As you age, your body naturally begins to decline — there’s simply no way around it. As frustrating as it may be, your muscular frame isn’t made to last forever. Unfortunately, this gradual muscle deterioration known as sarcopenia can contribute to several health issues, including the greater threat of injuries, metabolic decline, and an increased risk of mortality.
Let’s look at what causes sarcopenia and what you can do to prevent the condition from deteriorating your health.
What is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia, more commonly referred to as age-related muscle loss, is a naturally-occurring deterioration of skeletal muscle tissue that progresses with age. Hallmark symptoms of the condition include:
- Loss of muscle volume and tone
- Diminishing strength
- Progressively limited mobility
- Changes in gait related to loss of skeletal muscle
- Fatigue and weakness
Who is Susceptible to Age-Related Muscle Loss?
Studies show that age-related muscle loss begins as early as age 30, although symptoms are not usually noticeable until later in life. Beginning around age 50, adults experience an average muscle loss of one to two percent each year while seniors may see as much as a three percent loss.
Women are typically more prone to muscle wasting than men because men have more testosterone, an anabolic or muscle-promoting hormone.
What Causes Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia results from a wide range of age-related biological alterations and lifestyle factors. Although inactivity is widely assumed the great contributor to sarcopenia, it’s not the only driver behind the condition.
Hormone Levels: As you age, your hormone concentrations (e.g., testosterone, estrogen, etc.) naturally decline. Throughout the growth phase of your life, your anabolic hormones are responsible for adding and maintaining muscle tissue to your frame. As you advance into middle and late adulthood, however, those anabolic hormones experience a significant decrease in production.
Nerve Endings in Muscle: Muscular nerve innervation — the number of motor nerve endings present in your muscles — also declines with aging. This phenomenon often results in less efficient, and therefore, less frequent movement. When you’re young, you think about moving, and your muscles naturally respond. As you age, however, that process becomes much less rapid. You think about moving, but your muscle fibers are much slower to react.
Inactivity: Further exacerbating the condition is a spontaneous reduction in daily calorie consumption. Since adequate food intake is critical to prevent muscle wasting, older adults typically experience worsening muscle loss as their daily food consumption naturally decreases.
Can You Prevent Age-Related Muscle Loss?
Preventing and even reversing sarcopenia is possible, though addressing the condition requires a dedicated effort.
Exercise: Regular resistance training stimulates both neurological and muscular adaptations that help to mitigate the progression of age-related muscle loss. Researchers recommend performing two to four sessions of resistance training per week, preferably on alternating days. If resistance training is not feasible, incorporating aerobic activities such as walking or swimming can help to prevent further muscle loss.
Increase Protein Intake: Maintaining adequate calorie intake with an appropriate balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat can also help slow the progression of age-related muscle loss. If you’re currently suffering from sarcopenia, researchers suggest a daily protein intake of 1 to 1.3 grams per kilogram of your body weight. For example, a 150-pound individual would require approximately 68 to 89 grams of protein per day.
Hormone Replacement Therapy: For many sarcopenia sufferers, exercise and nutrition are not enough to stop the progression of the condition. For those individuals who have experienced significant reductions in circulating hormone levels, hormone replacement therapy may be necessary. We recommend speaking with your doctor about whether hormone replacement therapy is the best route for you.
Combating Sarcopenia? Consistency is Key
This combination of inactivity, hormonal changes, neurological alterations, and reduced food intake contributes to a gradual reduction in your body’s ability to maintain muscle mass.
If you currently suffer from sarcopenia, maintaining consistency with your diet and exercise can prevent further progression of the condition.
Start by implementing small changes you know you can maintain over time, then build from there. You may be surprised at just how much better you feel and function!
David Sautter is a NASM certified personal trainer and a NASM certified fitness nutrition specialist who has worked in the fitness industry for over 12 years.
During his time in the fitness industry, David Sautter has conducted many fitness workshops, trained hundreds of clients, and has written extensively for a variety of companies. He has been a featured fitness writer on many high-profile health and fitness websites. Aside from producing weekly articles, David has been the writer of several e-books and training guides.
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