Sarcopenia is the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function, and it begins in the third or fourth decade of your life. Yet, while there is no specific level of lean body mass or muscle mass at which your physician can diagnose you as having sarcopenia, the important thing to remember is that any loss of muscle mass is critical because of the relationship between muscle mass and strength.
Additionally – as if that wasn’t enough cause for concern – people who are physically inactive can lose as much as three to five percent of their muscle mass per decade after age 30. And, even if you are active, you will still experience some muscle loss. Then, around the time you turn 75, sarcopenia accelerates. Bette Davis was right when she said, “Getting old is not for sissies.”
Luckily, there is a proven prevention and treatment for sarcopenia: exercise. Specifically, resistance training or strength training, which is exercise that increases muscle strength and endurance with weights or resistance bands. (Although some medications are currently under investigation, drug therapy is not the preferred treatment for sarcopenia.)
Resistance training has been reported to positively influence the neuromuscular system, hormone concentrations, and protein synthesis rate. Also, new research has shown that a program of progressive resistance training exercises can increase protein synthesis rates in older adults in as little as two weeks.
For years, physicians have been recommending 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise (such as walking and jogging). This type of activity is excellent for the cardiopulmonary system, and it does build some muscle, but resistance training that requires the use of weights to build muscle was often overlooked.
Today, with the results of studies pointing to resistance training as a tool against sarcopenia, many therapists and physicians are beginning to recommend resistance training over aerobic exercise.
For optimal benefits with minimal risk of injury, the proper number, intensity and frequency of resistance exercises is important. For that reason, you should work with an experienced physical therapist or trainer to develop an exercise plan appropriate for you. And, as always, be sure to consult with your physician first.