Sarcopenia: As We Age Muscle Loss Occurs

In physically inactive people there is a loss of about [-0.5%] of lean muscle mass every year between age 25 and 60, and a corresponding decline in muscle strength. From age 60 on, the rate of loss doubles, to about 1%. It doubles again at age 70; again at age 80, and then again at age 90.

How does this translate to the human body? We are losing muscle mass, and that muscle mass is being replaced by fat cells. Typically an individual wonders why they develop a “pouch” gut, or why their thighs or buttocks are becoming larger. We realize we are not gaining muscle mass in these areas, but losing muscle mass and fat cells are gaining in size. Most people can envision this process occurring in their body from the age of 30 on.

Inactive people normally have the most servere atrophy (loss of muscle mass), but active people also may experience atrophy of the muscle. The greatest loss is experienced with the fast twitch (FT) versus the slow twitch (ST) muscles. The FT muscles are used for high-intensity, anaerobic movements (weight lifting) while the ST are employed for activities such as running, dancing, biking, etc.

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With aging and inactivity, the most atrophy is seen in the fast twitch (FT) fibers which are recruited during high-intensity, anaerobic movements. Although sarcopenia is mostly seen in physically inactive individuals, it is also evident in individuals who remain physically active throughout their lives. Present finding suggests that physical inactivity is not the only contributing factor to sarcopenia. Current research is finding that the development of sarcopenia is a multifactor process. Many factors, including physical inactivity, motor-unit remodeling, decreased hormone levels, and decreased protein synthesis, may all contribute to sarcopenia. Fortunately, sarcopenia is partly reversible with appropriate exercise interventions.

The purpose of this article is to focus on Sarcopenia and the importance of resistance training in preventing it and reversing its effect. The other important aspect is the decrease of hormones and the reduction of protein synthesis to build and maintain muscle mass. These are also an effect of the aging process that few people are aware of.

What causes Sarcopenia?

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The aging process
Physical inactivity
Reduction of hormone production in the human body as we age
i. Testosterone – ii. Human growth hormone
Decrease of protein synthesis ability within the human body as we age
Female estrogen levels may also play a role in the development of sarcopenia during and after menopause. This topic has limited research, but it does appear that many females develop a “pouch” after menopause.
I believe it is important to mention hormones and protein uptake, but I would like to keep the focus of this article on Sarcopenia. I will cover hormones and protein uptake for another article. Why is resistance or weight training mentioned so often with weight loss? We know weight training is considered anaerobic – The term anaerobic is defined as “without oxygen.” Anaerobic exercise uses muscles at high levels of intensity and a high rate of work for a short time period. Anaerobic exercise (weight training) helps us increase our muscle strength and therefore increases muscle size. If your strength increases, then muscle cell must increase in size.
If we go back to where this article started… Sarcopenia can be stopped and reversed with proper weight training. Moreover the muscle mass we are creating is also known as lean body mass. For every 10 pounds of lean body mass we carry on our bodies, 500 calories per day is consumed to maintain that body mass.