Preventing Muscle Loss As We Age 

June 25, 2019

"In addition to the natural aging process, other factors are serious contributors to muscle loss and declining health."

Today's show is about a condition that will affect every one of us at some point in our lives. In fact, 45% of the population, whether they realize it or not, are dealing with this condition right now — a condition known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the medical term for muscle loss, a condition that affects all of us as we age, and can even affect younger people if we don’t take care to prevent it. Today, we’ll talk about what sarcopenia actually is, who is affected by it, and we’ll also share specific ways that you can prevent, slow or maybe even reverse muscle loss as you age. 

As with many conditions, this issue is very much tied to diet. If you follow us regularly, you know we believe in addressing and preventing health issues with food, so make sure you stay tuned for a few great kitchen tips and recipes to not just help prevent muscle loss, but to help gain muscle as you age.  

Video highlights

  • 04:54: Muscular Trivia
  • 09:12: Sarcopenia Facts and Figures
  • 14:36: What is Sarcopenia
  • 15:54: Why does this happen as we get older? 
  • 19:30: Other factors contributing to accelerated muscle loss
  • 24:15: Tips for Preventing, Decreasing, and Reversing Muscle Loss
  • 24:34: Exercise
  • 26:25: Resistance Training at Home 
  • 36:49: Increase Intake of Lean Protein Sources
  • 38:22: Protein sources 
  • 40:43: Dr. Nancy’s Quinoa and Beans Recipe
  • 48:11: Chocolate Almond Butter Protein Afternoon Smoothie
  • 53:00: Supplement with Curcumin
  • 55:34: Wrap-Up

Muscular Trivia

  • The hardest working muscle in your body is the heart. The heart pumps 2,500 gallons of blood per day!
  • The largest muscle in your body is the gluteus maximus (buttocks)
  • The smallest muscle in your body is found in the ear (the smallest bones are found there too!)
  • There are muscles you can control and some you can’t control. Muscles you can control include the ones you use to lift weights, smile, run, etc. But the muscles that help you breathe, digest food, and help you heart beat are involuntary and outside your control.
  • There are 600 muscles in the body
  • The strongest muscle, based on size, which can withstand 200 lb. of pressure is the muscle in your jaw
  • Muscles make up 40-50% of your total body weight
  • The busiest muscles, that never gets a break, are the muscles that control your eyes. One hour of reading requires 10,000 coordinated muscle movements for your eyes. 
  • Most of the heat produced in the body comes from muscle contraction. Muscle movement accounts for almost 82% of your total body heat.

Sarcopenia Facts and Figures:

The following are some alarming statistics on sarcopenia, which illustrate how things can go downhill fast if you don’t take care of yourself. Sarcopenia is something you want to try to push off as far possible.

Some statistics that aren’t surprising:

  • Weight-lifting records for 60-year-old men are 30% lower than for 30-year-olds; for women the drop-off is 50%.
  • A 70-year-old might have 30% less muscle mass than a 20-year-old. And strength declines even more than mass. 

The rate of decline for people who are not active:

  • Lean muscle mass generally contributes to approximately 50% of total body weight in young adults, but declines with aging to be 25% at 70-75 years old.
  • People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30.
  • Studies show that an estimated 35% of Americans are considered sedentary or physically inactive, and over 50% are not getting enough physical activity to slow or prevent the muscle loss. 
  • Sarcopenia isn’t specific to race or ethnicity — it’s an equal opportunity condition that affects all races and ethnicities that same.
  • One study estimated that disability caused by sarcopenia accounted for $18.5 billion in direct medical costs in the year 2000, equivalent to 1.5% of the nation’s healthcare spending that year.

The loss of muscle mass is linked to an increased risk of physical disability, depression, debilitating falls, and death. With the aging of the population, the incidence of sarcopenia is expected to dramatically rise in the coming decades. In fact, current estimates project we will see more than 200 million cases of sarcopenia by 2050. And most of this is caused by lifestyle; we’re doing it to ourselves. This is good news, because it means we have the power to change it!

We all know that we lose some muscle as we age, but these statistics are still a bit alarming. Keep reading to learn exactly what you can do to help prevent the muscle loss, keep your physique, and maintain your health. 

What is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia literally means "lack of flesh." It's a condition of age-associated muscle degeneration that starts around age 35 and is much more common in people over the age of 50.

After we reach middle age, we typically lose 3% of our muscle strength every year, on average. Over time, this limits our ability to perform many routine activities. If not addressed, sarcopenia not only affects our quality of life, it also can shorten life expectancy, especially when compared to individuals with normal muscle strength and muscle mass.

Why does this happen as we get older? 

