Sarcopenia, the gradual atrophy of muscles as one gets older scares me. Because we are all living longer and in general, are more sedentary, it is becoming a more common problem. I’m approaching 40 soon-ish and getting terrified of this already: so how do I make sure this happens as slowly as possible?
The good news is that it is gradual, 0.5–1% loss per year after the age of 50, and there seems to be evidence that we can help it slow down. How do you know if it’s happening? It’s not always only visible, “Simple muscle circumference measurement does not provide enough data to determine whether or not an individual is suffering from severe sarcopenia.” so there are other things going on that aren’t necessarily observable.
So what can we do?
Even athletes experience this phenomena after reaching roughly 40, with “peak levels of performance decreased by approximately 50% by 80 years of age.” According to Harvard Health Publishing, progressive resistance training is the key. “In fact, a recent meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50 to 83 who did PRT and found that subjects averaged a 2.4-pound increase in lean body mass.”
There is no current clear research on this, with some advice saying to supplement with Vitamin D when one is deficient but that’s about it. (Sayer, A. A. (2010). “Sarcopenia”. BMJ. 341 (aug10 2))
What about protein I hear you ask? According to this Harvard Health Publishing article “Older men can suffer from anabolic resistance, which hinders our ability to break down and synthesize protein, so we need to eat more.” Hmm, so no harm in upping your protein intake I guess.
No approved medications so far for halting or reversing this process.
Hormones such as testosterone might have some positive effects but they also currently have negative side effects. ( Kunihiro, Sakuma; Akihiko Yamaguchi (28 May 2012). “Sarcopenia and Age-Related Endocrine Function”. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2012). Hormone Replacement Therapy can ” increase lean body mass, reduce abdominal fat in the short-term, and prevent bone loss. According to WebMD However, there has been controversy around the use of HRT due to increased risk of certain cancers and other serious health problems.”
So it seems the safest action is lots of resistance training alongside your regular cardio as well as making sure you are taking the correct supplements for your age and possibly increasing protein intake. With regards to exercise, it is hard to mix it up, I find myself doing the same old exercises when left to my own devices (my favorites, which i’m sure coincide with what’s easiest!) for legs: reverse lunges with weights, sumo squats (a bit tricky with baby bump right now but adapting it) and step-ups onto boxes with weights. For arms: bench press, tricep dips and pulls are my go-tos. To mix it up, the Nike app (https://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/nike-plus/training-app) is really good at forcing you to do new exercises, as are Instagram accounts like Alexia Clark’s.If it’s feasible then I guess doing regular muscle mass assessments, such as the InBody one would be a great idea to monitor how your muscle mass is growing over time.