Prevent Sarcopenia

Strategies to Prevent Age-related Muscle Loss


by Mary Treacy


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For years, it was assumed that all the problems which come from weakening muscles were an inevitable part of aging and that nothing could be done about it. People who remained sprightly and exercised regularly were seen as having good genes and their good health put down to luck and not seen as a result of their active lives. However, research has shown that Sarcopenia resulting from aging is not an inescapable fate.


What is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia is not an inevitable result of the aging process

Sacropenia is the gradual loss of muscle mass caused by a variety of factors, including poor nutrition, lack of exercise and decreasing hormone levels. It is an insidious condition which often remains undiagnosed for years as it is can be disguised by an increase in fat in and around the muscle.

While lack of exercise and a sedentary life-style is the main cause, the condition can also be found in people who are physically active and who have been so throughout their lives. This indicates that exercise is not the only factor contributing to this condition.

The first signs of Sarcopenia can appear as early as forty, but the condition usually starts to accelerate after 65, and progresses even more rapidly as the individual ages further if nothing is done to halt its progress.

Therefore, in order to prevent sarcopenia and avoid a difficult old age it is necessary to start a prevention or maintenance program as early as possible, especially if you are already showing signs of the condition, as seen below.


Symptoms of Sarcopenia

The following are some of the signs that you may have Sarcopenia:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Feeling of pain deep in bones

  • Stiffness in joints and muscles not caused by exercise

  • General feeling of weakness and fatigue, especially tired muscles

  • Reduced range of motion

  • Reduced mobility


Sarcopenia is NOT...
An Inevitable Part of Aging


Prevention and Treatment

Any Sarcopenia prevention or treatment program needs firstly to avoid the loss of muscle by atrophy and secondly to avoid the accumulation of fat. It should also aim to recuperate lost muscle mass if at all possible. This can be done through exercise, nutrition and carefully controlled supplementation.

Remember, even when a sportsman or woman ceases to exercise, their muscle mass decreases, their metabolic rate reduces and excess calories start to be stored as fat. One can imagine then, that the degree of muscle-loss in a non-athlete, especially one who is aging, is going to have far greater consequences and be more difficult to rectify.

Be ready to accept that it is going to be hard at first. However, gradually it will become easier as your muscles start to gain strength. Don't give up at the first hurdle. Follow these six steps for six months and chances are you will begin to see improvements.


Six Steps to Prevent Sarcopenia


1. Eat Well

Start by making sure you are eating well. in order to lay the foundation for staying youthful and preventing Sarcopenia from compromising your quality of life as you age. Specifically, try to ensure you get an adequate intake of the following nutrients:


1) Protein

You have to have sufficient high-quality protein in your diet to maintain lean muscle. Many nutritionists now believe that the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein may be insufficient for maintaining healthy muscle as we age. However, your body can't deal with large amounts of protein and will either evacuate or store this as fat, so a better strategy is to eat a small amount of protein at each meal in order to build and maintain lean muscle mass.


2) Leucine

Amino acids found in protein are the building blocks of muscle, which is why diet is the number one priority for beating Sarcopenia. An amino acid, called leucine, helps to ensure that you absorb all the necessary nutrients from your diet. Dairy products which are high in whey protein, such as milk, yogurt, and goat's cheese, lean meat and fish and soy products such as tofu are all good sources of this amino acid.


3) Omega 3

Omega 3 ia also believed to optimize the way your muscles use protein and ia valuable for both treating and preventing Sarcopenia. Include salmon, walnuts or Omega 3 enriched products in your weekly diet to maintain healthy muscle mass.


3) Calcuim

Drinking a glass of milk a day can help to strengthen your bones and supplement your calcium intake. Taken at night, warm, with pure cocoa it will help you get a good night's sleep. Read the age well pages about calcium to find other ways of increasing your calcium intake and learn why you need calcium in order to age well.


4) Vitamin D

As you age, your body is not as efficient at absorbing enough vitamin D through sun exposure, so unless you live in a sunny climate it is essential to get adequate amounts of VIramin D in your diet to help your body absorb adequate amounts of calcium and phosphorus. These minerals are necessary to promote bone and teeth formation and prevent bone loss as we age. Vitamin D is commonly found in fatty oil, fish liver oil and enriched milk and eggs. It is the only vitamin that can be produced by the human body. As already mentioned this happens when the skin is exposed to sunlight.


