Sarcopenia and the Elderly (Part I)
By Ladislav P. Novak, Ph.D., Courtesy John Eagle Honda, North Dallas LIVING WELL Magazine
Human body changes with age and it is recognized by all of us, that in old age, there is a loss of skeletal muscles. This factual phenomenon has been first described by Dr. Irwin Rosenberg in 1997 who provided also a fitting name for it as “sarcopenia” which “sarco” from Greek denotes flesh (muscle) and, penia, indicates deficiency.
Thus “sarcopenia” translates as deficiency of muscle and this term is used now to refer specifically to the gradual loss of skeletal muscle and strength that occur with advancing age and simultaneous increase in body fat.
Sarcopenia has been associated with increased frailty, falls, broken bones, morbidity and increased mortality in the elderly. The onset of sarcopenia is appearing as early as the fourth decade and is also commonly associated with “disuse,” that is, decreased participation in physical activity as age advances.
Muscle loss occurs in people of all fitness level, even master athletes, as they age. However, people who have less muscle mass to begin with will pay higher price as they grow older. Women, in particular, face increased risks from loss of muscle mass because they have about one third less of the entire body muscle mass compared to men.
As a person’s muscle mass decreases, muscle strength decreases and concomitant loss of physical function follows. As a consequence, the ability to do everyday activities, such as grocery shopping, housework, climbing stairs or taking brief walks declines. A large study conducted in the US on elderly people over 60 years old indicated that 12% of people aged over 65 years could not walk outside on their own and 9% could not climb the stairs without help.
While sarcopenia cannot be halted completely it can be slowed down in its onset and therefore making it possible to remain active into their eighties. If a person was sedentary as a young adult and in middle age, he or she could even end up with more muscle mass and muscle strength in the later years, than in the thirties and forties.
That goal could be accomplished by starting with low intensity walking outside or inside a sport center. For inactive people, a low-level program could begin with walking at a comfortable place for 15-20 minutes 3x or 4x a week. Beneficial results will be felt as soon as two weeks.
Find a partner, have enjoyable discussion while walking, psychological support will keep you on track to sustain your physical activity and for improvement your overall well-being.
More detailed program for improving cardiovascular fitness will follow in the next publication of North Dallas LIVING WELL Magazine this summer as well as a brief summary for optimal nutrition.
Author Ladislav P. Novak, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Southern Methodist University
John Eagle Honda, located at 5311 Lemmon Ave., Dallas, TX 75209 can be reached at 888-343-7677