Sarcopenia and the importance of resistance training
(pronounced sarko-peen-ya) is the "age-related" loss of
muscle. The word comes
from the Greek, for "flesh reduction." Just like
"sarcopenia is a serious degenerative condition
that increases ones risks for falls and makes one more vulnerable to
How does this translate to the human body?
In physically inactive people there is a loss of about [-0.5%] of
lean muscle mass
every year between age 25 and 60, and a corresponding decline in
muscle strength. From
age 60 on, the rate of loss doubles, to about 1%. It doubles again at age 70;
again at age 80, and then again at age 90.
We are losing muscle mass, and that muscle mass is being replaced by
fat cells. Typically an
individual wonders why they develop a "pouch" gut, or why their
becoming larger. We realize we are not gaining muscle mass in these areas, but
losing muscle mass and fat cells are gaining in size. Most people can envision
this process occurring in their body from the age of 30 on.
Inactive people normally have the most severe atrophy (loss of muscle
mass), but active people also may experience atrophy of the muscle. The
greatest loss is experienced with the fast twitch (FT) versus the slow twitch
(ST) muscles. The FT muscles are used for high-intensity, anaerobic movements
(weight lifting) while the ST are employed for activities such as
With aging and
inactivity, the most atrophy is seen in the fast twitch (FT)
fibers which are recruited during high-intensity, anaerobic movements.
Although sarcopenia is mostly seen in physically inactive individuals, it is
also evident in individuals who remain physically active throughout their
lives. Present finding suggests that physical inactivity is not the only
contributing factor to sarcopenia. Current research is finding that the
development of sarcopenia is a multifactor process. Many factors, including
physical inactivity, motor-unit remodeling, decreased hormone levels, and
decreased protein synthesis, may all contribute to sarcopenia.
What causes Sarcopenia?
1. The aging process- Sarcopenia generally
starts to set in around age 45, when muscle mass begins to decline at a rate
of about 1 percent per year. As muscle mass begins to decline, so does
muscle strength. Studies have revealed that muscle strength declines by
approximately 15 percent per decade in the sixties and seventies and about
30 percent thereafter. As strength goes, so does physical
functioning---the ability to do chores, take walks, climb stairs, or the
accomplishment of other activities. This loss of strength can create a
vicious cycle. Since it takes a great deal of physical effort and discomfort
to perform daily tasks, one naturally avoids it, which creates even more
2. Physical inactivity-
Sarcopenia occurs in
people of all fitness levels, however physically inactive adults
will see a faster and greater loss of muscle mass than physically active
3. Reduction of hormone production in the human body as we age 1.
Testosterone, 2. Human growth hormone.
4. Decrease of protein synthesis ability within the human body as we age.
5. Female estrogen levels may also play a role in the development of sarcopenia during and after menopause. This topic has limited research, but
it does appear that many females develop a "pouch" after
6. Nutrition can also be
a factor in the development of sarcopenia if one is not consuming adequate
energy intake. Many older individuals may not be consuming enough calories
and/or protein, thereby depleting muscle protein to sustain energy
Treatment and Prevention
Along with proper
nutrition, a powerful intervention in the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia is resistance training (weight-lifting or
Resistance training works
to build muscle by forcing the body to heal the damage to muscle cells that
occur with use. When the
intensity is high enough, microscopic
tears occur in the muscle, which then rebuild protein and make the muscle
Although it has been
known for decades that resistance training increases muscle mass and
strength in young adults, many thought that
muscle loss in older people was
inevitable. However, it is now known that past studies done on older people
using weights, did not show a positive response because the studies were not
using the correct exercise intensity. Instead, subjects were lifting weights
that were too light.
current studies, using higher intensity workouts have shown that
be doubled in only 12 weeks of training,
and that even frail nursing-home residents in their 90's could build
muscle and strength."
Sarcopenia can be stopped and
reversed with proper weight training. Moreover the muscle mass we are creating
is also known as lean body mass. For every 10 pounds of lean body mass we
carry on our bodies, 500 calories per day is consumed to maintain that body
Yes, you may burn more calories by running or walking, but these activities
will not increase muscle mass as weight training does.
The following program will help build muscle mass.
A1) Back Squat
B1) Bent-Over Row
C1) Abdominal Crunch
Do 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions with 60 seconds of rest between sets. Make
sure to keep the movements slow and controlled. Perform the routine 3 times a
week (every other day.)
Restoration in the form of
massage, contrast (hot/cold) showers and baths, or
some light cardiovascular exercise (such as walking) and
stretching can be
If you consider weight training as curling 2 or 3 pound dumbbells as you
watch TV, you should consult with a local weight lifting trainer, buy an
on-line fitness program or join a
health club. These individuals or organizations will help you reach your goals
in a safe and knowledgeable manner. It is extremely important that you learn
the proper techniques and lifting form (s). Proper training will insure
results, safety and help prevent unnecessary
Just Do It!