Muscle loss can cause a number of health problems as you...

Muscle loss can cause a number of health problems as you...
Muscle loss can cause a number of health problems as you...
Here’s a sobering fact: you can lose up to 40% of your muscle mass between your 20s and 80s. This may sound strange, but it’s a natural part of aging. Known as sarcopenia, it is the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs with age. Although we can start losing muscle from our 20s, that loss really accelerates once we hit our 60s. At the same time that sarcopenia leads to a loss of muscle mass, at the same time we are gaining fat mass and also seeing a sharp loss of strength. All of these can have a huge impact on how well an older person moves.

Muscle mass plays a huge role in our health. So much so that sarcopenia and sarcopenic obesity (the combination of low muscle mass and excess fat) and dynapenia (loss of muscle strength) have been linked to a surprisingly wide range of health conditions, from heart disease and diabetes to frailty and dementia.

In fact, among people who already have heart disease, those with the highest muscle mass seem to have the best chance of living longer. On the flip side, people with the smallest amounts of muscle seem to have the greatest risk of dying prematurely for any reason. This tells us that muscles could play a protective role in heart health. We don’t yet know why this happens – but it may have something to do with chemical messengers (myokines) that healthy muscles produce and can help reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Another great benefit of having healthy muscles is that they protect us from diabetes. When we eat and digest carbohydrates like potatoes, bread or rice, sugar enters our bloodstream, much of which is sent to our muscles. Our muscles use this sugar for energy or store it as glycogen to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This process is an important part of controlling blood sugar levels and explains why people with fewer muscles are more likely to develop diabetes.

In the elderly, low muscle counts are also associated with greater frailty, weakness, and less ability to perform normal daily activities. This means that people can have problems with normal tasks, such as B. Getting up, getting up from chairs, climbing stairs or carrying food. All of this can make independent life much more difficult. Movement difficulties can also make people move even less, which speeds up muscle loss.

People with sarcopenia who lead sedentary lives are also at greater risk of osteoporosis. This is because active muscles send signals to bones that help them stay strong. The loss of strength from sarcopenia means people are more prone to falls and broken bones. Again, this fear of falling can make some people more sedentary, affecting their quality of life and putting them at higher risk for depression.

Although sarcopenia is a natural part of aging, muscle loss is largely accelerated by inactivity. As we get older, we tend to exercise less. However, exercise is one of the most important signals our body needs to keep our muscles strong and healthy. Without this signal, our muscles get smaller and weaker over time. Eating protein also acts as a signal for muscle growth and maintenance. However, as we get older, we tend to have less appetite and eat less protein, which increases the risk of muscle loss.

Protein in your diet can help maintain muscle.
New Africa / Shutterstock

Lower levels of hormones like testosterone and estrogen, higher levels of body fat, insulin resistance (when the body doesn’t handle glucose as intended, which can lead to diabetes), and higher levels of inflammation are other reasons why older people lose more muscle easily than younger people. In fact, all of these factors combine to create what is known as “anabolic resistance”. This means the body doesn’t respond as well to the signals that normally lead to muscle growth.

If that’s not enough, current COVID-19 restrictions can make muscle loss even more likely. Data from smartphones showed that people were more sedentary than usual during lockdown. We also know that people’s sleep quality has decreased and people are likely to experience more stress and anxiety. These factors can also accelerate muscle loss by affecting hormones that increase muscle breakdown and promote weight gain by affecting appetite hormones, which causes people to eat more processed foods with more calories.

This is known as a “catabolic crisis” – a short period of time during which conditions come together to make muscle loss much more likely. Another example of a catabolic crisis would be when someone was hospitalized or forced to spend days or even weeks in bed. COVID-19 could very well lead to a catabolic crisis for many older adults following a lockdown.

Muscle loss can be prevented or at least slowed by making some lifestyle changes, namely exercise and diet. Weight training like lifting weights or using elastic resistance bands helps keep muscles strong and healthy, and regular walking can also help.

Eating a high-protein diet that includes foods like lean meat, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy products can also help build and maintain more muscle than just exercising. It’s especially important to consume at least 25-40 grams of protein per meal. In addition, popular supplements like vitamin D, fish oil, and creatine (a naturally occurring substance in muscles that helps them produce energy) can help people retain more muscle and improve their quality of life as they age. During this pandemic, when muscle wasting is more likely, prioritizing regular exercise and a healthy diet can make a big difference to long-term health.

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