You may not know what sarcopenia means, but you probably know that muscle loss causes aging difficulties.
Age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, starts in your 30s when you begin to lose muscle mass and function. Physical inactivity hastens the decline, as exercise apathy and lethargy can lead to a loss of as much as 3-5% of muscle mass each decade after hitting 30.
Life is a beach when you're in shape.
Do NOT make the mistake thinking age-related muscle loss only afflicts those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Sarcopenia also affects people who stay physically active. This means that age-induced muscle loss afflicts everyone reading this blog, along with other factors that contribute to developing sarcopenia.
Here are some contributors to age-related muscle loss.
Most men reach max muscle size at age 25, and later at age 50, things begin to really fall off. Testosterone, HGH, DHEA and fast-twitch muscle fibers start declining.
Interestingly enough, the term “sarcopenia” wasn’t coined until 1988. Muscle was taken largely for granted by the scientific health community. That may not be a coincidence.
Strength training is the #1 way to prevent and/or inhibit age-induced muscle loss. The pharmaceutical industry will never make a dime off a pill for sarcopenia. Thus it’s no surprise that sarcopenia has largely been ignored and brushed aside. That was 30 years ago. Things have changed since.
More research and focus is being given to sarcopenia today and it’s finding that muscle mass is key to maintaining our health and preventing disease as we get older.
Despite current research efforts, no current universally accepted definition of sarcopenia exists. Early definitions solely focused on loss of muscle mass, but more recent definitions place more emphasis on loss of muscle strength. As a result, grip strength has been included as an indicator of sarcopenia. These newer perspectives de-emphasize aging and take a more holistic view and consider other contributing factors.
The prevailing sentiment of aging people seems to be “Eh, of course we lose muscle as we age. Whatever.” This cavalier mindset could be putting many people at unnecessary risk. 80% of adults don't get enough exercise and this isn't bro science (< excellent read). Age-related muscle loss causes and/or relates to some pretty serious issues later in life.
Envision your muscle mass as your body armor that protects against a bushel full of age-related diseases, including but not limited to heart problems, diabetes and cancer. Age-related muscle loss shares common disease characteristics with obesity, osteoporosis, frailty and fall and fracture risk. Let’s talk more about frailty and fracture risk for a minute.
I know about this all too well. I was a full-time caregiver for my elderly parents. My mom was in her 70s dying from cancer, with my octogenarian dad trying to take care of her. Not an ideal situation. I lived with them in their retirement community.
The experience taught me much about what our elderly future looks like. We really do shrink, which is the direct result of muscle loss. As a consequence, falls become the #1 risk for the elderly, if you didn’t know already.
Old people fall down everywhere, all the time, sometimes even lethally. If an elderly person falls, like my mom did once, an ambulance has to be called every time. Why? Because the person who fell isn’t strong enough to stand up on their own and their elderly caretaker isn’t strong enough to help them up either. If you fall and don’t break anything, you’re quite fortunate.
That wasn’t the case for my dad. He suffers from drop foot, a common malady of the elderly. The disease weakens the muscles in the top of the foot causing the foot to drop, toes down. This increases fall risk exponentially.
Before my dad learned of his foot drop, he wasn’t wearing braces or using a cane. He was out, tripped over an uneven sidewalk seam (because his foot fell, his toes catching in the crack) fell and shattered his knee and femur. He had to go to the emergency room and soon had surgery. After 16 screws, a metal plate and wire to strap the plate to his femur, he was wheelchair bound in a rehab facility. This is a textbook example of a nightmare for an elderly person, as they fiercely clutch to their independence, refusing to give an inch to the icy grip of mortality.
So you can see how age-related muscle loss lays a heavy toll on you and impairs your functionality. This is why grip strength is so important (if you read the article above you know) because it’s closely linked to your independence. Besides your functionality, sarcopenia also contributes to healthcare costs, mortality, morbidity, and metabolic disorders.
Destroying stereotypes that old = weak.
The consequences of sarcopenia should alarm you: disability, quality of life impairments, falls, osteoporosis, dyslipidemia, an increased cardiovascular risk, metabolic syndrome, and immunosuppression.
High-fat mass exacerbates sarcopenia’s adverse effects, making the symptoms and collateral diseases greatly pronounced. The condition of high-fat mass coupled with sarcopenia is known as sarcopenic obesity.
Despite all the risk and unfortunate realities of aging, with some hard work and discipline, sarcopenia’s effects can be limited, reduced and managed. Several, individual actions can be taken to fight age-related muscle loss. However, embracing a holistic approach that combines all of them provides better results.
Common sense. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re not strength training, get at it. If you’re elderly and need a place to lift, many cities and towns have a community center with low-cost gyms available to residents. You can also check out the resources for retirees here.
When your grandma lifts more than you.
If proper diet and nutrition are super important when you’re young and strength training, they become vital as you age. It’s imperative to follow a regimented dietary pattern that guarantees fulfillment of protein requirements, antioxidant nutrients, and long-chain polyunsaturated fats.
Did I mention protein? The importance of protein can’t be understated as current research finds that our suggested daily protein requirement for people middle-aged and beyond comes up short. Eat more protein than you think you need.
2a. Vitamin D
Vitamin D gets a special call out. Even though you can fulfill your vitamin D intake via your diet, it’s important to note that skin exposure to the sun produces vitamin D as well. Not getting out in the sun decreases vitamin D, thus incurring weight gain risk, further lowering vitamin D production. It’s a downward spiral.
It comes as no surprise then that there’s a correlation between sarcopenia, aging, balance and falls, that needs to be researched more. If you’re not getting sufficient vitamin D in your diet, get outside in the sun and be active.
Promising research shows that selective androgen receptor modulators and anti-myostatin antibodies may both stem the tide of sarcopenia. But more research is required to make the findings conclusive.
72-Year-Old CrossFitter Lauren Bruzzone and her feats of strength
It’s indisputable that muscle loss causes aging difficulties. Don’t ever stop strength training. Help yourself avoid the inevitable decline that comes with age and make your future a better one. Lift yourself above the ordinary.
Thanks for reading Fringe Nation. We’d love to hear your input, thoughts, feedback and comments on age related muscle loss. Please share them in the comments below. Have a swell day and see you in the gym!
If you've worked hard this long, you get to play harder than anyone.
Featured/thumbnail image courtesy of Robb Lee, Instagram @ cfer_kringle422