Age-related muscle loss, also called sarcopenia, is a regular part of the aging process. Muscle loss with age happens in different degrees to all of us.
Studies show that physically inactive people lose between 3 to 5 percent of their muscle mass each decade starting as early as age 30. Even if you are active, you can still lose some muscle, so all the more reason to stay active!
There is no specific test for muscle mass to diagnose sarcopenia. Loss of muscle means less strength and less mobility, both of which may cause frailty and the likelihood of falls and fractures.
Causes of Muscle Loss
Although aging is the primary cause of muscle loss, there are other multiple causes including:
- Immobility: Living a sedentary lifestyle can put you at an increased risk of developing sarcopenia. Immobilization and decreased activity decrease muscle mass and strength resulting in increased fatigue.
- Poor nutrition: Insufficient calories and proteins cause weight loss and decrease muscle mass. Poor nutrition is possible at any age. However, it reduces muscle mass fast in older people. With older people, low calories and proteins are common due to problems with teeth and gums, difficulty in swallowing, changes in tastes, and others.
- Low concentration of some hormones: Loss of hormones, such as testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin.
- Loss of neuromuscular function: This is caused by satellite cells which are usually activated in case of an injury or exercise. With old age come reduced satellite cells resulting in decreased neuromuscular function.
Effects of Muscle Loss
So what are the consequences of muscle loss with age? The following are the effects.
- Decreased strength
- Muscle fatigue
- Decreased physical activities
- Loss of autonomy
The good news is, muscle loss can be prevented with some simple diet changes and lifestyle change. Here’s how you limit it from happening.
Ways to Reduce Muscle Loss With Age
1) Increase protein intake
Protein is of primary importance when it comes to muscle development. The amino acids in proteins help to build muscles.
Research shows that 20 to 30 percent of your diet should be protein. Elders should incorporate 30 grams in every meal, as this constant infusion of “muscle fuel” will be your best hedge against muscle loss as you age (1).
2) Check your vitamin D Levels
As you grow older, your body’s ability to make vitamin D through sun exposure becomes difficult. You can get vitamin D through foods such as eggs, cod liver oil, vitamin D fortified milk, cereals, and others.
The body needs vitamin D to help with muscle protein synthesis and to fight inflammation. Ask your doctor about supplements as well, as there are a number of vitamin D capsules you can take on a daily basis to ensure adequate amounts of this important vitamin.
These nutrients are an important part of retaining muscle mass, and maintaining our strength and vitality (2).
The strongest way to fight muscle loss is by keeping the muscles active. A combination of resistance training and aerobic exercises are vital because they activate muscles. But of these two, resistance training is the most important. It is the key to maintaining muscle mass.
About 20 to 30 minutes of exercise three times a week is recommended to improve muscle mass and strength. Continuing strength training as you age is one of the single most effective ways of building lean muscle, and avoiding muscle loss with age.
Exercise is a crucial component of preventing and managing muscle loss.
Final Thoughts on Muscle Loss
Muscle loss becomes common with age and can decrease your quality of life. Stay active, and do a few days a week of resistance training (lifting weights or bodyweight exercise) to prevent muscle loss. And make sure your diet has enough calories and proteins.
Exercising is the most effective way of preventing muscle loss with age. Walking can also slow your muscle loss. The most important thing is staying active to keep your muscle mass up as you age.
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1. Preserve your muscle mass. Harvard Health. (2016). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass.
2. Thorpe, M. (2017). How to Fight Sarcopenia (Muscle Loss Due to Aging). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sarcopenia.