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How to fight age-related muscle loss

Sarcopenia is a word that’s used to describe age-related muscle loss and strength, and it’s estimated to affect approximately one-third of older people.

Muscle loss isn’t about vanity, nor is it about how much weight you can lift in the gym. The reason that maintaining muscle throughout adult life is important is that it helps us to stay independent and mobile as we get older. These factors are essential for good health, as well as for the enjoyment of life.

Sarcopenia can contribute to an increased risk of falls and fractures, the development of type 2 diabetes, and increase the chance of requiring assisted living. Osteoporosis Australia estimates that by 2020, there will be one fracture every two and a half minutes in Australia, equating to 501 fractures per day and 3,521 fractures per week. Fractures are particularly dangerous for older people, so maintaining healthy muscles and bones is important as you age. Age-related muscle loss is also a risk factor for disability and increased mortality.

Losing muscle can severely impact a person's quality of life. Depending on the severity of muscle loss, it can mean that you’re unable to perform everyday activities, such as walking, going to the bathroom, preparing meals or hobbies like gardening.

Research has found that after 70, muscle mass and strength decline at a rate of about 2% every year. Luckily, there are some things that you can do to help prevent muscle loss, and remain healthy and strong as you grow older:

Try resistance training

We know that muscle is built and maintained through regular use. Living a sedentary lifestyle with very little physical activity increases the risk of muscle loss. For most people, strength begins to decline around the age of 40, so it’s important to maintain and build strength throughout our adult lives to prevent muscle loss.

When you practice resistance training exercises, it places stress on the muscle. The muscle then positively adapts, repairing itself and building new fibres, which help the muscle to grow and strengthen. The same is true for bones — according to Osteoporosis Australia, a decline in bone density can result from a lack of ‘stress’ being placed on the bone.

One study examined a group of adults between 65 and 94 and found that resistance training three times per week for 12 weeks resulted in increased muscle strength.

Strength or resistance training is particularly effective in building and maintaining muscle mass as well as healthy bones. Incorporating regular resistance training into your weekly exercise regime can help to maintain strength and muscle mass.

Move regularly

Research has even found that a decrease in the number of daily steps can result in a significant reduction in muscle mass and strength, as well as a possible increase in the risk of disease.

While resistance training is helpful in building and maintaining lean muscle mass, so is general movement. Incorporating exercises such as walking, gardening, dancing, or any aerobic or endurance exercise will help to maintain muscle.

Regular exercise keeps your muscles in use, which can slow down muscle loss as you age.

Eat enough protein

High-protein diets aren’t just for bodybuilders. Protein is a nutrient that plays an important role in helping to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Protein acts as a building block, helping to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.

When it comes to sarcopenia, there is evidence to suggest that the combination of exercise and dietary protein is particularly important for muscle protein synthesis or the process of building and repairing muscle.

Research suggests that 25-30 grams of protein with each meal is an ideal range to aim for. It’s best to choose high-quality proteins that are rich in amino acids, such as poultry, meat, seafood, and dairy products.

It can be difficult to know what a serving that contains 25-30 grams of protein would actually look like, so here are some amounts to aim for:

● 100 grams of cooked chicken or turkey breast

● 120 grams of cooked chicken thigh

● 90 grams of cooked low fat (5%) beef mince or lean steak

● 135 grams of cooked salmon

● 3 large eggs

● 300 grams of low-fat Greek yoghurt

● 210 grams of firm tofu

● 225 grams of cooked red kidney beans

Include creatine and Vitamin D in your diet

Research shows that low levels of vitamin D in older people is associated with lower bone density and muscle mass and an increased risk of falls and fracture. One study with 124 subjects over the age of 65 found that the group that supplemented with the highest level of vitamin D had a lower incidence rate of falls over a five-month period compared to those taking lower doses. Another study found that when given to older women, vitamin D therapy was observed to increase muscle function.

Creatine is a molecule that’s found in foods such as meat and eggs and is regularly taken as a supplement by people who resistance train. Its main benefit is to increase power output while you’re training, which in turn can help to increase lean muscle mass. Similar results have been found in studies which focus on older adults, suggesting that supplementing creatine may help to build and maintain muscle mass when taken in conjunction with a consistent resistance training regime.

If you’re interested in supplementing vitamin D or creatine, speak to your GP or visit your local Capital Chemist pharmacist to discuss your individual needs and treatment options.


You may also be interested in the following:

Osteoporosis: Prevention and Treatment.
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