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What Is Sarcopenia and How Can You Defeat It?

Posted on July 16, 2020 By In Fitness With disabled comments

When most people worry about getting old, they focus on the obvious degenerative diseases like diabetes and cancer and Alzheimer’s or the catastrophic health emergencies that can occur, like strokes or heart attacks. They think about the melange of medicines they might have to take, the panicked rush to the ER in the dead of night, the slow but unmistakable descent into painful oblivion. But one of the deadliest health conditions afflicting older adults is also one of the most silent and unknown: sarcopenia, or the degeneration and loss of muscle mass and strength.

People just don’t think about losing muscle mass and strength as they get older. If they do, they assume it’s just part of the aging process. They figure it’s unavoidable, because, after all, everyone around them just gets weaker and more decrepit as they age. It’s one of those “inevitabilities” that you “just have to accept.”

Screw that.

Muscle loss is not your destiny. You don’t have to sit there and take it. In fact, sitting there and taking it is the single best way to get sarcopenia; standing up and fighting is the single best way to avoid it. Plus, taking the necessary steps to mitigate or even prevent sarcopenia will help prevent all those other age-related maladies I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

Health Problems Related to Muscle Atrophy, or Muscle Loss

Sarcopenia the specific condition is linked to a number of poor health outcomes:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3060646/‘>2:

  • It’s degradation of the muscle tissue.
  • It’s conversion from fast-twitch Type 2 muscle fibers that can handle heavy loads and high intensity to slow-twitch Type 1 muscle fibers that can only handle lighter loads and lower intensities.
  • It’s the loss of motor units at the muscle itself, forcing the few remaining motor units to pick up the slack and extending recovery times.
  • It’s the loss of cardiac strength, which impairs cardiovascular function and lowers VO2max.
  • It’s the impairment of tendon function, reducing strength and mobility and increasing the risk of injury.

Sarcopenia Definition

The European Working Group diagnoses sarcopenia if you have two of three conditions:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15571536‘>4

  • In elderly women, resistance training induces hypertrophy and lowers inflammation.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21164115‘>6
  • Even in subjects older than 80, strength training seems to counter the effects of sarcopenia.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16886097‘>8 Even more may be needed, since attaining nitrogen balance isn’t necessarily optimal. In studies where they compare resistance training seniors who eat extra protein with resistance training seniors who don’t, only the seniors eating extra protein gain muscle mass.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27717662/‘>10https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/58/10/M911/534906‘>12

    Normally I’d favor just sunlight, but the potential for impaired vitamin D production in older adults makes supplementation plus sun a wise choice.

    Check Your Hormone Levels

    For older men, low testosterone is a huge risk factor for sarcopenia. Inadequate testosterone makes building and retaining lean muscle mass harder than it should be, so even if you strength train and eat extra protein to fight sarcopenia, you get subpar results. Optimize your T levels, whether through natural means or, if required, supplemental.://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/Fulltext/2020/05000/The_association_between_hormone_therapy_and.4.aspx‘>14

    Get a Handle on Inflammation

    Patients with sarcopenia tend to have higher baseline levels of inflammation.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12473005/‘>16

    Eat plenty of seafood and fish oil while avoiding seed oils to balance out your inflammatory precursors.

    Recover from your workouts with adequate protein and calories and fat.

    Don’t overeat too much. Not only is overeating on a regular basis inflammatory, it can increase intramuscular levels of fat in the muscles which degrade their function and exacerbate the sarcopenia.

    Lose Body Fat

    For years, researchers assumed the causality went sarcopenia—->obesity. Makes sense on some level. The weaker and more frail you are, the less you’re able to get enough physical activity to stay fit and trim. But the latest research suggests the causality runs the other way: excess adipose tissue secretes inflammatory adipokines which impair muscle function and structure.