Muscle Loss and Aging

Child holding senior citizens hand.
Photo by carmonaguerro @ Freepik.com

Aging and muscle loss is but one of the reasons senior citizens spend their retirement years in nursing homes. Yet, it does not have to be this way. The key is to begin the work of preventing muscle loss at a young age – it is a shorter distance between young and old than we ever believe when we are in our youth.

Just like bone density decreases with age, we also lose muscle mass. Muscle loss can be defined as decrease in the muscle mass. Also called by other names as muscle atrophy or muscle wasting, this condition can affect day to day life of a person. The decline in skeletal muscle, a condition called sarcopenia, is a natural process that occurs in everyone over time. It can lead to frailty and increased risk for falls and loss of independence.

You may not care about aging and muscle loss right now, but there will come a time when you will care. You will care when you can no longer get yourself up off of the toilet by yourself anymore. When you get to where you can no longer walk up stairs you will care. Finding yourself isolated within a nursing home should bring about regret when you know that you could have done something to prevent this condition.

Sarcopenic Obesity

From: NIH National Library of Medicine 

Sarcopenic obesity, a chronic condition, is today a major public health problem with increasing prevalence worldwide, which is due to progressively aging populations, the increasing prevalence of obesity, and the changes in lifestyle during the last several decades. Patients usually present to healthcare facilities for obesity and related comorbidities (type 2 diabetes mellitus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease) or for non-specific symptoms related to sarcopenia per se (e.g., fatigue, weakness, and frailty). Because of the non-specificity of the symptoms, sarcopenic obesity remains largely unsuspected and undiagnosed. The pathogenesis of sarcopenic obesity is multifactorial. There is interplay between aging, sedentary lifestyle, and unhealthy dietary habits, and insulin resistance, inflammation, and oxidative stress, resulting in a quantitative and qualitative decline in muscle mass and an increase in fat mass. Myokines, including myostatin and irisin, and adipokines play a prominent role in the pathogenesis of sarcopenic obesity. It has been suggested that a number of disorders affecting metabolism, physical capacity, and quality of life may be attributed to sarcopenic obesity, although it is not as yet established whether sarcopenia and obesity act synergistically. There is to date no approved pharmacological treatment for sarcopenic obesity. The cornerstones of its management are weight loss and adequate protein intake combined with exercise, the latter in order to reduce the loss of muscle mass observed during weight loss following diet unpaired with exercise. A consensus on the definition of sarcopenic obesity is considered essential to facilitate the performance of mechanistic studies and clinical trials aimed at deepening our knowledge, thus enabling improved management of affected individuals in the near future.

Muscle loss does not have to be inevitable!

Early intervention and careful attention to diet and exercise are crucial. So, instead of counting on a miracle during your senior years, don’t procrastinate.

  • Increase protein intake. No matter your age, an increase in protein intake can actually stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Since protein intake under 20 grams can actually blunt muscle protein synthesis in elders, our senior citizens should incorporate 25 to 30 grams of “high-quality protein” in every single meal.
  • Strengthen your muscles with Vitamin D. Start by getting your daily dose of sunshine. You can also fuel up on vitamin D through foods such as :
    1. Fatty fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel, and tuna
    2. Cod liver oil
    3. Eggs
    4. Vitamin D fortified cereal
    5. Vitamin D fortified milk
      • We recommend that you first consult with your physician before taking Vitamin D supplements. Your physician will do blood labs to determine how much, if any, supplementation you might require.
  • Exercise to maintain lean muscle mass!  Note: Always get clearance from your physician before beginning an exercise regimen. Once your physician has cleared you for exercise you will soon notice a better quality of life. Retaining muscle tone and halting age-related muscle loss calls for both regular aerobic and resistance exercise.
    1. For elders in good health, the American Heart Association recommends fitting in about 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each day. You can try:
      • Walking
      • Swimming
      • Dancing or Exercising To Music

Over the years, there have been many studies which have looked at sarcopenia in conjunction with existing illnesses. Compared to normal healthy individuals, sarcopenia is more common in those with conditions like obesity, osteoporosis, osteopenia, type-2 diabetes, and breast cancer. It only makes sense to work at battling or controlling other health conditions while you are young in order to help slow down age related muscle loss. The younger you are when you begin working at preventing age related muscle loss, you can be reassured that you are rewarding yourself with a better quality of life once you have aged into your senior years.

Are You Afraid to Get Old?

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