Anyone who has lived to a certain age will tell you that getting older brings lots of changes. From our interests to our diets to our activity levels, many things change as we age, frequently requiring us to adapt in order to continue living our lives to the fullest. One thing that certainly changes as we get older is our muscles. If you find that you’re not quite as strong as you used to be, there’s a good reason for that. Age affects our ability to use the muscles we have, as well as our ability to create and retain new muscle mass. This is known as sarcopenia, and it starts earlier than you might think.
“Sarcopenia is the degeneration of muscle tissue and strength,” Blount Memorial Wellness Centers fitness and weight management manager Chad Hodson said. “It creeps up on us all as we age, often happening so slowly that we barely notice it until we try to do an activity that we used to be able to do and find we no longer can do it, can no longer do it as fast or can no longer do it as well. What people don’t realize is that this process starts much earlier than they expect. For women, sarcopenia can begin as early as the late 20s. For men, it can start in the late 30s,” he explained. “If you’re living a more sedentary lifestyle, muscle loss can begin even sooner, starting in the early 20s for women and the early 30s for men,” he added.
“Sarcopenia mostly affects type II muscle fibers, which account for our overall strength and power,” Hodson said. “Because of this, it can be an important independent predictor of disability in population-based studies. Muscle loss often is greater in the lower body than it is in the upper body, so sarcopenia is linked to issues such as poor balance, walking speed, gait issues, falls and fractures. Because sarcopenia lowers our overall metabolism, it also can lead to additional weight gain in older adults. On top of all that, saropenia also is strongly tied to osteoporosis, which affects millions of older Americans,” he said. “If we do nothing to stop sarcopenia as we get older, it very well can cost us our independence,” he added.
So, what can be done? Hodson says we all should be working on improving and maintaining our strength as it is, but it’s even more important to do so as we get older. “Managing the effects of sarcopenia requires some work,” he said. “You’ll want to begin by focusing on strength exercises and power exercises. Try performing modified squats using a powerball or doing modified push-ups. These will help you build muscle and retain the muscle you have already. Other specific exercises include rows, high pulls and power presses,” he said. “If you find you’re still not seeing the results you want, or if you want a more customized exercise routine that’s tailored for your ability level, it also may be worthwhile to consult with a personal trainer,” he added.
While some may think personal training is cost-prohibitive, Hodson says many people can benefit from just a few sessions. “With one session, a trainer can at least customize a program based on a person’s needs. Some people just need one session every now and then to get set up on a new exercise routine,” he said. For more information, call the Blount Memorial Wellness Center at Springbrook at 865-980-7100.