Sarcopenia, Muscle Loss and Aging

The importance of muscle

Every time we lift our legs to walk up a flight of stairs or raise an arm to scratch our nose, we’re using our skeletal muscles. These muscles are attached to bones by tendons, and produce voluntary movements of our body parts. As we reach our late 20s and early 30s, we start losing about one half pound of muscle each year, or 3-5% of our muscle mass each decade. This process is, unfortunately, a natural part of our bodies aging, and accelerates with a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity. As strength goes, so does our physical functioning—the ability to do chores, take walks, climb stairs, and accomplishing other activities. This decline in muscle mass, strength, and function is called Sarcopenia and it is one of the five biggest health risks facing the U.S. population.

Sarcopenia—symptoms and causes

Lost muscle tissue is replaced by fat, usually in a subtle way that makes it hard to notice. On the outside, our bodies may not change much, however the new ratio of muscle to fat comes with a whole set of health issues, and an overall decline in quality of life. Sarcopenia not only affects our performance doing heavier tasks, but also affects balance and gait, and our bodies’ general ability to resist injury. We become less efficient in reacting and responding to subtle shifts in balance and posture. With a lack of cushioning muscle tissue, our bodies are also less protected from the forceful impact of a fall, as well as more serious events like a car accident. We are more likely to sustain serious fractures and injuries to vital organs, and also be subjected to longer recovery times.

With an aging U.S. population, the increase in healthcare costs associated with sarcopenia are on the rise. The most efficient way to prevent future hospital visits and expensive health care bills, and at the same time reverse a declining life quality, is to perform muscle-strengthening and muscle-building exercises. We need to invest in ourselves and our future!

How to combat the loss of muscle tissue, strength, and function

In order to gain strength and muscle volume, it’s key to expose the muscles to a significant load. We won’t get the same results by walking or swimming; weight is imperative in order to stimulate growth. Only weight training will cause the muscle fibers to tear, and just like the body would heal a wound by creating scar tissue in order to make the damaged area stronger, muscles also repair themselves to become stronger. This process is called “supercompensation,” as our bodies respond by building the muscles bigger and stronger than before in order to prepare for any future strains. Another factor shown to be of significance in the fight against sarcopenia is consuming more protein. The building blocks in our muscles are made up of proteins, and it’s important to consume increased amounts of this macronutrient, especially with age, to prevent and reverse loss of muscle tissue.