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How to Prevent Age Related Muscle Loss (or Sarcopenia) and Maximize Your Life

16 January 2020

Muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia, is a pretty normal part of the aging process after the age of 50.  However, too much muscle loss can affect overall health and quality of life.  Ultimately, progressive sarcopenia is correlated to a loss of independence and a lower life expectancy.  Luckily, there are ways to prevent it and continue to flourish well into the “golden years,” such as using a desk bike or modifying your diet.  Keep reading to find out what they are.

What is sarcopenia?

The body is constantly tearing down and rebuilding itself, one cell at a time.  This helps keep the entire body balanced and running at optimized levels.  As you enter your 50s, this balanced system can start getting out of order due to mixed signals from the body’s own hormones and other growth factors.  This can lead to a system that is tearing down more than building up.  This process will slowly decrease the number of muscle cells.  In the end, this leads to poor strength that makes it hard to participate in normal daily activities.

Factors that cause muscle loss to progress faster with age.

There is no single factor that leads to muscle loss.  Rather, it is a combination of one or more of the following issues.

  • Inactivity. Noticeable muscle loss is evident as early as three weeks without regular activity.  With aging, this can lead to fat infiltration within the muscles as well, making loss of strength and coordination more significant.  
  • Hormonal changes.  The body’s efficiency to be able to create and respond to hormones changes with age.
  • Poor nutrition. Lack of adequate nutrients limit’s the body’s ability to carry out normal everyday processes.
  • Cognitive decline.  Although not thoroughly understood, cognitive and muscle decline are correlated.
  • Chronic stress. Including mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression; and physical health, such as liver failure, kidney disease, and heart disease.
  • Chronic inflammation due to injury or illness. Such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, tuberculosis and more.  These put the body in “tear down” mode instead of building mode.

If you don’t use it, you lose it.

All of the listed contributing factors above come down to one common denominator:  If you don’t treat your body well, it will slowly lose function.  Ultimately, keeping the body well energized with nutrient dense foods, exercising regularly, and regularly challenging the brain.  For sedentary individuals, significant muscle loss can actually start as early as the 30s (Yikes!).  

If you take the time to care for your body now with the following interventions, you are significantly less likely to experience any muscle loss and continue to thrive.  

Ways to prevent muscle loss.

These tips are good for any decade of life to maximize your vitality.  Slowly incorporate all of these factors into your life and you will be set!

  • Strength training.  Resistance from body weight, bands, or weights all signal the body and muscles to stay strong.  Try incorporating strength training 2-3 times per week, targeting all major muscle groups.
  • Exercise.  This one should be obvious.  Find an activity you love and get the heart, legs, and entire body involved to maximize your overall health. Bonus points for incorporating moves that challenge your balance.
  • Incorporate movement throughout your day. If you don’t have time to schedule exercise into your day, then incorporate it in where you can.  This might include simple hacks like walking on a lunch break, standing at your desk, occasional mini exercise breaks at your desk, or use of a desk bike. A desk bike is the only option that allows you to work and exercise at the same time, which is pretty cool!
  • Challenge your brain. Reading, critical thinking games (Sudoku, crosswords, etc), and good conversation are all great way to keep the brain running on all frequencies.
  • Change your diet.  Make sure you are getting enough nutrients (especially vitamin D), protein, healthy fats, and overall calories to promote muscle growth and minimize weight loss.  25-30 grams of protein is recommended with each meal for anyone over 50. (example:  3 ounces of chicken breast has about 26 grams of protein per serving)  
  • Talk to your doctor about supplements. A creatine or protein supplement with strength training can help with muscle bulk.   

It’s never too late.

The more consistent you are with keeping the body balanced, strong, and well-fueled, the easier it will be able to stay strong and healthy (make it a habit!).  Muscle loss and deconditioning from inactivity can lead to a brutal cycle. If you feel low energy for being sedentary, you will be less likely to stay active, and so the problem progresses.  Stop this cycle on its head by following these tips.  Plus, if life gets complex, you now know what it takes to get back on track without feeling overwhelmed.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do need to get started.  So add that extra protein, sign up for a weight lifting class, or get a desk bike in your office.  You got this!

Note: If you are experiencing loss of muscle strength and weight loss, seek medical care to get your health better managed and under your control.