10% of adults over the age of 50 are affected by sarcopenia, also called muscle loss. Even though it reduces life expectancy and affects the quality of life, you can take some measures to prevent or even reverse this condition.
What Is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia means “lack of flesh”. It is related to muscle degeneration and it usually affects people over the age of 50. Adults lose 4% of muscle strength annually.
This condition occurs as a result of an imbalance between signals for muscle cell growth and signals for teardown. The processes associated with the first one are called “anabolism” while the processes associated with the latter are called “catabolism”.
Over the years, our body becomes resistant to growth signals and catabolism processes. As a result, we experience muscle loss.
Four Factors That Accelerate Muscle Loss
1. Immobility, Including a Sedentary Lifestyle
The disuse of muscle is one of the main triggers of sarcopenia. It leads to accelerated muscle loss and increases weakness.
Because of this, immobilization and bed rest after an injury or illness accelerate the loss of muscle mass. 2-3 weeks of reduced walking and other activity can reduce muscle strength and mass as well.
2. Unbalanced Diet
A diet low in protein and a low-calorie diet cause weight loss and decreased muscle mass.
These diets are common in elderly individuals because of their problems with gums, teeth, swallowing, changes in sense of taste, and increased difficulty cooking. It is recommended to eat at least 25-30 grams of protein at every meal.
After experiencing an injury or illness, inflammation tells the body to tear down and rebuild the cells that are damaged. Chronic stress can cause inflammation, and lead to an imbalance of tear down and healing.
Eventually, this leads to muscle loss. For example, a study showed that patients with chronic inflammation caused by the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have decreased muscle mass.
4. Severe Stress
People who suffer from the chronic liver disease have an increased risk of experiencing sarcopenia. Reduced activity level and stress on the body cause muscle loss. In other words, sarcopenia is more common in conditions that can increase stress of the body.
Exercise Can Reverse Sarcopenia
1. Resistance Training
Resistance training (weightlifting, pulling against resistance bands, and moving part of the body against gravity) is significantly beneficial against sarcopenia. In fact, the tension on the muscles results in growth signals that boost strength.
These exercises can boost the action of growth-promoting hormones. According to a study that included 57 adults aged 65-94, performing resistance exercises 3 times a week can increase muscle strength within 3 months.
2. Fitness Training
Aerobic exercise and endurance training can prevent sarcopenia. It is scientifically shown that resistance training and flexibility can effectively prevent muscle loss.
A study that included 227 individuals over 65 years old showed that 6 months of walking can significantly increase muscle strength. Even though the distance between the individuals was different, they were asked to increase their daily distance by 10% each month.
Four Nutrients That Fight Sarcopenia
Many studies showed that at least 35 grams of protein at each meal can increase muscle growth.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplementation can boost muscle growth and strength.
3. Omega-3 fats
According to many studies, the combination of daily 2-gram fish oil supplement and resistance training can increase muscle strength more than the training without fish oil.
A study showed that participants that took creatine got more benefits from resistance training compared to those that didn’t take creatine along with exercising.