How to Avoid Age-Related Muscle Mass Loss: Nutrition and Exercise to Combat Sarcopenia

It’s never too early—or too late—to begin thinking about age-related muscle loss. In fact, paying attention to what you eat and how you exercise plays an important role in preventing severe age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. 

Unless it’s being maintained, people naturally begin to lose muscle mass in their early 30s. According to Harvard Medical School, those in their 30s begin to lose between 3% and 5% of their muscle mass throughout the decade, and those in their 50s can lose between 1% and 3% per year.

Muscle mass loss means greater muscle weakness and eventually limited mobility. In turn, this can increase your risk of falling, causing potentially serious injuries. According to the American Society for Bone and Mineral Health, people with sarcopenia are more than twice as likely to suffer a fractured bone due to a fall, including broken limbs and hip bones. 

According to the Iowa Clinic, as many as 15% of people 65 and older and up to 50% of people 80 and older have sarcopenia. However, the good news is that it is never too late to bring muscle mass back. Eating properly and maintaining a well-balanced workout routine is critical to both preventing and mitigating the effects of sarcopenia. 

Nutritional Factors

Making conscious health decisions when preparing your meals can help you maintain your muscle mass at any age. A high-protein diet is particularly important as you begin to age—in fact, older adults actually need more protein to maintain the same amount of muscle mass as when they were younger. 

According to a study published in Clinical Nutrition Journal, older adults should be eating about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Protein intake should also be spread out through the day so that at least 20 grams of protein are consumed with each meal. 

Consuming healthy, protein-rich foods such as lean chicken, salmon, eggs, skim milk, Greek yogurt and beans will help you prevent sarcopenia.

Staying Active

While aging often brings aches and pains that make a more sedentary lifestyle more appealing, there is a direct relationship between inactivity and loss of muscle mass. Leading a more sedentary lifestyle increases the rate of muscle mass loss, which, in turn, makes it harder to move around, which, in turn, leads to less activity — a vicious cycle. 

Once begun, this cycle can be difficult to break. However, building activity into your daily routine will help you maintain your muscle mass longer and potentially even help gain muscle back.

Progressive Resistance Training

Whether you are focused on preventing sarcopenia or combating it, progressive resistance training is the only method of prevention that has been clinically proven to be successful. This training regimen focuses on increasing workout length and intensity over a span of several weeks. 

You may start off doing a set of exercises only once, but over time, increasing both the number of exercises you do, as well as the number of times you repeat the set, will increase muscle mass while mitigating risk of injury. As you do this, both strength and endurance will improve over time.

Although you should consult with your doctor and ideally a trainer who specialises in working with clients with sarcopenia before beginning any exercise routine, progressive resistance training exercises mostly follow the same basic regimen. The regimen should include a combination of aerobic/endurance exercises to improve heart and lung function and strength/resistance exercises for muscle strength and function. The exercise set usually includes about 8 to 10 different types of exercises that target all of the major muscle groups—chest, back, arms/shoulders, abdomen and legs. 

Working out two or three times a week on non-consecutive days over a series of weeks will help you not only maintain your muscle mass but potentially build some of it back. 

Exercises You Can Try At Home Now

While it is important to consult with your doctor and trainer to create a nutrition and exercise plan that will push you without pushing you too hard, there are some basic exercises you can complete safely at home right after you read this article. 

Without access to fancy machines in the gym, you can use your own body weight to create a workout. Simple, at-home exercises recommended by the Iowa Clinic include:

  • • Push-ups against a counter
  • • Squats with a chair
  • • Seated chair push-ups
  • • Stair steps

Age-related muscle mass loss is natural, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Simple dietary measures and exercise routines can help you maintain your health, mobility and quality of life long into the golden years. And, if you’ve been slacking off until now, remember it’s not too late to get started. Your muscles will still thank you. 

Written by: Sarah Harder

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