What is Sarcopenia, What Causes It, and How Can You Maintain Muscle Mass As You Age?

Every person gains muscle mass and strength from birth until middle age. However, after the age of 30, your muscles start to weaken and lose functionality. The cause of this muscle loss is age-related and while it can be treated, it cannot be prevented. Sarcopenia is when the loss of muscle mass becomes so severe that it results in a person becoming disabled. Physically inactive people are more susceptible to severe cases of sarcopenia than those who workout regularly. People who are physically inactive can lose anywhere from 3% to 5% of their muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 30. Those who are active regularly will still see muscle loss, but it will be at a much lower rate.

Muscle loss occurs naturally and in all humans, eventually. The medical issue arises when the sarcopenia severely affects the person in question. For some, sarcopenia starts to seriously affect musculature as early as 65-years-old and for others, it doesn’t set in until 80. The complex process of muscle degeneration has stumped scientists and doctors for years. It is still unknown why sarcopenia can affect sedentary and active people with the same severity. Scientists have found some factors that play a key role in the development of sarcopenia as aging occurs, including: a change in hormone levels, dying motor neurons, and altered requirements around protein. All of these factors, plus the fact that as people age they become more sedentary naturally, play a role.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to maintain muscle mass while you age. As stated earlier, loss of muscle mass starts in middle age, but it is not severe enough that it causes any sort of disability-related issues. This is the best time to start working on maintaining muscle mass. How? Below we’ve collected a list of ways to help maintain muscle mass and prevent sarcopenia from setting in early.

5 Ways to Maintain Muscle Mass While Aging & Avoid Sarcopeniasarcopenia

1. Establish An Exercise Routine

As you age, the worst thing that you can do to stave off sarcopenia is adapt to your sedentary lifestyle and remain inactive. Exercise is the best way to intervene with muscle loss and prevent it from escalating at a fast rate. When establishing an exercise routine, it is important to focus on resistance exercise. Resistance exercises use weights and reps to improve strength in muscles and decrease frailty. If you can get into the gym or find time to exercise at home at least 3 days a week then your chances of losing muscles and developing sarcopenia will become much lower.

2. Increase Your Protein Intake

It is extremely important that as you age, you increase the amount of protein you consume. Protein is a food that is directly relating to repairing muscle fibers and building more muscle. In a study that was recently completed, it showed that over 10% of men and almost 25% of women over the age of 70 years old do not get the recommended amount of protein in their daily diet. By increasing your protein intake, you’re setting your body up to maintain musculature. There is a simple formula that can be used to determine the amount of protein you should be incorporating into your day-to-day diet. First take your weight and multiply by .45 to determine your body weight in kilograms. Then multiply that number by 1.2 to determine how many grams of protein you should be eating every day.

3. Balance Hormone Levels

Ensuring that your hormone levels are balanced is another important factor in maintaining muscle mass. This is especially true for women who are post-menopausal. Deficiencies in hormones among men and women have been directly linked to sarcopenia. There are many ways to monitor your hormone levels and plenty of ways – medically and naturally – to balance or supplement your hormones. Hormone maintenance starts with blood work that is done by your doctor to establish the existing levels within your body. You’ll then develop a plan on increasing or decreasing hormones until you reach a healthy balance that promotes muscle maintenance.

4. Introduce Vitamin D Into Your Diet

Multiple medical studies have shown that lower muscle strength is directly associated to low levels of vitamin D in a person’s blood. Lower levels of vitamin D result in instability and frequent falls in older adults. No matter race, ethnicity, or sex – low levels of vitamin D is the most common nutritional deficiency among the elderly and low levels have been associated with sarcopenia. By supplementing vitamin D into your diet, you can improve the function and mass of muscles and prevent sarcopenia.

5. Decrease Pro-Inflammatory Foods & Increase Anti-Inflammatory Foods

It is important for overall health to cut back on the pro-inflammatory foods you consume daily. The two biggest substances that you want to avoid if cutting pro-inflammatory foods out of your diet are high fructose corn syrup and trans fat. Processed foods are also guilty of containing omega-6 fatty acids and other substances, such as refined sugar and carbohydrates, that create inflammation. By decreasing pro-inflammatory substances in your diet and increasing anti-inflammatory foods, you’ll improve any onset sarcopenia and your overall health. It is recommended to adopt a Mediterranean diet if you are struggling with unhealthy eating habits. You can learn more about what foods and substances make up a Mediterranean diet here.

Muscle loss occurs naturally as we age, but that does not mean that we cannot maintain muscle mass to fight off sarcopenia. These five suggestions above are a great place to start working on maintaining muscle mass. If you are interested in getting more information about exercising and dieting to improve your overall health, visit the health section of the Orthopaedic Specialist website.

Dr. Stacie Grossfeld has over 10 years of experience as an orthopedic surgeon with a focus on sports medicine. Healthy muscle mass is crucial for athletes and adults, alike, and Dr. Grossfeld has extensive knowledge surrounding musculature and healthy ways to maintain muscle mass as we age. If you are suffering from limited mobility and strength due to a loss of muscle mass, contact Orthopaedic Specialists today at 502-212-2663.