By Danielle Wirick, MS, CSCS, FMSC
Curls for the girls! That’s what I regularly hear from one of our older (and wiser) clients at Intelligent Fitness. Although he might be lifting for “the girls” it might actually be giving him a longer, better quality of life and keep him above ground even longer! Age related loss of muscle mass, strength & power is known as Sarcopenia. Sarcopenia isn’t a disease or a syndrome because what is normal muscle loss versus abnormal muscle loss, with age, is not medically defined. But we do know that an inactive person will lose about 0.5%-1.0% of muscle loss each year after age 25, increasing to 1%-2% after age 50 and 3% each year after age 60. (Doria et al. 2012) When you are younger you rarely think of how muscle loss will affect you later in life, but as the growth of the older population is increasing quickly, it’s important to realize what that means. Sarcopenia leads to fraility as we get older as well as loss of independence. It can be a burden on an already burdened health care system and on family and friends as caregivers.
But what causes Sarcopenia and what can you do? There are three major factors involved.
1) A reduction in muscle innervation. Basically “use-it-or-lose-it!” When a person is inactive, motor neurons die from that inactivity, which in turn causes atrophy, or wasting, or the muscle cells. BUT… when muscles are contracted, as in exercise, there is a release of growth factors that activate cells and promote protein synthesis and muscle growth.
2) When there is oxidative damage in our body, ATP, our energy “currency” is impaired and cells are unable to carry out some of our basic metabolic functions. Since skeletal muscle is the body’s largest consumer of oxygen, it is also the hardest hit. Research has found that moderate and high intensity exercise helps to promote the production of antioxidant enzymes that can combat this oxidative damage.
3) Nutrition. Most important are adequate amounts of proteins, vitamin D and antioxidant nutrients. There has been found to be, on average, a 25% decrease in food intake between the ages of 40 and 70 which leads to too little protein and micronutrients. So consumption or supplementation of those key nutrients as we age is important.
So can we battle the effects of Sarcopenia? Yes, with the correct stimulus (exercise) and nutrition, you too will have the “beach body” you’ve always wanted through ALL the years of your life!