Aha! Now I know why things seem harder and harder as the years go by. As a kid I was invincible, I bounded up and down with barely a breath in between. There were no limits. Now I align my body as I get out of the car, I sensibly brace myself when I have to lean over to tie my shoes, and I don’t twist my neck; I carefully turn my body if I need to look behind me. God forbid I pull a muscle or pinch a nerve! Now this deterioration of function has a name – sarcopenia.
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Decline of muscle tissue
Sarcopenia, the decline of skeletal muscle tissue and muscle mass with age, is one of the most important causes of age-related functional decline and loss of independence. Wrinkles, loss of coordination, stooped posture, a general slowing down – these are all signs of sarcopenia.
For all the complaining we do about stiffness in daily life, clinically significant sarcopenia is estimated to be only in the range of 8.8% in women to 17.5% in men. The rate of muscle loss varies but a person may lose 3 to 8 percent of muscle mass per decade. People who are obese and sarcopenic fair worse than those who have sarcopenia but are not obese. This is because there is a disproportionate shrinking (atrophy) of muscle fibers with aging. There is also increased irregularity of muscle unit activity.
How to deter sarcopenia
As we age our body’s ability to make the proteins our muscles need to grow decreases. And when we are making less protein our muscle cells get smaller. Add to this falling hormone levels and we end up losing muscle mass.
Why does sarcopenia happen and what can be done? Decreased physical activity as we age appears to be the main causal factor in producing sarcopenia so staying active is paramount. Other factors are protein deficiency and changes in hormone levels. Poor nutrition speeds the progress of sarcopenia. Older adults often tend to eat less and if the foods they are eating are highly processed it can lead to malnutrition. As we age, daily exercise and a good diet that includes many fruits and vegetables remains critical. Your heart will thank you.
Dr. James Kneller treats atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, and other heart conditions. He is an internationally recognized authority on cardiovascular health and personal development.
Walston, J. D. (2012). Sarcopenia in older adults. Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 24(6), 623–627.