Muscle wastage. It's a part of aging that we all know exists but think it happens to other people and will by pass us. We all know that our skin loses elasticity and gravity pulls everything down but we don't actually think about how our daily activity could make or break us as a middle aged to elderly person.
On average, people over the age of 30 lose 4-5% muscle mass per year
We don't put much thought into our muscles unless you are sore from a recent workout or a big day gardening. Then when we have to get into or out of our chair we feel muscles we didn't know we had! So imagine if your leg muscles were wasting away and you didn't have the strength to lift yourself out of the chair. Or you fell and didn't have the strength in your arms to pull yourself up.
What is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is a muscle wasting disease that affects one in three people globally over the age of 60
It was only in 2016 that Sarcopenia was given its own code in WHO International Code of Diseases. Without a classification, there wasn't any agreement within the health community of what was a "normal" or a benchmark of age related muscle loss, or any clinical guidelines for diagnosis or treatment.
Sarcopenia is to muscles what osteoporosis is to bones
And researchers understand sarcopenia now in 2018 as well as they understood osteoporosis back in the 1950s. And a large majority of GPs in Australia are unaware of it, or not sure about diagnosing it.
What is agreed on though is we can do things to help ourselves and prevent this debilitating disease. Although it's sad to think that our lack of care for ourselves can lead to this, it's also quite motivating to know we can do something about it.
How can you prevent to sarcopenia?
1. Physical activity
Strength (or resistance) training is especially important. According to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research last year, just 30 minutes twice a week of high intensity resistance and impact training was shown to improve functional performance, along with bone density, structure, and strength in postmenopausal women with low bone mass — without any negative effects.
Whilst the Fitbit, iPhone watches and fitness apps are good at keeping track of how many steps you take in a day, it's the quality and type of exercise you do that will have the most benefit in the long run. Your muscles need to be worked, contracted, pushed and have resistance against them. Engage your muscles and prevent them from wasting away. Get on the stationary bike if you belong to a gym or have one at home, do some squats holding on to a chair, some step ups, grab some light hand weights or a large tin of something from your pantry to use for some bicep curls. Or even pick up a resistance band from your local sports shop. You don't need expensive equipment and it's not about being a weightlifter and gaining large muscles, it's about adding enough resistance to your muscles to prevent them from wasting away.
Strength training helps with:
- weight management
- balance - we all know we are prone to falling more as we age
- mood improvement
- management of chronic disease
- energy levels
2. Diet and Nutrition
Diet is everything! What we put into our bodies has such a high impact on our health. And for a lot of older people, especially those on a pension, may find their quality of diet decreases with lack of income, increase of cost of living etc. To avoid Sarcopenia a diet high in low acid protein, and high in fresh fruit and vegetables is vital. Which is in fact a cheaper way to eat. Most meat products are high in acid, as are some dairy products and grains. But finding a source of protein that you enjoy and limiting your meat intake is a great way to avoid Sarcopenia.
High protein, low acid foods:
- egg whites
- legumes - lentils, navy beans, kidney beans, chickpeas
- chia seeds (2.5g protein/tablespoon)
- organic oats
- nuts and seeds - pumpkin seeds, pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds
- cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, spinach)
Vitamin D regulates the neuromuscular system and impacts the synthesis of proteins. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to weak and fatty muscles, loss of strength and muscle wastage. And vitamin D is of course great for strong bones, and is important in the role of absorbing calcium. Because bones pull on muscles, there is a strong play between the two and having both strong bones AND muscles are important for supporting each other.
So next time you think exercise is for the crazy ones, you might think again!
How much exercise, and more importantly, strength training exercise do you get?