Use it or lose it

Friday, August 7, 2020
Sarcopenia is the medical term, defined by a loss of muscle mass and strength as a result of age. Muscle wasting can have a big impact on your ability to perform everyday tasks, including walking, lifting objects, climbing stairs, and many more, all whilst effecting your overall quality of life. 

Who can experience sarcopenia?

Your body’s ability to produce the proteins your muscles need to grow decreases with age, and when protein production falls your muscle cells get smaller. This can be seen and experienced with feelings of weakness, fatigue and poor balance. Hormonal changes with age can also contribute to sarcopenia, typically through a decrease in testosterone and insulin-like growth factor which affects muscle growth and mass. Someone who has lived an inactive lifestyle with poor nutrition for a long time will also be putting themselves at a greater disadvantage as they age. 

The right exercise protocols and nutrition can help to minimise the effects of sarcopenia or help to prevent its development. 

Prevention is key

As Desiderius Erasmus once said, “prevention is better than cure”. Prevention for sarcopenia takes a two-pronged approach, influenced by both your nutrition and exercise routine. 

Exercise

Resistance and strength training can improve muscle size, strength and tone, all whilst at the same time strengthening bones, ligaments and tendons. Ideally, your training should include your own body weight, resistance bands, and light weights. To ensure you’re on the right path, look into a personal trainer who will provide exercises with muscle contraction to strengthen them for your overall general health needs. 

Nutrition

Without adequate levels of nutrients and fuel, your muscles aren’t able to function efficiently.

  • Protein. When resistance is applied to muscle fibres, this often results in microscopic tears. This activates a repair response, where amino acids are required for your body to repair the tear. Amino acids are the small units that make a protein. You can get these from the food you eat such as lean meats, poultry, dairy, eggs, fish, legumes and beans, or also from whey and plant-based protein powders for those needing an extra top up. The recommended amount of protein a day is 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per body weight a day.
  • Carbohydrates. These are needed to provide the fuel to utilise these amino acids for the muscle repair process. Quinoa, buckwheat, kumara and pumpkin are a few good dietary sources. 
  • Calcium, magnesium and potassium. The nerves in your muscles are stimulated by an action like resistance training, and calcium binds to protein receptors on muscle cells which trigger them to contract. Magnesium and potassium are important because they work on the cell receptors involved with muscle relaxation.
    As much as contraction is important to strengthen your muscles, relaxation is also important to allow recovery of the muscle and blood flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells for growth, repair and strengthening. 
  • Iron and B12. These are both involved in healthy red blood cells and the delivery of iron and oxygen to muscle cells for energy.
  • Vitamin B and C complex. These vitamins are important in the metabolism of food into energy that your muscle cells can use for repair and growth.
  • Vitamin D and zinc. These are both involved in the process of ensuring hormones are balanced, especially in the case of ensuring natural levels of testosterone in men and women for muscle and hormone health. 

If you have any concerns about age-related muscle degermation or sarcopenia, seek advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner.


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