Accelerated muscle loss is often caused by an imbalance between signals for muscle cell growth and signals for breakdown. The cell growth processes is known as anabolism, and cell breakdown processes are called catabolism

Over the course of our lives, this cycle of muscle cell growth and breakdown is always occurring, and when things are in balance, muscle keeps its strength over time. Most importantly as we exercise, especially strength train, and eat to support our muscles, we can continue to grow muscle faster than we break it down.

However, as we age, our bodies become resistant to the normal growth signals, tipping the balance toward catabolism and muscle loss — this is when we start to see the muscle and strength loss we associate with sarcopenia.

While everyone loses some muscle mass with age, it’s possible to slow or even reverse that loss with regular exercise and many other easy, natural treatments. This is an important topic. Maintaining muscle mass and function may be the most vital thing keeping our functional independence as we get older.  

Other factors that contribute to accelerated muscle loss

Immobility and Lack of Exercise

Not getting enough exercise is one of the biggest contributors to loss of muscle mass and strength. As we discussed, over 35% of the population is considered sedentary; factor in that nearly 70% of the population is also overweight or obese, and it’s not hard to figure out why sarcopenia is becoming increasingly more common, especially in older adults.  

In fact, research has shown that as we age, even just two to three weeks of decreased walking or other regular physical activity is enough to decrease muscle mass and strength — so it really doesn’t take much to shift our bodies into muscle burning mode, which results in decreased strength, lack of energy, fatigue, and even increased levels of inflammation in the body.

Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is actually a normal part of the muscle building/tear down cycle and is essential for repairing and rebuilding damaged cells. However, chronic or long-term inflammation resulting from disease, illness, or poor diet has a profound effect on the normal muscle building cycle and results in an increase in the rate of muscle loss.

Additional evidence showing the damaging effects of inflammation can be found in a recent study of over 11,000 older adults which found that blood levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation, strongly predicted sarcopenia. This is yet another example of how illness, pain, low energy, and other health issues are tied to chronic inflammation in the body.

Poor or Unbalanced Diet

A third factor contributing to increased rate of muscle and strength loss is a diet that provides insufficient nutrients, especially the macronutrient protein.

Unfortunately, low-nutrient and low-protein diets are all too common with aging. Often, older individuals give in to convenience, but our later years are the worst time in our lives not be vigilant about our diets. Since aging bodies actually require more vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and especially protein to build and repair muscle mass, you can see how all this contributes to increased loss of muscle and strength.

To help prevent sarcopenia, many doctors are now recommending that you consume 30 grams of protein at each meal. 

So, now that we’re through the bad news — the causes — the good news is that age-associated muscle deterioration can be prevented, decreased and even reversed by following these tips.

Tips for Preventing, Decreasing, and Reversing Muscle Loss

Exercise 

It should come as no surprise, but when it comes to preventing age-related muscle loss, exercise has been shown to increase strength, aerobic capacity, and muscle protein synthesis, as well as to increase muscle mitochondrial enzyme activity in both young and older people.

While any exercise or increased physical activity is great for you, strength training or resistance exercises, in particular, are really the most effective way to decrease frailty and improve muscle strength in older adults.

Try to participate in some form of exercise most days of the week, but a minimum of three times per week is essential to slow muscle loss and prevent sarcopenia.

In fact, a study of adults aged 65 – 94 showed that performing resistance exercises three times per week increased muscle strength over a 12-week period.

Resistance training or strength-training includes weightlifting, pulling against resistance bands or moving part of the body against gravity through gentle movements associated with yoga or even tai-chi.

Resistance training at home

Resistance Band Exercises

You can simply take a resistance band and simply pull it apart, expanding your chest, and breathing. Try doing this while watching TV! You can also use your foot to anchor the resistance band and pull up on it for bicep curls. 

Chair Sits/Squats

All you need to do for this exercise is sit down in your chair, but very slowly, and return slowly to a standing position. Try to do a set of 12, or as many as you can until you work your way up to 12. When it becomes easy, try squats without the chair, or assisted by holding onto the chair for balance. 

Chair Dips

Starting in a sitting position, use your hands on the armrests of your chair to lift yourself up and hold for five seconds, then slowly lower yourself back into the chair. Repeat 3 - 12 times. When this becomes easy, modify it by lifting one leg, or straightening the leg as you hold. Repeat on the other side.

Pushups

You can do regular pushups or modified pushups. Put your knees on the ground if you need to, and with your hands spread shoulder-width apart, lower yourself to the ground and push yourself back up. If doing these on the floor is too hard, try doing it on the back of a sofa or chair, or even against a wall. 

