It’s no secret that your body composition changes as you get older.
So you undoubtedly know about age-related bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis (or its precursor osteopenia) if it becomes severe enough.
But are you aware that a similar phenomenon can happen to your muscles?
It’s called sarcopenia, which is a loss of muscle mass that occurs with aging.
If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad. “Many clinicians don’t even know what sarcopenia is,” says Roger A. Fielding, senior scientist at the USDA Human Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
“It really means age-related loss in skeletal muscle mass and function or weakness that develops as a result.”
This can lead to decreased muscle strength and power, problems with mobility and balance, and decreased activity levels.
Sarcopenia is believed to affect 30 percent of people over 60, and more than 50 percent of those over 80. The best ways to diagnose it are with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (a DEXA scan), measures of walking speed, and handgrip strength.
People who are obese are particularly at risk, as are those who have insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism.
Making matters worse, muscle loss and bone loss often go hand-in-hand, which can put you at serious risk for falls and fractures.
Sarcopenia also can ratchet up your odds of developing Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders since muscle tissue helps your body regulate and use blood sugar, notes Douglas Paddon-Jones, professor of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.