2. Exercise Well

Once you are getting the right nutrients, the next step is to make sure that you get the right type of exercise to build and maintain healthy muscle as you age. Research shows that several short resistance workouts every week can improve muscle mass and strength. Make sure you eat some protein an hour before you exercise or alternatively shortly after finishing.

Include some aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking or swimming or any aerobic workout at least three times a week to ensure your heart is getting a workout too. Aerobic exercise also improves your body’s response to insulin and improves blood flow ensuring your muscles get enough oxygen, which is essential to muscle health.

If you get enough exercise you will look and feel better and also age better.

Don't forget that balance is increasingly important as you age, so include exercises which improve muscle control and balance in your weekly regime.

If necessary join your local gym and get the advice of an expert. Working with a personal trainer or with an exercise buddy will help improve your motivation.


3. Develop Smart Habits

The third stage is to develop some healthy habits to ensure you are not sabotaging your efforts to prevent Sarcopenia and age well.

If you are reading this article chances are you will be over forty which means you will have been around long enough to know the basics of healthy living and the things that can sabotage your health such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, over-eating and avoiding trans fats and sugar and You also know about drinking enough water, which I'll emphasize separately below because it is extremely important.

At the end of the day, you have to take responsibility for your own well being. You will know yourself if your habits are causing you to age badly or too quickly and you need to have the courage to make the necessary changes.


4. Manage Stress

Taking steps to control your stress levels is essential if you are to be able to relax and give your muscles a chance to grow and develop. Managing your stress levels can have many other health benefits too. High levels of stress could contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and other illnesses. Learn some techniques to help you manage stress.


5. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is another way to make sure that your muscles have enough time to recuperate and strengthen after exercise.

Not getting enough sleep can make you age more quickly in other ways. It can contribute to memory lapse and increase the risk of having high blood pressure . Additionally it will help you look better, helping eliminate dark circles and puffy eyes, give you a more rested and youthful appearance and lift your mood.

Adequate sleep is a key part of healthy againg and can prolong your life, helping many aspects of your body including your heart, weight and your mind. Recent studies have even linked lack of sleep to problems such as arthritis and high blood pressure which are linked to inflammation. Research shows that people who do not sleep enough have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins in their blood.

Read our page on sleep and insomnia to see if you are getting enough sleep to help you stay healthy and age well.


6. Drink Enough Water

Drinking water is also important in your fight against Sarcopenia. This is especially important as we age as dehydration is one of the major enemies of the older person. This is because the thirst reflex often stops working or works less efficiently in elderly people who often develop health problems because they are not drinking enough fluids. Alcohol, tea and coffee and sweet fizzy drinks do not count and have the opposite effect as they act as a diuretic.

It is essential to develop the habit of drinking water regularly because our instinct to do so decreases with age. Recent studies show this clearly. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine illustrates this.

"Even though bloodwork was done showing that the elderly men were dehydrated and water was placed within their reach, they did not have the urge to drink". (Philipps et al., 1984, New England Journal of Medicine).

Taking the necessary steps to ensure that drinking enough water every day will become a habit will ensure that you age better, feel better and look younger.


An Investment in Your Future


If you have the symptoms of Sarcopenia you must make a supreme effort and make some changes to your life or the situation will just get worse.

It is a vicious circle. If you feel tired or if it hurts to move, you are more likely to sit or lie down most of the day. The more time you spend being inactive, the more you will lose muscle and strength. When the quality and quantity of muscle decreases through sarcopenia, your cardiovascular system will also be affected and your energy reserves will decrease too. So, because it takes so much effort for you to move, you move even less.

Start slowly and make an effort to do a little more every day so that you gradually build up your daily routine. If you are finding it dificult to motivate yourself ask for help or pay someone to help you get started.

Taking measures to prevent sarcopenia are an investment in your future.


Author of this article, Mary Treacy, Contributing Editor Mary Treacy is the founder and contributing editor of age-well.org. She has over thirty years of experience working with non-profit, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), mainly business associations, and is an experienced writer in many sectors including co-operatives, agriculture, commmerce, housing, insurance, banking and health. You can find her on Google + and Twitter.


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