It’s common to lose some muscle and strength as you age. The process, also known as Sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging and is strongly related to functional decline in older adults. To maintain independence and reduce the need for long-term care, it is a good idea to have a handle on how best to prevent, manage and potentially delay the progression of this condition.
Here are 5 key facts that you might not know about Sarcopenia:
- There isn’t just one singular cause of Sarcopenia
There are many factors that contribute to the onset and development of Sarcopenia. As well as age-related chemical changes within the body’s cells (such as hormonal changes, mitochondrial abnormalities & reduced satellite/repair cell function), things such as inflammation, nutrition and activity levels are also thought to be key factors in the progression of muscle loss within the body.
- Type 2 / Fast Twitch Muscle Fibres are most affected
Although there is a decrease in number of both Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibres, it is primarily the Type 2 (or ‘fast twitch’) fibres that decline in number and also in size. Type 2 muscle fibres are responsible for quick and powerful bursts of energy such as sprinting and weightlifting. In the older adult, quick movements are important – for example moving your foot to catch yourself from falling.
- Muscle loss can contribute to both acute and chronic conditions.
Not only does weakened muscle lead to general frailty, reduced capacity for activities of daily living, and a higher likelihood of falls, over the long term it can also lead to chronic conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and arthritis.
- It’s not exclusive to the aging population
Although Sarcopenia usually occurs in adults over 50 (and even more so in adults over 70) there are reasons why someone younger may also experience this type of muscle decline. Metabolic syndrome, Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and Cancer/some cancer treatments can all cause Sarcopenia in younger adults.
- Muscle loss can be prevented and managed!
The good news? Muscle loss is strongly influenced by lifestyle factors, with a combination of exercise and good nutrition being the go-to prescription to prevent or delay the progression of muscle loss.
So how do you exercise to prevent muscle loss? Follow these guidelines:
- Resistance training is advised for a minimum of 2x per week – but 3-5x per week time is ideal
- Focus on higher intensity resistance training, working up to 80% of a one rep maximum for optimal strength gains
- Compound movements (using more than one muscle group) are advised, as muscle loss affects the full body, rather than one localised area.
- Adding external load using weights or resistance band is key
- Big movements – such as squats & deadlifts or even jumps or sprints where appropriate – focusing on a quick/powerful tempo are ideal to specifically target the Type 2 muscle fibres that experience a greater decline