There’s no doubt about it. As we humans grow older, we tend to lose muscle strength. The medical term for it is sarcopenia.
It’s sort of like osteoporosis of the muscles. Whereas osteoporosis is a condition where the skeleton loses bone mass and quality, sarcopenia is a disorder that results in the loss of muscle mass and function.
These health conditions are two of the primary reasons older people become frail and end up experiencing more falls, fractures and hospitalizations as they age. And these conditions often occur together.
That’s because there is a bi-directional relationship between muscle and bone. Compounds produced by your bones affect the health of your muscles, and compounds produced by skeletal muscle has an impact on your bone health.
However, it appears that deteriorating muscle conditions occur first, and are then followed by harmful bone alterations.
In fact, research finds that if you have sarcopenia, you may have two to three times greater odds of also developing osteoporosis. This is a double-whammy to your stability and frailty level; and greatly increases your risk of taking a life-altering tumble that could lead to long-term disability.
That’s a bad thing. But it may not be the worst of it, because bones aren’t the only body system that your muscles have an effect on.
Muscle Goes Beyond Strength and Movement
We generally think of muscle in terms of strength and movement. But don’t forget that your heart is a muscle, too!
So it’s not surprising that sarcopenia is associated with vascular disorders, such as plaque buildup in the arteries, decreased cardiopulmonary function and heart failure.
It’s also linked to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Part of the reason for this is because low muscle mass alters the way blood sugar is metabolized.
But a lot of the reason for these poor health outcomes is the chronic inflammation associated with sarcopenia. To top it off, sarcopenia patients are generally inactive. They get too much sedentary time and not enough physical activity. Plus, people with sarcopenia are often undernourished.
Put all of these factors together, and they place the body in a state where it continually breaks down muscles and internal organs. And in the long-term, that’s not a good thing.
In fact, sarcopenia can even reduce cognitive function and increase dementia risk. When researchers in China tested people 65 and older over a seven-year period, those with sarcopenia had worse scores on the Basic Dementia Risk Model, a test that predicts dementia risk.
This shows us exactly how important our muscles are to our overall health and well-being.
Reclaim Your All-Important Muscles
There are two things that can lead to sarcopenia.
The first is that, as we age, our muscles have a harder time synthesizing protein. To make matters worse, we know that older adults with sarcopenia often tend to eat significantly less protein than those who do not have sarcopenia.
Wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry and pastured eggs are all good sources of animal proteins. Plant-based sources of protein include lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, amaranth, quinoa, dark leafy greens and almond milk.
But before you load up on these foods, talk to your doctor. The reason is simple: If your kidneys aren’t functioning at 100%, a diet high in protein can harm them.
The second is a lack of physical activity. The only real way to build muscle is to stress it and let it repair. This requires participation in resistance exercises.
And 121 randomized controlled trials prove it. They all show that older people who participate in resistance training get stronger, walk and climb stairs better and are able to get up and down from their chair more quickly.
In fact, one of those studies involved people from 90 to 99 years of age. With just 8 weeks of high-intensity resistance training they increased their muscle strength by an astounding 174%, and their gait speed by 48%.
That’s amazing! They nearly doubled their strength in just two months!
And it’s really not as hard as you might think.
I’ve been doing a variety of daily exercises for a while now that includes things like wall push-ups (using my own body weight for resistance) for 30 seconds or so. Or using my 15-pound weights to work my arms, back and shoulders. Sometimes I’ll lift a ball while doing sit/stand maneuvers for 30 seconds.
I’m loving it!
As simple as these maneuvers sound, they work my muscles and build up a real sweat. And I like the idea that they are simple, easy exercises that are crucial to maintaining my health, so I always look forward to my next session.
No one should be afraid of physical activity. But if you have any concerns at all don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor before ramping up your physical activities.
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