Muscle Loss as a Component of Aging

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Adults should understand how muscle health contributes to overall health and wellness and how age-related muscle loss can threaten the body’s condition and overall quality of life. Mature adults who practice positive muscle supporting habits, like healthy nutrition and exercise, enable themselves with improved mobility and energy. Both factors can empower aging adults to live self-sufficient and more satisfying lives.

Advances in nutrition and medicine have gifted humanity with longer average life expectancy. Unfortunately, with prolonged life comes prolonged risk of age-related ailments.

Although some age-associated disorders, such as cognitive decline and loss of bone mass, have drawn extensive media attention, moderate loss of muscle mass occurs in approximately 70.7% of males and 41.9% of females aged 65 or older, according to the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Declining strength and health benefits related to loss of skeletal muscle mass, if left unchecked, can lead to physical debilitation, poor quality of life, and even death. Its widespread occurrence and long-term nature make it one of the greatest threats to health and independence in aging adults.

According to WebMD, “physically inactive people can lose as much as 3 to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30.” Furthermore, “muscle loss accelerates after age 40 and continues to accelerate until 35–40% of total muscle mass and 20-40% of strength is lost by age 80,” according to research from Muscle, Ligaments, and Tendons Journal.

Musculoskeletal deterioration yields severe consequences for aging adults. Muscle loss can impair mobility and balance, increasing the risk of falls and fractures.

Many factors influence the trajectory and acceleration of muscle loss with age. Chronic physical inactivity and sedentary behavior, for example, may accelerate the process.

Seniors that experience even a relatively short time of inactivity, such as ten days of bed rest, may suffer a 12% loss of lower leg strength and aerobic capacity, according to research published in the journal, Medical Science. An average 7% reduction in physical activity, after the bed rest program, further aggravates the physical deterioration caused by the inactivity.

Poor diet and loss of appetite also accelerate muscle loss. Both lead to insufficient nutrient intake and, hence, insufficient bodily resources required to maintain healthy muscles.

Age-Related Muscle Loss Solutions

The Harvard Medical School advocates that healthy aging depends upon maintaining strength. Strength training and nutrition can help retain strength by stemming the tide of muscle loss.

Preventing muscle loss is easier than restoring lost muscle mass, reports Prevention online magazine. While mature adults can increase muscle mass and function through exercise, training programs designed for younger individuals may prove less useful for seniors. Some elderly individuals lack the strength to perform activities with the intensity that young trainers use to achieve muscle gains.

Elderly subjects also experience age-related anabolic resistance to exercise and protein ingestion, meaning their bodies do not efficiently use the proteins they eat to build muscle protein. This contributes to the difficulty associated with building muscles, rather than just maintaining them.

 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that regular physical activity is one of the most important means of maintaining health in older adults. Exercise helps prevent many of the health problems associated with age, reduces the risk of illness, improves mood, supports independence, and promotes social interaction.

In the journal, Age and Aging, scientists pointed out the relationship between adequate exercise and increased muscle mass and function in elders. Consistent training combined with protein intake promotes muscle repair, preservation, and growth. Although aging adults do not need strenuous exercise, they do need regular activity to stay fit.

Elderly individuals may safely practice resistance exercise to improve balance, cognitive function, sit-to-stand time, and gait speed. Regular training can reduce the risk of hospitalization, support independent living, and improve their overall quality of life.

Even with a balanced diet, though, many older people eat less than they used to, making it difficult for them to obtain the recommended intake of key nutrients. The Journal of Internal Medicine reported that elderly individuals don’t eat enough protein, and nearly 92% have low levels of vitamin D. Adults should also check to ensure that they consume adequate levels of vitamins B12, B6, E, and C, as well as minerals including calcium, selenium, and zinc.

Fortunately, seniors can ensure that they eat enough of the right nutrients and improve their well-being through subtle dietary changes and by using nutritional supplements. Here are some recommendations:

  • Assess your nutrient level intake. Track your food consumption for a week or so, and review it with your doctor, nutritionist, or another healthcare professional.
  • Drink at least two liters (2.1 qt.) of water daily. The European Food Safety Authority states that 2 liters of water a day contribute to the maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions. Older adults who wish to maintain reasonable activity levels and independence should diligently monitor their water consumption.
  • Plan meals in advance to ensure variety in your diet.
  • Boost your appetite by selecting appealing meals.
  • Make mealtimes social. Enjoy your meals with friends or family, while helping yourself and others stick to a healthy diet.
  • Consider adding high-quality nutritional supplements to your diet, if needed, to help achieve the right nutrient levels.
 

