Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sarcopenia, what is it and why do boomers need to know about it

One challenge confronting Boomers as we age, and which needs our attention more than any other fact of aging science sarcopenia, this challenge involves muscle wasting due to aging. Sarcopenia derives from the Latin roots, "sarco" for muscle, and "penia" for wasting, making it a “muscle wasting disease.” Sarcopenia is a byproduct of the aging process, the progressive loss of muscle fiber that begins in middle age.

From the time you are born to around the time you turn 30, your muscles grow larger and stronger. But at some point in your 30s, you begin to lose muscle mass and function, a condition known as age-related sarcopenia or sarcopenia with aging. People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30. Even if you are active, you will still experience some muscle loss. Without intervention, adults can lose as much as 8 percent of muscle mass every ten years.

Although there is no generally accepted test or specific level of muscle mass for sarcopenia diagnosis, any loss of muscle mass is of consequence, because loss of muscle means loss of strength and mobility. Sarcopenia typically accelerates around age 75 -- although it may happen in people age 65 or 80 -- and is a factor in the occurrence of frailty and the likelihood of falls and fractures in older adults.

Sarcopenia propels a cascade of other medical problems. Less muscle mass and strength leads to faster fatigue. Chronic fatigue leads to less physical activity and a more sedentary lifestyle. Less activity results in fat gain and obesity. Excess weight contributes to glucose intolerance, type II diabetes, and a condition called metabolic syndrome. This syndrome can then cause hypertension and increasing risk for cardiovascular disease.

Muscle wasting contributes dramatically to care costs. Once older patients become incapable of the activities of daily living, such as rising unassisted from a recliner, they are usually institutionalized in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Boomers already know many ways to fight sarcopenia: proper nutrition, weight lifting (resistance training), stretching, and a regular fitness regimen. However, over 40 percent of the generation is overweight or obese. Therefore, the problem is not knowledge; it is motivation.

People who lead a sedentary lifestyle are most likely to experience pronounced sarcopenia as they age. Sitting around on the couch is a good way to ensure serious loss of muscle mass late in life.

For years, physicians have recommended 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise. In most cases, suggestions include exercises like walking and jogging. This type of activity is excellent for the cardiopulmonary system, and it does build some muscle, but resistance training (RT) that requires the use of weights to build muscle is often overlooked.

With the results of studies since the late 1990s pointing to RT as a tool against sarcopenia, some therapists and physicians have started to recommend RT over aerobic exercise. After all, one must first be able to stand before one is able to jog. To stand, one must have muscle strength, which can be developed rather quickly under a RT regimen.

RT has proven that elderly people need not live out their days stooped over and shuffling about. Not only has adopting a resistance training regimen early in middle age has been proven to reduce the appearance of sarcopenia later in life, but RT regimens undertaken by the elderly has been shown to actually reverse sarcopenia by redeveloping muscle mass. Increasing protein intake also helps build muscle. These two breakthroughs combined could lead to a healthier senior adult population, one in which the signs of age aren't quite so obvious.

It is strongly recommended that a person -- especially someone of advanced age -- seek professional advice from a physician, certified personal trainer or physical therapist before beginning a resistance training program. Overexertion leading to torn muscles and even broken bones can happen easily if one lifts too much weight. What's more, some age-related diseases, like diabetes and dementia, can be exacerbated by resistance training.

In one study, elderly people aged 78 to 84 who went on a RT program experienced an average increase in protein synthesis of 182 percent . Another study, funded by the USDA, found that elderly participants who did RT for 45 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks saw an average increase of 32 percent for muscle fiber and a 30 percent increase in strength. Need more convincing? Go to the park and watch a few elderly people with sarcopenia.

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