Sarcopenia: Age-Related Loss of Muscle Mass - Healthy Living Association

Sarcopenia: Age-Related Loss of Muscle Mass

The normal loss of muscle mass as you age is called sarcopenia. Once you get past 30 years of age, you typically lose between 3% and 5% of muscle mass every ten years. The average man will lose up to 30% of his muscle mass over his lifetime. And if you live into your 80s and 90s, you may lose up to 50%.

This kind of loss of muscle mass leads to an increased risk of falls and fractures because of loss of mobility and strength. The American Society of Bone and Mineral Research reported in 2015 that people with sarcopenia are 2.3 times more likely to suffer a fracture of the hip, collarbone, or an extremity if they fall.

One possible reason for this loss of muscle mass is lower testosterone levels. This is the hormone that aids in the synthesis of protein and muscle growth. It, too, naturally declines with age.

The ‘graying’ of America, more and more of the population reaching age 60 and above, means more people will face sarcopenia. This makes the loss of muscle mass one of the most pressing health concerns in the country.

Risk Factors for Sarcopenia

One of the major risk factors for developing sarcopenia is a sedentary lifestyle. More and more the typical American lifestyle includes less and less exercise.

Many people have jobs that require them to be inactive, sitting at a desk or behind a computer. They also commute to work and home sitting down, either in their cars or on public transportation. Once they make their way home, they’re too tired or involved in children’s activities to exercise.

Another major risk factor is the Standard American Diet or SAD. This typical diet includes too much fast food, processed food, and sugar intake. And not enough whole grains, green vegetables, and fresh fruit.

Many of the foods in the SAD also contribute to increased weight gain, another of the risk factors for sarcopenia. Obesity is reaching epidemic status in the U.S. and the world. Along with obesity comes the increased incidence of Type 2 diabetes. These two conditions seem to go hand-in-hand and are clear risk factors for developing sarcopenia.

One factor that has been proposed as a way to increase muscle mass is to ingest more and more protein. However, eating too much protein can actually become a risk factor for sarcopenia because some excess protein not needed by your body can turn into fat.

Low levels of vitamin D are another potential risk factor for sarcopenia. With more jobs keeping people indoors, the production of vitamin D naturally through the effect of the sun decreases. And most people aren’t aware of the need for vitamin D supplementation and thus don’t take these kinds of supplements.

Hormones clearly affect how much muscle mass you have and may lose. Not only women are affected by hormone levels becoming unbalanced as they age, men are, too. An imbalance in hormones can increase your risk of developing sarcopenia.

Chronic inflammation can be a risk factor for this condition as well. This kind of inflammation can be brought on by many things. One major cause is stress. Continuing stress in your life can lead to chronic inflammation that then can lead to sarcopenia. Eating large amounts of simple sugars and carbohydrates likewise can increase your level of inflammation.

Consumption of large amounts of alcohol over time can also contribute to loss of muscle mass. This seems to affect skeletal muscles especially, adding to the risk of falls and subsequent injuries.

In addition, alcohol not only adds calories to your diet, it also robs your body of needed nutrients that would otherwise decrease your risk of obesity and the development of sarcopenia.

Several studies have shown smoking to increase your risk of developing sarcopenia, also. Added to this is the likelihood of you having poorer nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle if you smoke. Both of these secondary results of smoking are, in themselves, risks for sarcopenia.

With the increasing use of electronic cigarettes, you may wonder whether these are a good alternative to tobacco. No. A growing body of research evidence shows the electronic cigarettes may be even more harmful to your health than tobacco.

What Can You Do to Decrease Your Risk of Sarcopenia?

With the growing population of Baby Boomers and their concern about increasing their lifespan and remaining healthy while doing so, more healthcare professionals are turning their attention to ways to prevent or lessen the impact of sarcopenia.

Two major factors play a tremendous role in helping you maintain muscle mass as you age and lower the risk of developing sarcopenia: Eating a healthy diet and exercise.


About 60% of those over the age of 65 are not active enough, according to Mayo Clinic researchers. This inactivity is a chief contributor to the development of sarcopenia. These same researchers said the simple solution of increasing daily activities like gardening, taking a walk, and completing household jobs can have a significant impact on the rate at which you lose muscle mass.

By far, the best way to maintain and even increase muscle mass is through progressive resistance training, or PRT. This is simply lifting weights. Over time, as you gain in strength, endurance, and muscle mass, you increase PRT by using more weight, increasing reps, and adding sets.

Exercise is one way to activate the mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin) mechanism. This mechanism is part of the insulin pathway and aids in building and maintaining muscle. Insulin sensitivity is necessary, even essential, for the proper use of protein to build muscle.

As you age, insulin doesn’t work as well in preventing loss of muscle mass as when you were younger. If you are diabetic or insulin resistant, you are not using insulin effectively. mTOR helps you use insulin more effectively.

Research from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has shown older adults need to lift weights more frequently than young people in order to prevent or slow loss of muscle mass. Weekly weight sessions are needed more by older adults than younger.


The second chief factor in decreasing your risk of developing sarcopenia is adopting a healthy diet. Poor nutrition leads to other factors such as obesity that also can bring on sarcopenia.

A lot of healthcare professionals are recommending older adults eat more protein from lean sources. Many of these professionals have come up with recommended amounts of protein per kilogram of body weight for older adults to consume.

It is likely that the amount of protein consumed is insufficient as we age in light of the risk of developing sarcopenia. However, every individual is unique and following a set formula for ingestion of protein may do more harm than good.

Protein is broken down into amino acids in the body. These amino acids are the foundation on which additional muscle is built. However, there are some older men who have a condition called anabolic resistance in which they have trouble breaking down and synthesizing protein.

Unfortunately, there is little research evidence to show how much protein we need on a daily basis. In fact, research indicates little increase in measures of health and well-being with a diet higher in protein than recommended levels.

In addition to this, there are added risks to ingesting too much protein for your body to handle. One of these risks is an increase chance of developing cancer. Another is that while some excess protein in your body is excreted through the kidneys, some also can turn into fat. Eating more protein than your body can use also can lead to weight gain, dehydration, stress on your kidneys, increased body fat, and increased blood sugar.

Clearly, protein should be a part of your diet, but it should come from sources that are lean. Not all protein should come from plant products, either. Good, lean sources of meat protein are beneficial.

Foods that contain Omega-3 should also be a part of your healthy diet. Supplementation with Omega-3s can help your body process protein more effectively.

Anti-inflammatory foods should also make up a large portion of your healthy diet. Foods such as blueberries, pineapple, green leafy vegetables, salmon, and walnuts are good sources of anti-inflammatory compounds.

High fructose corn syrup and transfats should be avoided. These two types of foods are very pro-inflammatory and will increase your risk of developing sarcopenia.

Limiting processed grains, processed foods, simple sugars, and carbohydrates also will help you prevent and limit inflammation.


Sarcopenia is a common illness condition that occurs with advancing age. Loss of muscle mass through this condition can lead to secondary health concerns as well. However, this condition does not have to be in your future. Exercise with weights, progressively increasing as your strength and endurance increase is a major factor in preventing sarcopenia. Diet is equally important. The typical American diet is severely deficient in nutrients and sets the stage for the development of sarcopenia. You can take control of your future in this regard.



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How to Help Prevent Age Related Muscle Loss

Sorry Older Guys: Protein Binges Won’t Boost Your Health

The Very Real Risks of Consuming Too Much Protein

Sarcopenia: 10 Keys to Keep Your Muscle Mass Up as You Age

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