Have you ever heard of sarcopenia?
It is a term that means muscle loss.
In middle age, or after about 40, people begin losing muscle strength and mass. This loss occurs for several reasons: hormonal changes, inflammation, loss of motor neurons and muscle fibers, and other factors. It is a normal part of ageing, but the effects of sarcopenia can be dire, including frailty, the reduction of ability to perform activities of daily living and early death.
Muscle mass is lost, on average, at a rate of 2-4% per year if we do nothing about it. Over a period of 40 years, say from age 40 to 80, it is therefore possible to lose 50% of our muscle mass! This is astounding to think about. If a person loses 50% of their muscle mass what does that look like? My mind flashes to loved ones and people that I have known who ended up in a wheelchair, with thighs as big around as my forearm, unable to get up and walk unassisted.
Not on my watch!
Sarcopenia may be a normal part of ageing, but we can do something about it. If you are already exercising, wonderful! This is exactly what you need to do. Getting enough protein, which is the building block of muscles, and for men, asking your doctor about hormone therapy, are additional paths.
If you already exercise, you may sometimes feel discouraged that, as we age, it is more challenging to tone our muscles, or to increase muscle mass. True, but now that you know a normal part of ageing is muscle loss, you can look at it a little differently: every year that you do not lose 2-4% of your muscle mass, think of that as a gain! You have prevented 2-4% muscle loss that would have occurred naturally, so you are ahead of the game. Any increase in muscle mass or strength beyond holding your own is a bonus.
If you are not currently exercising, or not exercising regularly, get going! Exercise doesn’t always mean going to a gym or taking an online class, although these are lovely options. It can be as simple as going out your front door and walking around the block. If you are very new at moving, start small. 5 minutes a day is better than nothing, and you may even feel that your legs are tired after 5 minutes. This is normal if you haven’t been exercising much. But keep at it!
When I decided to add regular cardio into my daily fitness routine, I started using a little home stepper. I was shocked at how heavy my thighs felt after only 5 minutes. I was in shape in a lot of ways, but not this one, apparently. I was actually embarrassed at how weak I felt, and yet I admit this to you, now, to offer some encouragement that you can also become healthier if you simply decide to purposefully move every day. Movement benefits you in so many ways–digestion and sleep, the quality of your skin, your mood, your joints, so many things that bring delight and joy to life will improve.
The reasons that we exercise vary. But one thing that I think we can all agree on is that a body that does what we want it to do becomes a vehicle for the enjoyment of life, whatever life you wish to live or craft.