Worse than a Hitchcock horror movie?

Wikipedia tells us that: “Sarcopenia (from the Greek meaning “poverty of flesh”) is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength associated with aging (0.5-1% loss per year after the age of 25).”

Sarcopenia, simply stated, is the loss of muscle mass that occurs normally as we age. This decrease in muscle mass shows itself in weakness, slowdown and frailty.

Sarcopenia is mostly caused by a different process in your body than muscle atrophy (e.g., when a limb is encased in plaster due to a fracture, the muscles lose their strength and size due to lack of movement). Sarcopenia, instead, results in the replacement of muscle fibers by fat, and an increase in fibrous tissue.

Hence, Sarcopenia results in low muscle mass, and a drop in strength and performance.

But note: it is not only your “functional” muscles that start “losing it”, but your “entire musculoskeletal system of muscle, neuromuscular responsiveness, endocrine function, vasocapillary access, tendons, joints, ligaments (and bone!)” get affected, as sarcopenia takes hold.

And this gradual decrease in musculoskeletal strength and mass has been directly attributed to a continued “absence of exercise of sufficient intensity and volume”, medical professionals tell us.

To be completely honest, that athletes, too, experience the effects of sarcopenia, as noted by the fact that most speed and strength records are set by younger athletes (below 30 years of age).
However, note though, that power-lifters and many strength athletes continue to set records into their 50s.

How does Sarcopenia perform its evil invasion?

Satellite cells are small cells that lie next to muscle fibers. As soon as injury or muscle fiber damage occurs, these cells get activated.

They transform and fuse into the muscle fiber, helping it to rebuild or increase its function as triggered by the injury or exercise demand.
When satellite cells fail to get activated, basically, the door opens for sarcopenia.

Sarcopenia is also thought to be a result of reduced anabolic signals, such as those that are normally triggered by growth hormone and testosterone in our system, combined with increased catabolic signals from other chemical structures in the body (e.g., pro-inflammatory cytokines).
Therefore, note: Low testosterone due to aging is one of the triggers for sarcopenia.

Main body-regions affected by Sarcopenia:

Sagging facial features results from facial muscle fibers giving up.
A sunken ribcage, with ravines between rib bones happens because of the loss of intercostal muscles.
Skeletal muscles support the spine, shoulders, back. They all help keep you erect. The sarcopenation of skeletal muscles results in the stooped posture many older people assume (“helped” along by osteoporosis).
It is noted that aging affects, in particular, the muscles of the lower body (the thighs, buttocks, and calves). Muscle loss is more pronounced in the lower than upper body resulting in easier loss of balance.

Sarcopenia rated as a public health problem:

Loss of balance: Each year, one in 3 seniors fall. And this is, in the main, due to low muscle strength, especially in the legs, abdomen and back, yes, the support structure that keeps you upright.

Health professionals accept that, due to our increasingly sedentary and inactive lifestyles, sarcopenia has increased to emerge as a major health problem around the industrialized (and increasingly a “work-glued-to-your-chair-for-the-next-8-to-10-hours-every-day”) world.

Sarcopenia can progress to the extent that a person cannot live independently.

Sarcopenia predicts how “disabled” a person will become: poor balance, slow walking speeds, more frequent falls, and resultant fractures.

Sarcopenia is the muscular parallel of osteoporosis, loss of bone density (about which we talk next in this book).

Very importantly, Sarcopenia and Osteoporosis, together, results in a shocking frailty that is seen so often the older people get, so much so that a simple knock is enough to put the person into hospital.

So what can I do about Sarcopenia?

With hormones declining, protein synthesis problems, cells/neurons dying, it seems that sarcopenia is something we cannot avoid. But researchers have found this sarcopenia is not inevitable.

Much of the research findings in this area came from NASA as astronauts (in the early days) led a very sedentary existence (not too much elbow space around to move in, once up there, plus, the low gravity in space was no help to muscle maintenance).

In space, surprisingly slow-twitch neurons tend to die off faster and fast-twitch neurons take up the job of their dead peers. This resulted in astronauts tearing muscles more easily ( the Fast Twitch neurons wouldn’t be up to controlling the larger number of fibers the Slow Twitch neurons could control so easily).

Before the 1990s, medicos would recommend 30 minutes of exercise daily to prevent sarcopenia: walking or jogging.
But since then, researchers have found that both, deep-space muscle degradation and sarcopenia, have a common preventative recourse: Resistance training. Additionally, resistance training has been actually found to reverse the course of sarcopenia, though not prevent it completely.

Some researchers have found that resistance training actually reverses the process of protein synthesis degradation. (Generally, we lose the ability to synthesize protein into muscle as we age.) Resistance training helps to turn the tide in this area.

Research indicates that supplementation with Creatine has been noted to help increase natural IGF-13 (Insulin like Growth Factor) in the body, with resulting anabolic (muscle-weight gain) response in the body.

Some caveats:

Before you head off to the gym to begin a course of weight-training, please :
get yourself assessed by a medical practitioner. You could seriously damage yourself if you get in there and overexert yourself (at the least, resulting in torn muscles, or if you have undiagnosed osteoporosis, broken bones).

Sometimes diabetes and dementia can be aggravated by resistance training.
Just as nothing can completely stop our aging bodies, sarcopenia, too, is not completely prevented by exercise, though it appears to a much lesser degree in physically active individuals.

However, if physical activity is not intense enough, and of a sufficient duration to engage the fast-twitch muscle fibres, fast-twitch fibres can atrophy with resulting sarcopenia.

Proactive Ageing is about getting into active habits that will work to defeat syndromes like the one above.