Avoiding sarcopenia can help you draw your pension for 30 years
Who doesn’t want to enjoy their retirement to the full? Savouring the fact of having “outsmarted” the pension provider by living healthier and longer than the actuarial tables predicted.
To do that, you need to avoid sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is loss of lean muscle mass and strength
Sarcopenia not a term that trips off the tongue or is often mentioned in health articles. But we are all vulnerable to it – especially over the age of 60.
It’s the progressive loss of lean muscle mass and strength as you get older. Sarcopenia greatly increases the risk of disability, of osteoporosis (bone loss), of insulin resistance, fatigue, falls, poor quality of life, and premature death.
And it’s a very significant factor in the health care costs faced by the elderly, their family, and indeed the state.
One medical article defines sarcopenia as:
“a downward spiral that leads to decreased strength and functionality – frailty”.
Put another way, you don’t get to enjoy that retirement for as long as, or in the style, you hoped.
But there’s good news. You can start to reverse sarcopenia in as little as 2- 3 weeks. At any age.
The (muscle mass) ages of man (and woman)
From birth to about 30 years old, your muscles grow larger and stronger.
But during your 30s, you begin to lose muscle mass and function.
From then onwards, you lose about 5% of your muscle mass per decade, so by 60 you are some 20% weaker.
Sarcopenia can then accelerate, so that by 80 you may have lost as much as 50% of your muscle mass as a young adult.
The vicious circle of muscle mass and calories
Since muscle burns energy (calories), you either need to eat less and less, or you become progressively fatter.
Eating less reduces your nutrition at just the time you should be increasing it.
Becoming fatter drives the weakening process even further.
Moreover fat, especially fat around the midriff, releases toxic compounds that increase inflammation and free radical damage to DNA. These are the two key factors in heart disease, stroke and cancer.
So it’s a vicious circle that’s vital to break.
Factors causing sarcopenia
Lack of physical exercise is a key factor in sarcopenia, but other factors include:
- reduced levels of growth hormone
- reduced testosterone (in both men and women)
- a decrease in the ability to digest protein and turn protein into energy
- neurological decline
- increased inflammation and oxidative stress (free radical damage) in body tissues
- reduced functioning of mitochondria (the tiny energy factories in each body cell)
Contributing to all these negative factors is widespread sub-optimal nutritional intake.
Indeed, the US National Library of Medicine concludes:
“Adequate nutrition and targeted exercise remain the gold standard for therapy against sarcopenia”.
So to stay strong as you age – and revel in that long retirement – exactly what nutrition do you need and what exercise works to stave off the threat of sarcopenia?
The six-point plan to beat sarcopenia
It may shock you to learn that most of us now normally spend at least 20 hours of every day inactive!
That’s 8 hours asleep, 8 hours in a sedentary job and at least 4 hours a day relaxing on a couch. If you include sitting down to eat, it can be more!
ONE – EXERCISE
Exercise stimulates the release of hormones that promote healthy muscle mass. These include testosterone and growth hormone, which act throughout the body. The regime you need to start warding off progressive weakness can be as simple as:
Fast walking while swinging your arms. This should be for about 30 minutes on 5 days a week, but vigorous housework also counts. That’s a total of just 2.5 hours over a 112 hour waking week. Fast walking builds muscle in the legs, increases aerobic capacity and improves the activity of mitochondrial enzymes – which is why exercise increases energy levels.
But walking alone is not enough. You also need to include some strength training or resistance training exercises to avoid muscle loss. Fortunately, I am NOT talking about pumping iron!
Try these 4 simple strength builders that need no gym:
Press-ups – or press-aways. Press-aways are as simple as standing away from a wall, leaning into it and then pressing yourself away from the wall.
Repeat this at least 10-15 times or as many times as you can. Day by day you will find you can do more ‘press-ups’ or ‘press-aways’.
Dumbbell Lifts. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand with your elbows bent so the dumbbells are level with your shoulders. Then raise your arms towards the ceiling. Repeat as many times as you feel comfortable – but at least 10 – 15 times.
You don’t even need dumbbells – bags of sugar will do.
Bicep Curls. Take your dumbbells or bags of sugar, one in each hand. Sit upright in a chair with your spine against the back of the chair. Your arms should be at your side, level with your knees.
Bend your arms at the elbow and lift the weights to become level with your shoulder. But keep your arms tight in against your body and don’t lean your body forward. Repeat about 10-15 times.
