Here while back I ran into an old friend from high school whom I did not recognize at first. I was a little embarrassed because this individual recognized me, but the encounter had me wondering who the old codger was that was speaking to me. Turns out the old man who had struck up a conversation with me had been one of my class mates in school.
Once we reach about fifty years of age, these types of occurrences are common enough that I have seen plenty of Facebook memes on the subject. My lovely co-author Brenda Sue and I had a discussion about this phenomenon where people our ages can look so old, while others can still look fairly youthful. There is a sound reason for this, and it is called Sarcopenia. At first I thought this article should be geared towards those of us who have reached the age of fifty or better, but then decided that this needs to truly be addressed to those who are still in their twenties and thirties instead. You might be thinking that since you are not the vain type why would I care about aging? Well, even if you are not the vain type who is all caught up on appearances, do you care at all if you could pass for seventy at the age of fifty? If we are being honest, most would not want to appear that much older, but it does happen quite often to good people all around us. There are also health reasons why we do not want to age prematurely. Who wants to go to a nursing or assisted living home in their fifties? I know I do not want this for me, and I can not imagine most would.
What is Sarcopenia?
According to Journal of Bone Metabolism, Sarcopenia is the age related decrease of skeletal muscle mass and function. It is usually accompanied by physical inactivity, decreased mobility, slow gait, and poor physical endurance which are also common features of the frailty syndrome. Moreover, aging and physical disability are also related to an increase in fat mass, particularly visceral fat, which is an important factor in the development of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. This condition is to be expected in the truly older population, but it is being seen in people at far too early of age nowadays. Sadly, in America we have people who are residing in nursing homes in their fifties because of maladies that used to only be seen in senior citizens over the age of seventy. With our nation’s obesity epidemic and the sedentary lifestyles of so many of our young people, this problem only stands to worsen as time goes on.
Sarcopenia is mostly seen in people who are inactive, but it can happen to those of us who are physically active, so there are other factors which may contribute to the condition According to WebMD, researchers believe these include:
- Reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to start movement.
- Lower concentrations of some hormones, including growth hormones, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor.
- A decrease in the ability to turn protein into energy.
- Not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass.
What can be done about this premature aging called Sarcopenia?
Obviously there are no guarantees about anything in life. Sometimes bad things still happen to good people, but, we can and should still take steps to try and ensure we go into our golden years with the best health condition we can muster. Our best defense for the prevention of Sarcopenia is resistance training which strengthens our muscles. The younger you are when you adopt strength training as a life style, the better your odds of preventing this. If you have been diagnosed as having Sarcopenia, the primary treatment, other than medical treatments, is going to be strength training. Strength training, whether with free weights or through machines or body weight, will help your neuromuscular system and hormones. It can also improve an older adults ability to convert protein to energy in as little as two weeks. In addition to, or instead of strength training, a good aerobic activity that raises your heart rate can also help control Sarcopenia.
In addition to strength training, you need to really consider adopting a healthy diet where you are not consuming sugar or processed foods. You should be eating whole foods that require preparation and are not laden with sugar, unhealthy fats, sodium and preservatives. You need to eat a diet high in protein and limit your intake of carbohydrates to no more than 165 grams per day. If you smoke and/or drink alcohol, you are raising your risk factors for this premature aging. You might consider quitting. Even if you feel on top of the world today, a life style of unhealthy living will catch up with you sooner than you might realize.
From AFPA Fitness, here are seven points to consider as you go through life:
1. Premature aging and attitude. The mind plays a significant role in whether we are aging faster or slower, and we can use the mind to help us accelerate or decelerate the process. Happier people are quite simply younger looking people. The more you hold hope, optimism, and joy at the top of your list of priorities, the younger you will appear. Moreover, happier people live longer, often with fewer health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and even aching joints and bones. Perpetual anger and distress can form permanently on the face in the form of lines and deep wrinkles. When the face expresses chronic sad or angry emotions, the constant scowling can turn into wrinkles formed by muscle memory.
2. Aging, smoking and drinking. We all know that these activities are not good for our health and lead to all kinds of health issues while also depleting our bodies of necessary nutrients. Additionally, the lines and discoloration of a smoker or drinker are worn all over their face. The skin needs a certain amount of hydration, collagen, elastin and oxygen in order to look youthful and healthy.
Smokers develop fine lines around the mouth, deeper forehead wrinkles and are twice as likely to develop bad teeth. The entire body, including the facial skin, is deprived of enough oxygen and the look and feel of a smokers face can be obvious over time.
Drinking excessively can leave permanent marks on the body as well. Aside from the damaging effects on the liver and kidneys, heavy drinkers have facial skin that has been discolored over time, has poor muscle tone, and often broken blood vessels or spider veins.
