The human body has over 600 muscles which are responsible for a variety of functions from chewing to breathing to walking. As we age, muscles naturally begin to decrease in mass, a condition called sarcopenia. Muscles are vital for daily functions, so it is generally recommended to try and maintain muscle mass as you age.
You have three types of muscle – Cardiac, smooth, and skeletal muscles account for all 600+ muscles in your body. Cardiac muscle lines the walls of the heart and helps pump blood throughout your body. Smooth muscles line the insides of organs and help them accomplish vital tasks within your body, such as digestion. Both cardiac and smooth muscles are autonomic, meaning you do not have to tell the muscles to contract, they will do it automatically. On the other hand, skeletal muscles are moved voluntarily when you tell them to. They are attached to your bones by tendons and support your bodyweight.
Why does muscle mass decrease? –After age 30, humans begin to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade. The decline in muscle mass ramps up around age 50 and becomes more even pronounced after age 60. Decreasing muscle mass is a sign of natural aging.
Despite being a natural part of the life cycle, decreasing muscle mass can be worsened by a variety of different risk factors. These include obesity, hormone levels, chronic illnesses, and malnutrition, to name just a few.
Signs of decreasing muscle mass may include decreased strength, slower walking, falls, and tiring more easily.
How to slow the loss of muscle – Diet and exercise are the most important factors in preventing premature or accelerated loss of muscle. Maintaining a healthy weight is also helpful in retaining muscle mass as you age.
Resistance training, including weightlifting, helps prevent loss of muscle mass by increasing tension on muscle fibers. Increased tension triggers the muscles to repair themselves, and in doing so the muscles grow and get stronger. Aerobic exercise can also promote healthy muscles and help you maintain a healthy weight. Working outdoes not need to be complicated – simply walking can provide muscle-strengthening benefits.
Consuming enough calories, particularly protein, is important to avoid excessive muscle loss. Protein is required to grow muscle. Senior citizens are encouraged to increase protein intake because studies have suggested the body may not use protein as efficiently as it did when it was younger. Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and creatine all promote healthy muscles.