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All of us would likely have noticed that people lose muscle mass as they age. There is a point during this muscle loss where we start seeing older people as frail. This loss of muscle mass has a name, it is called Sarcopenia and in 2019 it was formally recognised as a disease in its own right.
The problem with this is that it has massive consequences in relationship to health outcomes, most of us aren’t really aware of it and it can very often be prevented or delayed . Ultimately this progressive loss of muscle leads to a poorer quality of life and a shorter length of life.
In fact, there is data to support the notion that sarcopenia is a greater contributor to reduced life expectancy than smoking in older people. This is quite mind boggling to consider that there is a good argument that maintaining functional muscle as you age is more important than quitting smoking (to be clear I am, in no way, advocating for smoking – but we all know the negative impact on health it causes).
It is seen as normal that as we grow older, the size and strength of our muscles progressively deteriorates. This can affect our capacity to perform everyday activities like standing up from a chair, climbing stairs or carrying groceries. For some people, muscle wasting becomes more severe, leading to falls, frailty, immobility and a loss of autonomy. However, it is a condition that can be prevented or at the very least, its impact reduced. In many ways it is a case of use it or lose.
The most effective thing all of us can do it remain active. Use the muscles you have. Further to this there is no doubt that muscle mass can be improved well in people’s 70’s and 80’s through resistance style training. These types of activities include weights and gym style machines but can include pilates, yoga and many more. Remain active and seeking out structure exercise to use all of the muscles that you can will contribute massively to a longer, better life. The caveat here is to speak with your doctor first if you have underlying medical conditions.
A further contributor to sarcopenia is that the ageing process can disrupt the body’s ability to produce the proteins needed to build and maintain muscle. To this end, ensuring a good intake of dietary protein is critical to maintain the body’s muscle mass. Typically, we see a decrease in dietary protein intake as we age, which is the time of life where the body can really use the help. Fish, beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, pork and legumes are just some examples but they ideally should be a part of every meal.
I think we all know someone who has had a fall and broken a hip, landed on their face or are no longer strong enough to do the simple things that they use to. It makes their lives harder and it is always sad to see loved ones struggle with simple previously simple tasks. My intention here is really to raise awareness around two key points.
1 . Strength and muscle can be regained even after you turn 80 years old
2. Staying active now will pay massive dividends later on
As always, this is a conversation starter. Please feel free to reach out to me if you would like to know more or would like to understand this condition better.