Why Should You Know About Sarcopenia?
A. Because you have it.
B. Because you don’t want it.
C. Because you can do something about it.
Sarcopenia is the primary reason you don’t have as much energy as you once did. Or as much endurance. Or as much strength. Sarcopenia makes you more susceptible to loss of balance and falls. And to osteoporosis. And it contributes to making your heart less healthy.
OK, OK, so what is it?
Sarcopenia is loss of muscle tissue due to aging. It’s subtle, it’s gradual, but it’s steady, and it starts about age 30. After 50, the loss accelerates and a negative cycle begins to occur.
The cycle goes like this: Muscle burns more calories (i.e. provides more energy) than “that other tissue” (fat). So, as we lose lean muscle tissue, we become a bit weaker and, by definition, have less energy. We therefore are less active and the result is our muscle tissue atrophies even more. As I said, it’s subtle, it’s bit by bit, but you are aware it’s been happening.
“nothing is more important than the proven capacity of humans to build new lean muscle tissue at any age.”
While the physiological process is definitely going to happen, proper training can slow it dramatically. It can even reverse it if a sedentary lifestyle has been helping it along. Slowing the rate of muscle loss has a direct positive effect on many aspects of our lives—including longevity. And that’s longevity with more energy. Energy to have more fun, to be more productive, energy to resist disease and to recover from adversity.
Moving with good balance is the most common activity in a healthy life. Taken for granted by most of us, walking involves shifting our center of gravity from one foot to the other while moving. This causes our equilibrium to continuously adapt and therefore improve. But to walk and balance safely we must lift each leg, not shuffle along. Lifting each leg requires efficient muscle function of the hip flexors and equally important, full use of the second most important pump in our bodies—the calf muscles. Where do vascular problems commonly develop? Lower leg. Usually due to a more sedentary life and fearful shuffling instead of energetic walking. Improved gait cycle requires adequate muscle tissue and function before the correct mechanics of walking can be re-taught. Walking gait and balance in older adults cannot be overvalued as a necessary component in a safe, healthy life.
Maintaining posture goes right along with energetic walking in needing the muscular capacity to support our skeletal systems and joints. Correct posture protects arthritic joints, organ function, and helps to slow osteoporosis. (It looks good, too.) What are the essential ingredients in maintaining postural integrity? Adequate lean muscle tissue and conscious diligent effort.
As research improves our nutrition and finds new ways to combat heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc., the one fact that emerges is that nothing is more important than the proven capacity of humans to build new lean muscle tissue at any age. The benefits are so diverse.
Progressive strength resistance training is clearly proven to be the most effective method to offset age-related muscle loss. When that training is combined with gait, balance, posture and joint range-of-motion, we are able to effectively address a tremendous amount of what was previously thought to be “aging.”
We now know that frailty from aging is not inevitable.
So, when we talk about building new lean muscle tissue to fight its natural loss (sarcopenia), we’re not talking about muscles to pose in a bikini or Speedos, we’re talking about the primary essential component of energy and a healthy daily life.
Somewhere I read that the best way to lose weight is not to gain it. Cute. And I guess the best way to address muscle loss is not to lose it.
So, if you still have that option, don’t wait until it’s a problem. But if it already is, know that you can do something about it. You can improve. And improving at anything is always worthwhile. The benefits of life with more energy are worth whatever it takes. Be thankful it’s within our reach.