If you’re over the age of 40, there is a significant health threat looming that is completely preventable. The health threat is called Sarcopenia, a degenerative age related condition that leads to the loss of muscle and strength and eventually can lead to frailty and disability. This is a condition that impacts nearly30% of all adults and 50% of the elderly, leading to major quality of life disturbances.
There’s a very good chance you’ve never heard of Sarcopenia as most people haven’t and it’s only discussed among medical communities focused on this condition and hasn’t yet reached mass awareness. Yet it is a condition that is a major health crisis and which has devastating effects on our society, from the serious deterioration of well-being to the enormous costs in managing the related health outcomes.
What is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is, in its most literal sense, the loss of muscle mass, strength and function related to aging. It is a condition which in turn affects balance, gait, and the overall ability to normal day to day tasks. Advanced Sarcopenia can essentially rob a person’s ability to do basic life chores like carrying groceries or climbing up the stairs. When left untreated or unchecked, it can lead to disability, pain, immobility and an inability to care for oneself.
What causes Sarcopenia?
If you believe this condition may not apply to you think again. The loss of muscle begins when you enter your 40s and gradually increases in severity until the age of 70. Medical research has determined that we begin to lose roughly 10% of our muscle mass per decade and that this can increase with age.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this is an “old age disease”, but it is not, it starts early and only rears its head when the all too visible signs of the condition begin to appear.
Sarcopenia is most commonly seen in those with a sedentary lifestyle and while being sedentary is a major contributing factor, it is not the only factor.
As we age, there are a number of conspiring factors that contribute to the decrease in size and strength of our muscular system. From a decrease in hormones to a decrease in motor nerve cell activity to a change in the way our bodies process protein, the essential nutrient needed to maintain and build muscle tissue.
These conspiring factors create a vicious cycle that leads to reinforcing and accelerating decline. When Sarcopenia is coupled with other age related diseases, its effects can be even more pronounced.
Is Sarcopenia preventable / reversible?
A certain amount of age-related decline is inevitable but there is growing evidence that Sarcopenia is very much preventable and that we can employ habits to maintain healthy levels of muscle mass well into our elderly years and thus maintain function and vitality.
The two most important strategies are around nutrition and resistance exercise. There is growing scientific support that increasing intake of protein and amino acids is vital. As we age we tend to consume less when we should be consuming more protein and of the types that are easier for our body to process and absorb. The recommended daily intake of protein is 0.7 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Adding protein and amino acid supplements in the form of a shake or smoothie is one of the most common strategies to increase intake as they can be taken in between meals, are enjoyable and easy to digest and absorb.
Resistance exercise is also absolutely critical. Many people are quite sedentary and those who do exercise focus on cardio forget to incorporate resistance training. Putting some stress on the muscles help them to build and remain strong and there are countless ways you can add resistance training into your regimen – from bodyweight exercises to resistance bands to interval training with light weights. The key is to keep increasing the intensity and the load over time.
The combination of the right nutrition and resistance exercise creates the right set of conditions to maintain muscle health and to create a virtuous cycle to combat Sarcopenia and the related conditions.
Why you shouldn’t wait
When we’re young or without disease or medical condition it is all too easy to fall into the trap of feeling invincible. Believing that the scary conditions we see are for others or something we don’t need to worry about today.
Sarcopenia is a very serious condition and you’re at a very high risk – remember, nearly 30% of all adults and nearly 50% of the elderly have Sarcopenia. You have a 50/50 chance of developing a condition that will significantly impair the quality of your life as you get older.
This article is not meant to frighten you but to alarm you into doing something about a condition that is very preventable. It’s about ensuring that you live the rest of your life fully mobile and full of vitality.
Two messages you should take away – increase intake of quality protein and amino acids and add resistance exercise to your overall regimen for being more active.
“Our goal should be to maintain healthy muscle mass as we age well into our 70s, 80s and 90s.” Ken Roycroft, Integrative Healing Advisor for Orthopedics
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