deficit nutrients can increase muscle growth and enhance the benefits of exercise.

1. Protein

Consuming more protein in your diet signals your muscle tissues to build and strengthen. With age, people’s muscles start resisting this signal, so they need to consume more protein to better muscle growth. A study done on 33 men over the age of 70 who consumed a meal that had at least 35 grams of protein found increased muscle growth.

An amino acid named leucine is also pivotal in regulating muscle growth. Some of the rich sources of leucine include whey protein, meat, fish, eggs, and soy protein isolate.

2. Vitamin D

Deficiency of vitamin D can increase the risk of sarcopenia, even though the reasons are not entirely understandable. One can take vitamin D supplements to enhance muscle strength and decrease the risk of falling.

3. Omega-3 fatty acids

No matter what your age, consuming omega-3 fatty acids in the form of seafood or supplements will amp up muscle growth. A study done on 45 women found that a combination of a 2-gram fish oil supplement with resistance training can increase muscle strength more than resistance training without fish oil.

4. Creatine

Creatine is a small protein usually made in the liver. Although your body can make enough of this protein to prevent creatine deficiency, creatine in the diet from meat or through supplementation may help your muscle growth.

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