Sarcopenia is what we call the steady loss of muscle mass that happens as we age. Even though we can begin to lose muscle from the age of 20, it isn’t until we hit our 60’s that this loss really speeds up. What’s more frightening, is that not only does sarcopenia cause us to lose muscle mass, but we simultaneously lose strength and gain fat mass. These can all negatively affect an older person’s ability to move.
While we cannot stop the process of muscle loss as we get older, we can definitely slow it down. Making a few lifestyle changes such as adding exercise and making conscious changes to our diet can have a pretty big impact on helping our muscles stay strong and healthy. Regular walking is a great place to start, as well as resistance exercises such as light weight lifting or using elastic resistance bands. Alternatively, you could join some group community classes to make it more fun and social.
It is important to eat foods that are rich in protein such as lean meats, fish and eggs as these all contribute towards building and maintaining more muscle. Additionally, taking supplements like vitamin D, fish oil and creatine can also benefit our ability to hold more muscle.
Muscle mass is central to the condition of our health, with sarcopenia, sarcopenic obesity (low muscles mass alongside excess fat) and dynapenia (loss of muscle strength) largely impacting a wide range of health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, frailty and dementia.
It seems that muscle mass plays a protective roll in heart health. Noticeably, amongst those who already have heart disease, the ones with higher levels of muscle mass are more likely to live longer than those with lower muscle mass, who tend to be more at risk of dying prematurely from all causes.
Furthermore, having healthy muscles can protect us from developing diabetes. This is because our muscles use the sugar (created from the food we eat) for energy or to store as glycogen to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This is a vital part of blood sugar control and therefore explains why those with higher muscle mass have a lower chance of getting diabetes.
So, with a few mindful changes to our lifestyles we can improve our quality of life. Adding exercise and being conscious of the food we eat can help slow down the process of muscle loss as we get older, which in turn can have a huge positive benefit to our long-term health.