3. Age, sun, cold and moisture. We can easily accelerate our aging process by basking in the sun’s rays. Sun damage is the number one cause of wrinkles and skin that has been permanently damaged.
Age spots and other forms of discoloration can be seriously exacerbated by the sun’s harmful UV rays. A face that has spent years working on it’s tan appears heavily wrinkled and tough like leather. Once you pass the twenty minute mark in the sun, the benefits from absorbing Vitamin D are counteracted by the damage of the UV rays to the skin.
Spending a lifetime in cold environments can have a similar effect. Rather than creating a tougher skin, the skin appears too thin and wrinkles develop. The same effect can be seen in people who use harsh acne treatments over a period of years.
When acne treatments dry out the skin, it can cause damage similar to the damage caused by cold and sun, creating a dry, tough, wrinkled face. When the skin’s natural oils are depleted, the skin loses elasticity, and the face ages. Moisturizing daily, sometimes two or three times per day and protecting the skin from the sun and damaging cold can combat these rather common effects on our aging process.
4. Aging and diet. One of the most commonly misunderstood aging factors is the effect that food has on the body. There are foods that you can eat that help you retain a younger body and foods that will help you age faster. Choosing a diet that is high in fats, sugars, processed foods and low in fresh fruits and vegetables creates an internal environment that is anything but youth friendly.
Foods that cause inflammation, like refined sugar, white flour, and even excessive dairy products, can readily create inflammation in the body that contributes to the aging process. These foods tend to make the body feel and look heavier because the internal organs are actually suffering from inflammation. Aside from this, our bodies do not process foods that are not in their natural form very well, which means the organic breakdown of nutrients is not being put to biological good use.
Replacing a sugary diet that also consists of fried and fatty foods, even if you are not overweight, with one that is high in natural products can keep the whole body looking tighter and younger.
5. Aging and weight. Being too thin or too heavy can add to the aging process. being underweight reduces the natural fats in the facial structure which allows the skin to sag and adds to the appearance of wrinkles. A face lift or botox does not help an underweight face look younger because the natural fattiness that fills out the face can not be replaced with medical procedures like these.
Simply adding five pounds to an underweight body can bring back a softer, wrinkle free face. Too much weight can make us look older by creating poor muscle tone.
Overweight people, especially as they age, tend to be less active and this leads to chronic health problems and the cycle of aging continues.
People who have suffered from eating disorders also tend to develop wrinkles, dry skin, and skeleton like features as they reach their thirties and forties. The body has spent an extended time malnourished, even if it was fifteen or twenty years before.
The effects of this phenomenon can be combated through a diet rich in anti-oxidants, fresh, natural foods, and ample muscle building exercise that does not result in excessive weight loss. Since the metabolism was effected during the time of the eating disorder, those who have recovered should periodically see a nutritionist to develop high energy, low fat, age fighting dietary plans.
6. Aging and choices. We all make daily choices that either help or hinder the aging process. Regular workouts can help prevent premature aging and keep the entire body in great shape.
Choosing television in the evening over physical exertion can lead to premature aging.
The chronic use of harsh chemicals on and around the body can add to aging, not to mention disease.
Everything from fingernail polish to natural products that make you feel good,(AKA High) and the medications that we pump into our body can have age related effects.
The closer we can get back to the natural form our bodies crave, the less likely we are to see our bodies age right before our eyes.
Making choices that work with our body rather than against it can help slow down the aging process. Learning to listen to your body can change everything. Stop eating when you are full. Rest when you are tired. Focus on yourself in a way that you never have before.
Turn to natural interventions when possible instead of chemical alterations for turning back the clock. These simple choices that work with our bodes own natural rhythm and pay us back in dividends beyond belief.
7. Aging and stress. Chronic, high stress lives are a good recipe for aging. Aside from the effects that a worried face has on facial wrinkles, stress affects everything from the way we carry ourselves to our energy level. People who are consumed with daily stress do not walk tall and proud like people who are feeling good about themselves. They move slower and they challenge their bodies less. People who are overwhelmed with stress also tend to have illnesses that can help the aging process along.
A certain amount of stress is actually good for us, although stress that creates physical signs on the body should be handled in a pleasant and relaxing manner.
Grab a weekly massage and practice calm forms of exercise like Yoga. Meditation can also help improve your overall stress level, which can make you feel more focused and younger.
While we can not keep those birthdays from rolling around in our direction, we can take affirmative action to keep the aging process from taking over our lives. With less stress, better diet, and exercise, and a happier outlook, we can retain our youthful joy and keep our spirits much younger. The youthful joy on the inside will be noticeable on the outside.