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Sarcopenia Causes and Prevention

20th October 2014
sarcopenia strength training

After the age of 50, the muscle mass starts decreasing naturally, at an annual rate of about 1-2%. In some people, however, the muscle mass loss, also referred to as sarcopenia or muscle wasting, starts at earlier ages, an improper diet and sedentary lifestyle contributing to the early onset of this condition.

Inactive 30-year-olds can lose between 3% and 5% of their muscle mass per decade, the prevalence of this condition being 5-13% in those aged 60-70 years and between 11% and 50% in people aged 80 and above. Muscle wasting typically accelerates after the age of 70, and often leads to frailty and increases the risk of falls.

Although the lack of physical activity can increase the risk of developing sarcopenia at younger ages, it is not the only factor that plays a role in the occurrence of this condition. Changes in hormone levels, that happen naturally as we age, as well as the denervation of muscle units caused by the death of motor neurons are also involved in the loss of muscle mass.

Muscle wasting can occur due to various reasons, but sarcopenia is linked to aging and is different from cachexia (loss of muscle mass due to disease) and muscle atrophy caused by inactivity. Cachexia for example can be present in people with cancer, lung disease, heart failure or multiple sclerosis, and muscle atrophy linked to inactivity is actually the result of decreased muscle protein synthesis.

Symptoms of muscle atrophy can develop rapidly, while sarcopenia is progressive and occurs even in people who are physically active, as a natural consequence of aging.

Slowing down age-related muscle wasting

The progress of sarcopenia can be slowed down by addressing the root causes of this condition. Surely the cell death and loss of neuromuscular function, or the changes in the endocrine system and protein metabolism are harder to influence, but nutrition and exercise are powerful tools that can be used for minimizing the loss of muscle mass.

Resistance training remains the preferred solution for age-related muscle wasting, as it increases muscle protein synthesis and restores hormone concentrations. Research shows that a supervised 2-week strength training program can increase protein synthesis by 182% and enhance the strength of muscle fibers (Hasten et al, 2000). 45 minutes of resistance training performed 3 times per week, for 12 weeks, can increase the percent of muscle fiber by 32%, and lead to a 30% increase in muscle strength.

Besides exercise, adequate nutrition can also be helpful. Nutrient like protein, creating and vitamin D can prevent muscle atrophy and slow down the progression of sarcopenia. Creatine supplementation is beneficial for anyone who practices strength exercises, as it helps in increasing strength and lean body mass.

Although usually perceived as an anti-osteoporotic agent, vitamin D helps in preserving muscle fibers that are prone to age-related atrophy, so it’s effective in reducing the incidence of both sarcopenia and osteoporosis. As for protein, it can be taken from meat, green leafy veggies, dairy products or even in the form of supplements, studies showing that whey protein powders have exceptionally beneficial for preserving muscle mass.

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