The Protein Challenge

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported a trend in reduced protein consumption as adults age. It considers that “protein intake in older Americans deserves increased attention.”

Clinical Nutrition reported that inadequate protein intake links to reduced muscle strength and function. Insufficient protein intake may occur as a result of anorexia, appetite loss, blunted olfactory perception, gastrointestinal issues, and, in some cases, socio-economic factors.

Battling age-related muscle loss requires sufficient nutritional protein intake. Clinical Nutrition noted that increased consumption of amino acids from protein does improve muscle function and strength among elderly individuals.

Proteins consist of long chains of amino acids, and Frontiers in Physiology reported that ingesting amino acids stimulates the synthesis of myofibrillar proteins that give muscles their tensile strength.

According to research published in the journal, Nutrients, amino acid consumption also contributes to the production of mitochondrial proteins required for metabolizing, or providing energy for vital processes, including organic material synthesis. The research shows that increased protein intake improves metabolism and muscle mass development in humans.

Protein-based nutrition plays an essential role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis and preventing muscle protein breakdown. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a daily dietary allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, research from the journal Nutrients suggests that

“there is good consistent evidence that consumption of 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg/day dietary protein combined with twice-weekly progressive resistance exercise reduces age-related muscle mass loss. Older people appear to require 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg/day dietary protein to optimize physical function, particularly whilst undertaking resistance exercise recommendations.”

This evidence suggests that the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) do not recommend adequate protein intake. There are several reasons for this:

  • The recommendations did not take into account muscle mass and metabolic function goals. Researchers, instead, aimed at avoiding deficiency without maximizing muscle mass, strength, and function.

 

  • Reduced bioavailability of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron impede the breakdown of proteins in older adults, reported the journal, Oncotarget. The USDA RDA does not factor this into its formula.
  • Anabolic resistance, or the impaired ability to build muscle, among seniors, also requires them to consume more than the RDA for healthy muscle maintenance. USDA Dietary Guidelines do not take this into consideration.
  • “Most adults benefit from protein intakes above the minimum RDA,” reported Donald K Layman of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, at the University of Illinois, in Urbana.
  • The USDA RDA for protein does not take into account different protein needs among young and older individuals. Evidence suggests that older individuals indeed need more protein in their diets to achieve optimal muscle health.

Dr. Daniel R. Moore, of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, at the University of Toronto, in Ontario, Canada, looked at how much protein young and older individuals must ingest to stimulate myofibrillar protein synthesis. Myofibrillar proteins in muscle cells make up much of the physical bulk of muscle and do its “pulling” work.

Moore and his collaborators found very different minimal amounts of protein required for maximal protein synthesis in young and older subjects:

  • Young subjects: 25 g/kg/lean body mass (LBM)
  • Older subjects: 61 g/kg/LBM

That means both young and old adults require more protein than the current RDA, with elders requiring 7.6 times more than the RDA. Considering that many older adults don’t even manage to eat the RDA for protein, Moore’s data suggest that malnutrition probably contributes to poor health in a large portion of the world’s aging population.

Optimal Ingested Protein Recommendations

  • Men 50+ years old who weigh 80 kilograms (about 176 lbs.) should consume 80 – 96g of protein per day. This amount is equivalent to a 280 – 340g chicken breast.
  • Women 50+ years old who weigh 60 kilograms (about 132 lbs.) should consume 60 – 72g of protein per day. This amount is equivalent to a 210 – 250g chicken breast.
  • Older women should increase to 1 – 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Weight Maintenance

Maintaining a healthy weight is good for us at any age. Excess weight can impede mobility and make it difficult to maintain a positive attitude. While uncontrollable factors, like genetics, can influence weight, most people can focus on controllable factors, such as eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.

Positive Attitude & Social Connection

Mental health plays an important role in healthy aging. Here are several tips to boost mental well-being:


Connect with Friends and Family

Spend time with loved ones, friends, and people in your community. If your friends and family don’t live nearby, give them a call to keep in touch.


Stay Moving and Active

Make sure you get up and move around. Physical activity can aid psychological health and social well being. Studies show that older adults who exercise regularly are more likely to rate their health as “excellent,” which further promotes positive mental health.


Get Quality Rest

Try to get a good night’s sleep. Restful sleep can help your body recover, reduce stress, and increase energy and optimism.