Muscles are a vital part of your body.
They are the reason why you can stand tall, maintain good posture, move around, and function in day-to-day life.
They are also responsible for warming your body, protecting your organs, and giving your body its shape.
We lose muscle as we grow older!
What are the signs of losing muscle mass?
And what is the difference between physiological age-related muscle loss, and the red-flag muscle loss that requires medical attention.
What is Sarcopenia?
First of all, let’s break the word down to understand what it means.
“Sarco” is a Latin word that means flesh or muscle. While “penia” is a Latin suffix that means lack or deficiency.
So, sarcopenia is a word used to describe the loss of muscle mass.
Normally, you have two processes taking place in your body.
The first is anabolism, in which your body uses energy to regenerate and build new muscle tissue. Opposite to anabolism, catabolism is another process in which your body breaks down the muscles as a part of your normal cell turnover process and exercise.
When you are younger than 30 years old, these two processes occur in a balanced manner which preserves your muscle mass.
(When you work out with weights and do strength training, you’ll tip the balance in favor of muscle-building!) #buff
After the age of 30, your body starts to lose the hormones and signals that motivate it to build muscles. Our bodies become less anabolic and more catabolic as we age.
The end result of this imbalance is: muscle loss, or age-related sarcopenia.
Muscle Loss: Why and How?
So right now, you might be wondering
How does aging cause sarcopenia?
And is it an inevitable event?
The answer is, age-related sarcopenia is caused by several factors.
Some of which are normal, physiological changes that everybody goes through as they grow older. Other factors are related to your lifestyle and exercise habits.
The physiological changes include a decrease in:
- levels of growth hormone
- levels of testosterone
- levels of biochemical growth factors (e.g., insulin-like growth factor)
- Your physical activity and the number of the nerve cells supplying your muscles (exercise increases this)
- Energy production from mitochondria (the energy factory in your cells)
The good news is: some factors leading to muscle loss are totally avoidable, for instance:
- Decreased level of activity and sedentary lifestyle (i.e. not working out)
- Low caloric intake (under-eating) and poor nutrition (eating junk food instead of healthy nutrients)
- Insufficient protein intake — this is a common problem for many personal training clients when they first begin nutrition coaching. (Too many carbs, not enough protein)
Is Muscle Loss Always Normal?
Usually, age-related sarcopenia occurs gradually over the time; it is estimated that a middle-aged adult loses 1-3% of muscle mass per year.
This muscle loss is “normal”, and is not associated with any severe symptoms or sudden compromise of body functions.
If you think your muscle loss is too rapid over a short period of time, or if you have another chronic health condition (e.g., liver, kidney, lung or autoimmune disease), sarcopenia can be a sign you need to inform your doctors about.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Sarcopenia
Be on the lookout for signs of losing muscle mass, such as:
- Fatigued easily
- Unable to carry out physical activities you used to
- Unintended weight loss
- Saggy skin
- Affected balance and increased frequency of falls
- Slow movement or altered walking
If you have some of these symptoms, and you want to make 100% sure that you are losing muscle mass, your clinician might recommend a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA)
A DXA scan is an objective and safe technique that shows your body composition including your bone density, muscle and fat mass.
Slow it Down: Exercises and Diet for Sarcopenia
Remember the avoidable causes of sarcopenia?
Modifying these factors can help you stop age-related muscle loss!
Here are some evidence-based recommendations:
- Do strength training for your muscles
Resistance training is the golden way to prevent muscle mass loss by gradually challenging your muscles using any strength training equipment like dumbbells, exercise tubing, and kettlebells.
Loading your muscles stimulates muscle growth and regeneration, and can help stop age-related muscle loss.
- Go for Cardio
Aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming can also preserve your muscles from wasting away. It’s not as effective as strength training with weights, but it’s certainly better than nothing!
- Improve your diet
Make sure you provide your body with the essential nutrients (e.g., Protein, Omega 3 fats, Vitamin D, etc.) and sufficient calories to prevent muscle breakdown, while focusing on proteins and healthy carbohydrates (because those are key factors in building muscles).
Need Help with Your Muscles?
Putting together an exercise plan to stop age-related muscle loss and committing to it can seem like a difficult mission.
You might find it complicated to design your own nutrition plan that:
- Provides all the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins
- Contains the right number of calories and protein to build muscles
- Does not cause fat gain
Don’t feel lost! instead, seek professional help to build your muscles, boost your health, and reach your goals with no complications.
If you would like to combat sarcopenia, add muscles safely and effectively, and improve your nutrition, drop us a note! We’ll find a time to talk about your goals, your schedule, and your budget so we can make a solid strength program work for you! (Also recommended is the online fitness and body transformation programme.)
Remember, we all age, but with the proper fitness program, your age is literally just a number!