Muscle wasting in the elderly is an important problem seen at a rate of 10% after the age of 50. In medicine, this problem is called sarcopenia. Although osteoporosis is widely known among the public, muscle wasting remained in the background. However, muscle wasting is a factor that reduces life expectancy and quality; On the other hand, it is possible to stop or even reverse the process with simple precautions.
Muscle wasting in the elderly is generally thought of as a natural consequence of aging. However, even if it is a problem caused by age, muscle loss can be prevented with good nutrition and regular exercise.
After middle age, people lose, on average, 3% of their muscle mass each year. Therefore, they have difficulty in performing some daily activities that they were able to do before. Muscle wasting, called sarcopenia, causes a significant decrease in the quality and duration of life of the people it affects. The frequency of falls and the risk of fractures increase, leading to a vicious circle associated with sedentary life, paving the way for cardiovascular diseases.
The main cause of sarcopenia is the imbalance between the molecular signals that control the growth and development of muscle cells and their destruction. Normally, cell growth, injury, destruction and healing events continue in a cycle in our muscles. In a healthy person, this cycle is in balance and the muscle mass is stable. With aging, muscle cells may become insensitive to growth signals and the balance may be disturbed in favor of destruction. Changes in hormone and energy metabolism can lead to age-related muscle wasting.
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Causes of Muscle Loss in the Elderly
Sedentary lifestyle, malnutrition, chronic diseases and infections are the leading causes of muscle wasting. Our bodies use it or lose it principle. If the muscles are not used, they become weak. If the person is forced to bed rest after an accident or illness, the muscles will melt quickly. Malnutrition is another cause of muscle wasting in the elderly. Protein malnutrition is common in the elderly. Deterioration of the sense of taste, difficulty in chewing and swallowing, difficulty in going shopping and preparing meals can lead to malnutrition in the elderly. Problems such as long-term infections, rheumatic diseases, and COPD contribute to sarcopenia by causing a chronic inflammatory process in the body. Chronic liver disease, kidney failure, and heart failure also exacerbate muscle wasting in the elderly.
How to Know You Have Sarcopenia?
The result of sarcopenia is a decrease in muscle strength. Items that used to be easily lifted cannot be lifted, and the grip strength of the hand weakens. Walking slows down, walking distance becomes shorter, and the person’s desire to stay active decreases. There may be weight loss. Of course, these symptoms may also be a sign of another disease, so if you have any of the above, you should be examined by your doctor.
Exercise to Prevent Muscle Wasting
The best way to prevent or even reverse sarcopenia is to exercise. Aerobic exercises, resistance movements and balance exercises prevent muscle loss. In order for the exercises to be beneficial, they should be done regularly at least 2-4 times a week. Movements against resistance using dumbbells or exercise bands strengthen specific muscles. Both muscle cells make new proteins and new muscle cell nuclei called satellite cells are formed and muscle mass increases. Aerobic and endurance exercises that increase the heart rate are also useful in combating muscle wasting in the elderly. It has been shown in scientific studies that regular walking prevents sarcopenia. Fast walking was found to be more effective in this sense.
Balanced Nutrition to Stop Muscle Wasting
Getting enough calories, protein, vitamins and minerals through nutrition is critical in preventing muscle loss. The presence of protein in our food provides signals that stimulate the muscles. However, the strength of this signal weakens with age. In teenagers, for example, 20 grams of protein per meal has been shown to stimulate muscles; however, for this effect to occur in the elderly, at least 35 grams of protein per meal is required. Vitamin D deficiency is common and has been associated with muscle wasting. Taking vitamin D supplements increases muscle strength and reduces the risk of falling. Taking omega-3 fatty acids through seafood or food supplements also stimulates muscle growth. Creatine is another food supplement that has been shown to be effective in combating muscle wasting. These supplements show their main benefits when used in combination with exercise.