Age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, poses a significant health concern as we age. Research suggests that individuals may experience a gradual decline in muscle mass, starting as early as age 30. However, by implementing evidence-based strategies, we can effectively prevent and mitigate age-related muscle loss. Age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, is a multifactorial process influenced by hormonal changes, decreased physical activity, and inadequate nutrition. According to one Harvard Health article, individuals may lose approximately 3-8% of muscle mass per decade after the age of 30, and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60. Understanding the underlying mechanisms and adopting preventive measures are crucial to maintaining muscle strength, function, and overall well-being throughout the aging process.
While the causes of Sarcopenia are not clearly understood, it has been attributed to a reduction in muscle cells and muscle protein production. Another contributing factor to the development of sarcopenia is the natural decline of testosterone, a hormone responsible for stimulating protein synthesis and muscle growth, especially in men. Testosterone can be likened to the fuel that drives building muscle mass. In women, a decrease in estrogen associated with menopause does not affect muscle mass.
While some studies have suggested that supplemental testosterone can increase lean body mass, particularly in older men, it is important to note that there may be potential adverse effects associated with such supplementation. Furthermore, it is crucial to highlight that the use of testosterone supplements for the specific purpose of increasing muscle mass in men has not been approved by the FDA.
Physical Inactivity can also cause Sarcopenia. Muscle inactivity severely reduces muscle mass and strength, even in young individuals.
Tips for Preventing Age-Related Muscle Loss
1. Maintain an Active Lifestyle.
Regular physical activity is fundamental to preventing muscle loss and promoting overall health. Engage in aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, and activities that enhance balance, flexibility, and coordination, such as yoga or tai chi. Combining aerobic and resistance exercises has shown to be effective in reducing sarcopenia-related muscle loss. Additionally, incorporating daily activities, such as taking the stairs or walking, can contribute to maintaining muscle mass.
2. Engage in Resistance Training.
Resistance training, such as weightlifting or resistance exercises, is pivotal in preserving muscle mass. Regular resistance training stimulates muscle protein synthesis, enhances muscle strength, and counteracts muscle loss. Studies have shown that progressive resistance training, involving gradually increasing resistance over time, is particularly effective in promoting muscle growth and preserving muscle mass in older adults. Aim for two to three resistance training sessions per week, targeting major muscle groups. You can try out these programs: 8 to 10 exercises that target all the major muscle groups, sets of 12 to 15 reps, performed at an effort of about 5 to 7 on a 10-point scale, and two or three workouts per week.
3. Prioritize Protein Intake.
Protein intake is a critical factor in preventing age-related muscle loss. As we age, our protein requirements may increase due to impaired muscle protein synthesis and reduced muscle anabolic response. Consuming adequate amounts of high-quality protein with each meal is essential. Include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and dairy products. Studies suggest that distributing protein intake evenly, with 20-30 grams per meal, can optimize muscle protein synthesis and support muscle preservation.
- 3 oz of fish, chicken, or lean meat (21-28g)
- 3 oz of shrimp (20g)
- 2 eggs (12g)
- 6 oz of plain Greek yogurt (18 g)
- 1 cup of skim milk (9 g)
- 1 cup of cooked beans (8-11 g).
Note that if you are adding protein shakes to your routine, they shouldn’t be an alternative to food sources of protein but a means to supplement the intake. Make sure to speak to your dietitian to help navigate this path.
4. Optimize other nutrients Intake.
Beyond protein, various nutrients play vital roles in maintaining muscle health. Specific nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for muscle function. A diet high in fruits and vegetables has also been associated with improved physical performance and protection against muscle wasting, sarcopenia, and frailty.
Preserving muscle mass as we age requires a comprehensive approach, incorporating regular physical activity, resistance training, adequate protein intake, and a balanced intake of other nutrients. By implementing these evidence-based strategies, we can significantly reduce the impact of aging on our muscle health throughout our lives. Remember, it is never too late to start prioritizing muscle health and improving overall well-being.
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