“Use it or lose it.” I’m sure you’re familiar with this advice – and in regards to muscle it is true very true. Not using your muscles is one of the strongest triggers of sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength, typically as a result of ageing. Exercising is the most effective way to prevent and reverse sarcopenia. Resistance exercises appear to be particularly effective, including using resistance bands, lifting weights or doing calisthenics like squats, push-ups and sit-ups. However, even simple exercises like walking can slow your rate of muscle loss. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to get active. Even two to three weeks of decreased walking and other regular activities is enough to decrease muscle mass and strength. This can making it more difficult to return to normal activity – so consistency is key!
Eating well is also very important to keeping muscle mass. Low-calorie and low-protein diets become more common with aging, due to changes in sense of taste, problems with the teeth, gums and swallowing, or increased difficulty shopping and cooking. Eating enough calories and high-quality protein can slow down the rate of muscle loss. Omega-3 and creatine supplements may also help fight sarcopenia. Specifically, scientists recommend consuming 25-30 grams of protein at each meal.
Inflammation also has an effect on muscles. After injury or illness, inflammation sends signals to the body to tear down and then rebuild the damaged groups of cells. Chronic or long-term diseases can also result in inflammation that disrupts the normal balance of teardown and healing, resulting in muscle loss. A study of 11,249 older adults found that blood levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation, strongly predicted sarcopenia. Diseases that cause long-term inflammation include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, lupus, vasculitis, severe burns and chronic infections like tuberculosis. Talk to your doctor to see if there is anything you can do to help reduce inflammation.
Sarcopenia is also more common in a number of other health conditions that increase stress on the body. For example, people with chronic liver disease, and up to 20% of people with chronic heart failure, experience sarcopenia. In chronic kidney disease, stress on the body and decreased activity lead to muscle loss. Cancer and cancer treatments also place great stress on the body, resulting in sarcopenia. Talk to your doctor to see if there is anything you can do to help minimise the stress on your body caused by these diseases.