Half Squats against a wall. Stand with your back leaning lightly against a wall, with your legs placed slightly wider than your shoulders.
Bend your knees, sliding your bottom down the wall. Keep your kneecaps in a vertical line with your foot.
If you can, lower yourself down until your position is as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair. Hold for a few seconds before raising yourself back up. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
These four strength-builder exercises will increase your mobility, and combined with walking, will help prevent arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Once you have mastered these four, check out other older-adult exercise videos on YouTube. Yoga and Pilates also often incorporate similar exercises to these to add strength training to their excellent suppleness and mobility activities.
It is NEVER too late to start strength training – and it is fundamental to slowing and preventing the march of sarcopenia!
TWO – PROTEIN
Women over 60 in particular may eat less protein than they need.
Protein is key to repairing and building muscle fibres. The recommendation is 1 gram per kilo of body weight a day. So a 65 kilo woman will need 65g of good quality protein per day.
The amino acid Leucine seems especially important to stimulate muscle synthesis and is found in meats, eggs and milk but also in seeds, lentils, beans and nuts.
Protein is important after exercise. Although it does not enhance athletic performance, it assists muscle recovery. You may want to consider a protein drink on occasions.
THREE – OMEGA 3
Supplementation with Omega 3 fatty acids increases the rate of protein synthesis in older adults – according to a well-conducted study.
A 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementing with omega-3 fish oil slowed the normal decline in muscle mass and function in older adults. They proposed that:
“Omega 3 should be considered a therapeutic approach for preventing sarcopenia and maintaining physical independence in older adults”.
Vegetarians can supplement with Omega 3 derived from flax seed – although this vegan form is slightly less effectively metabolised.
FOUR – BALANCE HORMONES
The levels of some hormones in older adults are as much as two thirds less than in a teenager.
Anti-ageing researchers are concentrating on testosterone which is essential in maintaining lean muscle mass – as well as bone mass.
Fortunately, you can increase the level of this hormone in men and women naturally. (Although women, of course, naturally have lower testosterone levels, the hormone is still important in creating lean muscle mass and crucial in the production of oestrogen.)
Testosterone levels increase by attaining a normal weight and with exercise. Your diet and cooking should include nuts, beans, olive oil and garlic – all of which contain compounds that have been found to positively affect testosterone levels.
Any supplement should include a full range of anti-oxidants like vitamins A, C, E, plus vitamin D3 and zinc, which are precursors to testosterone production. An Australian study on 685 older adults concluded that supplementation with vitamin D, combined with exercise, significantly improved lean muscle mass.
Another study in Endocrine Abstracts showed that a glass of pomegranate juice a day was linked to an average increase of 23% in testosterone levels – and the side benefit was an improvement in mood and a drop in blood pressure.
What not to eat? Sugars and carbohydrate lead to a surge in insulin levels and high levels of insulin reduce blood levels of testosterone. And drinking too much alcohol can weaken muscles as well as remove important nutrients from your body.
FIVE – EAT AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
Inflammation that builds up in body tissues over time is now acknowledged in the medical literature to be a key driver of most age-related diseases – certainly it is central to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and sexual dysfunction in men. It also creates the conditions where cancer can more easily metastasise. It is a major health threat.
This link will take you to a printable recommendation of a food plan that will significantly lower inflammation and, with it, sarcopenia. It pulls together the best health research from universities like Cambridge, Harvard, Berkeley and Tufts into one simple plan.
SIX – TAKE A COMPREHENSIVE SUPPLEMENT
As we get older, the threats to health increase, so the level of nutrition we need to maintain the health of our bodies increases. But at precisely the same time, the body’s ability to absorb that nutrition begins to weaken.
In conjunction with Dr Paul Clayton – a previous Chair of the Forum on Food and Health at the Royal Society of Medicine – we designed a nutritional supplement for the over 50s called Nutrishield Premium.
Nutrishield is high in vitamins, minerals, D3, Omega 3 and a range of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant nutrients.
Follow this 6 point plan to live healthier, stronger, and longer. And outsmart that pension provider!
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Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive health supplement with OPTIMUM levels of essential nutrients including Vitamin D. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the button.
Dr Paul Clayton’s best-selling book Health Defence is available from bookstores or from Uni-Vite Healthcare here.
A free summary report and the opportunity to read the book online is available here.
Sarcopenia: European consensus on definition and diagnosis. Report of the European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People. Alfonso J. Cruz-Jentoft et al : Age Ageing. 2010 Jul; 39(4): 412–423.
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