Nancy Nall Reporting
Most people know about osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other health hazards of aging. Sarcopenia is far less well-known — although virtually everyone over 45 has it to some degree.
It’s not a disease, but the perfectly natural (and unfortunate) result of aging, in which we lose muscle mass and, hence, strength. A recent Tufts University health letter calls it “creeping frailty,” which is far easier to understand.
At 45, our muscles begin to lose about 1 percent of their mass a year, the Tufts letter says, probably due to a general decline in nerve cells that link the brain and the muscles. It affects everyone, but women, because they generally have one-third the muscle mass of men to begin with, are at particular risk.
The good news is that you don’t have to sit still for it — and shouldn’t. “Use it or lose it” is the rule of thumb for most skills, and it holds true for muscles, too.
Weight training is an excellent way to maintain and even increase strength in older adults. Those who remain active in aerobic pursuits — walking, running, swimming, biking — will gain many health benefits, but to avoid losing muscle mass, they’ll have to add “pumping iron” to the gym regimen. The good news is, working with weights is one of the fastest-working and most-rewarding exercise routines anyone can do. In one study, the Tufts researchers reported, men aged 60-72 were able to more than double their leg strength in only 12 weeks.
Diet plays a role, too. Adequate protein is essential to maintain muscles. Make sure you have adequate meat or vegetarian protein in your daily diet.
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