Sarcopenia is the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs as we age. It’s often related to osteoporosis since it’s our muscles that absorb the stress required to keep our bones healthy. Muscle mass depletion is accelerated by an inadequate intake of calories and a decrease in the body’s ability to synthesize protein as well as the naturally occurring depletions in the concentrations of hormones, including growth hormone and testosterone. It’s made worse by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and inflammation.
As we get older, there is a reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to initiate movement. A physically inactive person can lose as much as 3 percent to 5 percent of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 30. Problems with mobility, a decrease in resting metabolic rate, weight gain, a higher prevalence of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, an elevation of cholesterol, triglycerides and hypertension are also included with the health problems that come from dealing with sarcopenia.
Muscles produce proteins and metabolites required for recovery from a traumatic event. A person with decreased muscle mass may have a harder time healing after major surgery or traumatic accidents, since they lack the metabolic reserve of muscle mass to support the immune system during the recovery process.
There are ways to shore up the loss of muscle and avoid sarcopenia. They include:
- Regular exercise. Research shows that a regular program of progressive resistance training that builds muscle can improve sarcopenia in as little as two weeks. It will also help you to increase strength, aerobic capacity and muscle protein synthesis. A minimum of exercising three times per week is recommended.
- Increasing protein Intake. Protein from the foods we eat builds and repair muscle fibers.
Dietary protein is made up of many types of amino acids that are necessary for building muscle since we aren’t capable of making them ourselves. The best sources of these proteins are:
- Free-range eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Kefir or yogurt
- Raw cheese
- Whey protein
- Wild-caught fish
- Omega-3 fatty acids supplements have been found to influence muscle protein metabolism. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA has anti-inflammatory effects, which research shows may help in managing sarcopenia. Try supplementing your omega-3 acids intake with fish oil and flaxseed oil.
- Hormonal factors can significantly affect muscle mass. If you’re 40 years of age or older, you should have annual blood work done to track your hormone levels. Menopause is linked to reduced concentrations of a hormone called estradiol in older women. Testosterone is critical to maintaining lean body mass in men (and to a lesser extent in women).
- Low levels of vitamin D are associated with lower muscle strength and increased body instability in older persons. It’s the most common nutritional deficiency for older adults.
Supplementation of vitamin D in individuals with low levels can help improve muscle function and muscle mass.
- Increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods. Green leafy vegetables, blueberries, pineapple, and walnuts and salmon are all anti-inflammatory foods. Also, avoid inflammatory foods like processed foods and refined grains, especially the ones loaded with high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. Simple, refined sugars and carbohydrates are also big contributors to inflammation.
- Drinking and smoking too much. Alcohol can cause the muscle wasting by promoting damage and alcohol abusers frequently suffer from muscle pain and accidents like falls. Cigarette smoking is associated with low levels of physical activity and impaired nutrition and can lead down the path to sarcopenia.
You can let aging take control of your health, or you can take control and offset the effects of aging.