Sarcopenia in its purest form, is the loss of lean muscle mass, strength, and function associated with aging, as well as a variety of environmental and lifestyle factors. Currently, are finding that this loss is not a one-off occurrence, but a multifaceted and complex process that vary from person to person. In most cases, sarcopenia has no known cause or associated medical condition.
Most commonly seen among younger people, sarcopenia affects those who stay physically active throughout their life, often including those who are active during their leisure time. Some examples of sarcopenia include:
The loss of muscle tissue is directly related to the breakdown of body protein (protein synthesis). Muscle is made up of three types of proteins which are glycogen, glucose, and arginine. All three of these proteins break down into smaller molecules called amino acids. These are then further broken down further to the more common three amino acids that we know as muscle protein.
As the body breaks down the smaller molecules of amino acids, it also breaks down muscle fibers. A breakdown in muscle fibers means that less energy is created to fuel those muscles and the cells, and as a result the body becomes tired quickly. When muscles become fatigued, they do not produce the amount of ATP required for the same activities as they did previously. This leads to an increased chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke, as well as an increased risk of developing osteoporosis and other types of bone-related conditions.
Although sarcopenia may be caused by an underlying medical condition, it is more commonly caused by an imbalance in metabolism, resulting in the accumulation of excess fats in the body. Excess fats build up, causing the body to use more calories than the body requires. When fat is stored in the body, it can be converted to muscle tissue. However, excess fats stored in the body have to be broken down further, reducing the supply of energy for the body and causing an increase in body fat.
Since muscle tissue requires protein to manufacture ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which are the main source of energy for muscle and brain cells, the breakdown of the body’s available sources of protein and an increase in muscle tissue has an impact on muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis will decrease, leading to the loss or reduction in lean muscle mass.
It is also possible to lose lean tissue by the effects of gravity. When a person is overweight, gravity pulls on the weight, causing the skin to stretch, and in the case of bones, it pulls on the bones itself.
Some of the above-mentioned processes have been linked with age, but it is difficult to say for sure. Scientists do believe that certain medications or diseases may be linked to a decreased ability to produce muscle protein or decrease the production of the natural body enzyme that breaks down glycogen.
A reduced activity level may also contribute to a decreased ability to produce and use muscle.
Exercise and resistance training help to increase a body’s ability to break down and use muscle, as well as promoting a more efficient use of oxygen and energy. These exercise methods are beneficial for people who are getting older and want to maintain or improve their muscle tissue. Although most people start to experience a decrease in muscle mass after the age of 60, many people who engage in regular aerobic and strength training continue to work out as they age. Although most people who exercise regularly lose muscle tissue as they get older, this is not necessarily a permanent condition.
The key to keeping muscle tissue intact is maintaining an appropriate balance between the amount of muscle and fat and maintaining a healthy weight. While some individuals lose tissue after the age of 50, others may continue to experience an increased rate of tissue loss over time. As people age, they may experience more dramatic declines in muscle mass due to their body’s inability to adapt as the body uses less energy and more calories are used.
Muscle protein synthesis may decrease as a person gets older, so consuming foods high in protein may help to stimulate muscle growth. However, it is important to make sure that these foods are in addition to working out and to maintain a proper diet, especially if one is in poor health.
Many people believe that a healthy lifestyle is the best preventative measure for sarcopenia. Regular physical activity, moderate caloric intake and exercise are all effective ways to keep a body strong and able to function at a normal and active level.