"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

Fighting muscle loss brought on by aging

By on December 28, 2020 in Columnist with 1 Comment
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

I suspect most of you readers have not heard of the condition known as sarcopenia.

This term refers to the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging. 

From the time we are born until about the age of 30 our muscles have been growing larger and stronger. 

After 30 even physically active people can lose 3-5 percent of their muscle mass with each decade. 

When I first started writing for The Good Life, my focus was more the travels we were enjoying in our retirement. 

The older we got, the exotic and adventure travels became less frequent. Now with the pandemic, they have gotten nearly impossible. 

I have loved the study of medicine and science as well as the practice of medicine as a physician. Now my focus on writing The Good Life articles has switched to issues, especially those dealing with how we can stay healthy, active and fit despite the declines we might experience as we age.

Sarcopenia seems to speed up around age 65 and go even faster after age 75. 

It is a major factor in frailty and subsequent falls and bone fractures common in older adults. 

There is no test or specific level of muscle mass that will diagnose sarcopenia. The associated symptoms of weakness and loss of stamina interferes with our physical activity and accelerates further the shrinking our muscle mass. 

Aging is not the only factor, but it can cause a gradual reduction in nerve cells that send signals from our brain to our muscles to stimulate movement thereby reducing our muscle mass. 

Unfortunately, with age our levels of growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin like growth factors get lower, diminishing our muscle mass further.

There is an added complication of sarcopenia, which is obesity. 

Many older people, particularly females who are obese, can have “hidden sarcopenia” since their muscle wasting and loss can be overlooked due to their obesity. Studies have shown these people have a worse outcome for treatment for cancer, both surgical and chemotherapy should they need it.

You might wonder what we age 60 plus folks can do about this seemingly inevitable condition. 

Just because we have lost muscle mass doesn’t mean it is gone forever. With work, commitment, and a plan it is never too late to rebuild, replenish and maintain our muscle mass. 

First of all, a regular exercise schedule that includes resistance training, weights (start small) and regular daily walking with a goal of two miles daily is a good start. 

For most of you, I would advise getting help from a physical trainer or physical therapist.

What we eat is very important. 

Our muscles need protein as it is a building block. The protein in our diet breaks down into amino acids, which build muscle. 

The best way to increase protein in our diet includes eating fresh meat, eggs and milk while avoiding unhealthy processed meat like hot dogs, sausages, salami, cured bacon, or beef jerky to name a few. 

Unfortunately, these meats are appealing and tasty but harmful and unhealthy. 

Healthy sources of protein include lean chicken, salmon, Greek yogurt and cooked beans. 

Adding protein powder containing 30 grams per serving to oatmeal, shakes and yogurt is helpful. 

Stay healthy and eat well.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Russ Bryan says:

    We always enjoy your articles, Jim. Pickle on !

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