Are those shopping bags heavier than they used to be…even though that receipt hasn’t gotten any longer? If you’ve noticed you can’t quite lift what you used to in your 20s or 30s, you’re not alone.
It’s natural to notice some muscle weakness as we get older. This loss of muscle mass and strength is so common, there’s even a name for it: sarcopenia.
What is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is to muscles what osteoporosis is to bones. It’s age-related muscle weakness due to loss of muscle mass and function, and it tends to occur in people over the age of 50. It’s estimated that we lose 1-2% of muscle mass every year after age 50, and 1.5-2% of muscle strength each year. But with the right kind of diet and a good strength-training plan, you can help prevent sarcopenia or at least slow its progression.
Signs and Symptoms of Sarcopenia
Muscle weakness can start to slowly affect our everyday lives, and we may dismiss the warning signs as unavoidable parts of aging. But these subtle signs should not be ignored:
- Losing weight – possibly due to muscle wasting
- Falling – a sign of muscle weakness
- Walking more slowly
- Difficulty getting up from a chair
What Causes Sarcopenia?
Muscle weakness or atrophy isn’t just a condition of aging – it can happen if you’re suddenly hospitalized or unable to move very much. Sarcopenia can also creep up over time and so it’s good to be aware. That’s because it’s not inevitable – and in many ways it can be preventable!
Muscles also weaken if they’re not fueled correctly. Protein is what fuels muscles, so protein deficiency – or eating a diet that’s very low in protein – can contribute to sarcopenia. Being sedentary or having a low level of physical activity can also contribute to muscle weakness.
What Can I Do to Prevent or Manage Sarcopenia?
Muscle weakness is not a guaranteed pitfall of aging! In fact, there are several things you can do to stave off sarcopenia:
- Lift weights or do resistance training. Strengthening your muscles – all of them – is very important as we get older. Even if you regularly walk, run or play tennis, you might be ignoring other muscle groups that keep you stable and prevent falls. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder, but you should lift weights that challenge your muscles. Resistance training programs or exercise using resistance bands are great activities beyond traditional weight-lifting exercises.
- Be active. Absolutely continue to walk, run or play tennis if you do, or start aerobic activities that help get your heart rate up if you don’t. (Speak to your doctor first before starting any new workouts, of course.) These activities are great for your heart and endurance, meaning you can do them at a lower intensity, but for a longer period of time.
- Power up with protein. A healthy diet is important for keeping your body strong, and a protein-deficient diet can lead to muscle weakness. Certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) play an important role in muscle health, so be sure to get the amount of protein you need and include sources of complete proteins in your daily diet, such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs, as they provide all of the essential amino acids that our bodies need.
- Get other important nutrients. Vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fats all are important for muscle health. Dairy products are a good source of vitamin D and calcium, and fish, such as salmon, is great for omega-3 fats and vitamin D.
Drinking high-protein nutrition shakes can be an effective and convenient way to help get extra protein, vitamin D, calcium and more to prevent protein deficiency and support muscle health as you age.
Consider adding a protein shake to your daily diet, as a between-meal snack or for nutrition on the go.
Talk to your healthcare provider for questions or concerns about any diet or lifestyle changes and to find a plan that's right for you.