Situps

For traditional situps, lay down on the ground, knees bent, and use your abdominal muscles to pull your body up to a sitting position. If this is too difficult, sit in a chair, and lift your knees up to your chest, then relax. When that becomes easy, straighten your legs and lift, then relax.

Resistance Band Squats

Putting your resistance band around your knees is a great way to give your squats a little extra resistance. Open and close your legs against the band as you squat, or keep your knees open and walk to your right and then to your left and then back to the right.

When you perform resistance exercise, the tension on your muscle fibers results in growth signals that lead to increased strength.  These signals cause muscle cells to grow and repair themselves, both by building new muscle and reinforcing, repairing, and strengthening existing muscle.

Study after study confirms that resistance exercises or strength training is the most direct way to increase muscle mass and prevent its loss.

Increase Intake of Lean Protein Sources 

Without question, protein is the most valuable and important macronutrient for repairing and building muscle. Unfortunately, older adults eat significantly less protein at most meals than is recommended to maintain and even build muscle. 

For some reason, health and medical experts make it ridiculously difficult to figure out how much protein we need each day. Currently, they recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. 

However, new research is showing we really all need about 30 grams of protein per meal, 3 meals a day, or 4 meals if you’re really working out hard.

Protein sources

It’s also important to make sure you are eating the right sources of protein too. Remember, not all sources of protein are created equal! Dietary proteins are made up of many types of amino acids. The body can make some amino acids on its own, but the rest it must obtain from food sources. Of the 20 total amino acids, there are certain ones that are considered essential because these are the specific kinds we aren’t capable of making ourselves. 

Others are thought to be nonessential, because the body can create them by synthesizing other amino acids — so they are important, but are not essential.

One essential amino acid you should really focus on getting enough of for muscle growth is the amino acid leucine, which has been shown to preserve body muscle. Leucine is an essential amino acid, which means our bodies cannot produce it, so we must get it from dietary sources.

The following are great lean, natural sources of protein that contain plenty of muscle-building leucine:

  • Organic chicken
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Navy or Black Beans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Nuts
  • Eggs

We tend to get caught up in the “protein = red meat” mindset, and while it’s true that meat is an excellent source of protein, we don’t need to look to meat only as a way to get a clean source of protein!  In fact, here are some recipes for great, protein-packed vegetarian friendly dishes!

Dr. Nancy’s Quinoa and Beans 

Ingredients

  • 1 can Organic Black Beans
  • 2 cups Quinoa
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 bunch chopped cilantro
  • Favorite Hot Sauce or Favorite Vinaigrette (optional)
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Avocado
  • Sauerkraut (optional)

Mix all ingredients together; top with pumpkin seeds, avocado, additional cilantro, and serve hot or cold. If you are sensitive to canned black beans, simply buy dry beans and sprout them by putting them into a mason jar, filling it with spring water, and leaving it in the refrigerator overnight. This makes the enzymes in the beans more bioavailable and makes them easier to digest.

Chocolate Almond Butter Protein Afternoon Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 tsp cacao nibs
  • 3 tbsp creamy natural almond butter 
  • 3 tbsp hemp hearts

Mix all ingredients in a blender with ice, and enjoy!

Supplement with Curcumin

We’ve already discussed how dangerous chronic inflammation is for your health, and especially for encouraging muscle loss as we age. Remember our mantra:

Less Inflammation in + More Inflammation out = Healthier You!

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has found that long-term use of curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, as an inflammation-fighting agent is an effective way to fight against the damaging effects of chronic inflammation

Specifically, the curcuminoids are able to effectively fight off the underlying causes of inflammation, which severely inhibit your ability to build and repair muscle

In order to get the full inflammation-fighting benefit of curcumin, and especially for preventing muscle loss as you age, you need to make sure you are taking in enough to benefit. Turmeric will not get the job done, you need not just curcumin but the most active form of curcumin – 95% tetra-hydro curcuminoids. You get a full 400 mg in of it in a black seed carrier oil with every serving of Smarter Curcumin so take this daily.

Wrap-Up

Today, we talked about the dangers of Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss — a serious condition that nearly 50% of people in the US are dealing with right now, many without realizing it.

We know we can’t turn back time or completely stop the aging process, but we can certainly try not to age faster than necessary. We know that in addition to the natural aging process, other factors are serious contributors to muscle loss and declining health in general, including a lack of exercise, chronic inflammation, and a poor diet.

Decide today to take the steps that will slow or maybe even reverse age-related muscle loss. This includes participating in a regular routine of strength-training or resistance training designed to build and maintain your muscles as well as your strength, and eating 30 grams of lean protein each meal. We also talked about some great protein sources, and recommended some ways to keep inflammation in check.

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