The loss of muscle as we age is sadly a normal part of the ageing process it is called Sarcopenia. Sarcopenia literally means “lack of flesh.” It occurs when the break down of muscle “catabolism” exceeds the laying down of muscle “anabolism.” It is expected that one after the age of 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. However, the rate of muscle loss happens most around the age of 75 years. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures.
Four factors have been identified that increase sarcopenia:
This is particularly prominent with immobility due to illness or injury but a slow decline in physical activity will also have an impact. The immobility increases the muscle loss. The muscle loss then makes activity more difficult resulting in a reduction of activity and further muscle loss 0- a vicious cycle to avoid.
The Answer - Maintain an active lifestyle - The old expression of “Use it or Lose it” is true. This does not have to be sport and formal gym going but could be gardening, shopping or housework. However the three most important types of exercise to fight sarcopenia are:
Resistance Work - This promotes the release of chemicals to build muscles (anabolism). The introduction of a graduated exercise program including resisted exercise can really help.
Walking - A gentle weight bearing and muscle building activity.
Fitness Training - To improve aerobic aerobic capacity.
A poor diet insufficient in calories, and in particular protein, the building block for muscle,will result in weight loss and further muscle loss. A loss of appetite is common with ageing and, without meaning to, a reduced calorie intake it can occur.
The Answer - Aim for a balanced healthy diet with sufficient protein and calorie intake. Discussing your diet with your GP or a dietitian can prove very useful if you have concerns.
Links have been found between chronic inflammation and sarcopenia. Inflammation promotes the catabolic processes (breaking down of muscle) and decreases the anabolic processes (building up of muscle). The inflammation may be as a result of a systemic condition or a musculoskeletal problem such as arthritis.
The Answer - Your GP should be able to manage any systemic inflammatory problems and a physiotherapist can help reduce inflammatory reactions to musculoskeletal problems.
The normal falls in testosterone and oestrogen levels due to the ageing process are proven to be a major contributor to sarcopenia. There is unfortunately nothing one can do to prevent this normal hormonal drop. However, if you are demonstrating sarcopenia at a younger age, hormone replacement therapy can be considered. This would be something to discuss with your GP.
The loss of muscle bulk is part of the normal ageing process and if left unchecked can play a significant role in loss of mobility and independence. However, some simple changes to lifestyle can not only decrease the rate of muscle loss can actually rebuild the muscle. If you would like to discuss any part of this paper or plan a graduated exercise programme please give Victoria a call.