Sarcopenia: If you’re over 65 you need to know this term… AND how to prevent it!

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As we get older many changes occur. Some changes, whilst slower than others can have a detrimental impact on how we keep independent and continue to have the physical capacity to do the things we enjoy. Imagine, losing the strength to keep the garden looking lovely or losing the ability to climb stairs safely. This is Sarcopenia at work.

What is Sarcopenia 

Firstly, Sarcopenia is NOT the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. Naturally, our muscle mass peaks in early adulthood. Depending on our lifestyle and other factors, gradually muscle mass declines from about the age of 40. Sarcopenia accelerates the process, leading to reduced mobility, increased frailty, and a higher risk of falls. While even doctors don’t have a clear definition of Sarcopenia, understanding the implications of sarcopenia is the first step toward proactive aging.

Source: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2021.697954/full

 

Current known factors that influence Sarcopenia

  • Age-Related Hormonal Changes: As we age, hormonal shifts, particularly a decline in growth hormone and testosterone, contribute to muscle loss.
  • Reduced Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle exacerbates sarcopenia. Lack of regular physical activity accelerates muscle atrophy (muscle loss).
  • Inadequate Nutrition: Insufficient protein intake and poor nutrition play a role. The body needs proper nutrients, especially protein, to support muscle maintenance and repair. (current recommendations suggest 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight)
  • Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: Increased oxidative stress and inflammation associated with aging contribute to how muscle is broken down and built

Understanding these factors empowers individuals to adopt targeted strategies for combating sarcopenia.

What Exercise is Most Beneficial to Build and Maintain Muscle Mass in Older Adults?

Strength training (AKA Weights!)

If you want to avoid Sarcopenia (or muscle loss in general) engaging in resistance or strength training is paramount. It stimulates muscle growth, enhances strength, and improves overall functionality. Recent research has shown that Strength training can improve on and mitigate the detrimental effects of Sarcopenia, which are muscle strength and physical performance.

 

When our muscles exert force against a load (For example, our own bodyweight when climbing a set of stairs) the fibers of that muscle contract. Depending on how heavy or how frequent the force is applied to a muscle these contractions result in in many neurological and physiological processes both during and after strength training that lead to a point where your body has to adapt… Otherwise known as getting stronger! Building muscle can occur long term, provided you give your muscles the fuel and recovery to grow (we will talk about this later). Both these adaptations are imperative for preventing Sarcopenia.

Source: The Conversation- Muscle Contractions

 

Focus on exercises that target major muscle groups, like squats, lunges, and bench presses (or push ups). If these all sound foreign to you, or maybe you have tried some of these exercises before but have had trouble due to pain or discomfort, this is where an Exercise Physiologist can help. An Exercise Physiologist is the number one health professional to address Sarcopenia as they deeply understand the human body and how it responds to exercise through the ages. They also have the skills to rehabilitate or even just be mindful of old injuries that might be impeding your ability to do strength exercise. The earlier you start the better! Studies show that the earlier you start strength training the better preventative effect it can have on developing Sarcopenia in your later years.

 

In summary, Tailoring the exercise routine to individual abilities is crucial for effective strength training. Consulting with an Exercise Physiologist ensures a personalised approach, addressing specific needs and concerns can help you start sooner rather than later.

 

Other Important Factors

It is important to note that while exercise plays a large role in preventing Sarcopenia. How our body recovers maters as we get older too! Here are some important factors to consider to supplement your strength training efforts

Protein-Rich Diet

Ensuring an adequate intake of protein is pivotal. Protein supports muscle repair and growth. The current recommendation for older adults is 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram of body mass. 

For example, if you weigh 75kg you would need 90-150 grams of protein per day.

Incorporating lean meats, dairy, legumes, and nuts into your diet will ensure you reach these targets.

However, as we get older how our body metabolises protein for muscle growth (protein synthesis) changes too. A study showed that compared to young adults, older adults need almost double the protein intake to stimulate muscle growth!

If you struggle to get your protein intake currently. Taking a protein supplement, such as a whey protein concentrate (milk based protein) with your current meals can increase your intake without making you feel too full after a meal. If you have any kidney related disease, talk to your doctor about any special considerations prior to any supplementation. 

Proper Hydration

Staying hydrated is often overlooked but is crucial for muscle function. Dehydration can exacerbate muscle cramps and weakness.1.7litres per day (~7cups) of water is recommended for proper hydration. If you are on diuretics or have fluid restrictions consult with your doctor regarding the recommended amount for you.

Quality Sleep

Quality sleep is a cornerstone of muscle recovery. During deep sleep, the body releases growth hormone, essential for repairing and building muscle tissue. Although deep sleep can become harder to achieve for older adults, we currently recommend at least 7-9 hours of sleep to help with your recovery and to improve other body functions.

Addressing these factors holistically complements the efforts of exercise and strength training in mitigating the impact of Sarcopenia.

Conclusion

Sarcopenia need not be an inevitable part of aging. Embracing a proactive lifestyle that includes strength training, a nourishing diet, and maintaining other important lifestyle factors can empower individuals over 65 to maintain strength, independence, and an active quality of life. Consultation with an Exercise Physiologist provides tailored guidance, ensuring a safe, yet effective approach to aging with strength and vitality.

Original Image: 3 Exercises for Sarcopenia

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