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It’s time to start pumping that iron!

Sarcopenia, or the decline of skeletal muscle tissue with age, is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults. Estimates of how much of our muscle is lost with age varies from 8 percent to about 50 percent, with men seeming to lose muscle faster than women. In general, strength is lost more rapidly than muscle mass for both sexes. Given that muscle mass accounts for up to 60% of body mass, changes to this important tissue can have enormous consequences for an older adult.

Although aging is inevitable, developing sarcopenia does not have to be. Fortunately, there are steps people can take that decrease their chances of losing significant muscle mass. Nutrition and exercise are the most important things to prevent and also treat sarcopenia. Resistance training or strength training is especially important. These activities increase muscle strength and endurance by using weights or resistance bands. Exercise is recommended on most days of the week, but a minimum of three times per week is recommended to slow muscle loss and prevent sarcopenia.

Proper nutrition is also essential and may even prevent or delay the condition. Eating protein rich foods is important to prevent sarcopenia. (Adults should have 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight daily.) It is important for overall health to select sources of protein that do not have excessive amounts of sodium, fat, and cholesterol.

Protein is especially important after exercise, since physical activity like strength training purposefully damages muscle tissues so they can repair and grow back stronger. For the process to happen effectively, you need some extra protein to help repair the damage. While protein alone won’t enhance athletic performance, research shows that eating protein before and after exercise helps increase muscle recovery, promotes muscle synthesis and serves as effective muscle ache treatment.

Here are some examples of protein rich foods:

  • Grass-fed beef
  • Whey protein (organic, ideally from raw goat milk)
  • Lentils
  • Wild-caught fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc.)
  • Organic chicken
  • Black beans (or other beans)
  • Raw milk
  • Kefir or yogurt
  • Free-range eggs
  • Raw cheese

Other things to think about

Researchers think the following four factors also play a role in developing sarcopenia:

  • Age-related reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to initiate movement.
  • Inadequate intake of calories and/or protein to sustain muscle mass.
  • A decrease in the body’s ability to synthesize protein.
  • A decrease in the concentrations of some hormones, including growth hormone, testosterone and insulin-like growth factor.

When sarcopenia is coupled with other diseases associated with aging, its affects can be even more pronounced. Loss of muscle mass and strength is a significant risk factor for disability in the older people. When people suffer from both sarcopenia and osteoporosis, the risk of falling and subsequent fracture incidence is higher. Therefore, treating sarcopenia will in turn help to lessen its burden on co-existing diseases.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.