Sarcopenia and Exercise: Why Working Out Can Help
Did you know that you start losing muscle mass at a rate of 3-5% per decade starting from age 30? If 30 seems young to begin the aging process, that’s because it is.
Many people nowadays are choosing to start having children at 30. How can it also be the age when the body starts to lose its muscle mass due to age?
If this fact shocks you, keep reading to find out how you can combat sarcopenia early on to prevent it from taking over your life as the years go on.
What is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is a fancy, scientific word for a simple phenomenon: the loss of muscle mass due to aging.
Once the body hits 30 years of age, it starts to lose muscle mass. Yes, that’s right. Like a ticking clock, the body starts its downward spiral toward old age at 30 years old.
In fact, a staggering 25-45% of older adults in the United States suffer from varying rates of sarcopenia.
Literally translated to mean “lack of flesh”, sarcopenia is the definition of withering away. When you see a frail-looking old person, what you’re seeing on a scientific level is sarcopenia in action.
Researchers aren’t 100% certain what causes sarcopenia. But two main things come into play: lack of physical activity, and an ineffective nervous system.
While you can’t do much about the natural happenings of the nervous system, you can do something about your physical activity levels and your dietary choices.
Symptoms of Sarcopenia
Aging is the number one cause of sarcopenia. But there’s more going on inside the body that simply aging.
As the body grows older, cells in the nervous system start to slow down the signals between the brain and the muscles.
The aging body also has a decreased ability to turn protein into energy. This leads to the main symptoms of sarcopenia — muscle weakness and physical stamina.
Muscle weakness can have a negative impact on physical ability and mental associations with exercise. And lack of exercise only leads to a worsening of the condition.
How can you break this seemingly neverending cycle? Push through the weakness and whatever mental barriers that go along with it and just do it.
There are a few pharmaceutical options being studied including testosterone and growth hormone supplements, but these come with their own set of side effects.
If medication is taken to treat sarcopenia, it should be taken in tandem with physical exercise, not in place of it.
How to Stop Losing Muscle Mass
Luckily, you don’t have to throw in the towel and succumb to the aging process once you hit 30. Quite the opposite.
You have the power to combat these physiological changes with exercise. You know exercise is the key to living a long and healthy life — but up until now, you’ve probably associated it with weight loss.
While eating a healthy diet and partaking in regular exercise will certainly combat obesity and the onset of heart-related problems, have you ever stopped to consider that exercise will actually help keep the weight on?
Exercise (specifically strength training) is the magic potion to combat sarcopenia in your later years.
Take this 66-year old powerlifter, Ellen Stein. At 66, her body has had over 30 years to deteriorate. But she didn’t let that happen. Through regular strength training and cardio, she’d managed to escape the hold of sarcopenia.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to be a powerlifter to get these results. Any strength training will do. Even a simple resistance band routine done regularly will do the trick.
It can be hard, especially for seniors, to begin a regular exercise regime. That’s why you should start early and make it a solid part of your routine before it becomes too hard to start.
That being said, if you’re a senior reading this now, it’s not too late! It’s never too late to begin exercising. It might not feel good when you first start out but every little bit counts.
How Does Exercise Help, Exactly?
Any type of exercise helps overall health. But to prevent and reverse the impact of sarcopenia, you must commit to strength training.
Cardiovascular activity is all well and good, and it’s certainly good for the heart, but spending hours per week on a treadmill or power walking around the park won’t do any good for your muscle loss.
Strength training, specifically high-intensity resistance training is the only tried and true method of rebuilding (or never losing) that quality muscle mass.
The notion of “quality over quantity” comes into play here, as well. What happens with sarcopenia isn’t so much about the decrease in the amount of muscle, but the strength of it.
Loss of muscle mass is one component of sarcopenia. But the more important thing is the loss of muscular strength. That is how regular resistance training can help. It not only builds up muscle mass, but it builds up muscle strength as well.
Types of Exercise for Sarcopenia
As mentioned, when exercising to reduce the effects of sarcopenia, strength training is the key.
Here are some examples of great exercises to combat muscle loss:
- Push-ups (from the knees is fine, especially for beginners)
- Squats (add a resistance band around the legs for an added challenge)
- Balance exercises such as hip kicks and arm reaches
- Bicep curls and tricep extensions (these can be done with dumbells or resistance bands)
These are only a few of the many great strength training exercises that can be done to combat the symptoms of muscle loss.
If you’re not sure where to start, consult a personal trainer or coach to get some insight before you dive in.
Off You Go!
The only thing that’s been proven effective to prevent losing muscle mass as you age is exercise.
Physiologically, sarcopenia is inevitable. It will happen. It will just happen a lot less if you strength train.
If this doesn’t frighten you into activity, we don’t know what will. Check out our wellness program today and begin your path to strength in old age!