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As aging occurs many experience the loss of strength, power, and balance, but why? The reason is sarcopenia

An elderly person sitting with their arms in their lap, hands clasped together

What is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia is a medical term for muscle loss. This naturally occurring muscle fiber loss starts around the age of 30. Muscle loss may begin at a rate of 3-5% and can gradually increase by 10% per decade. By the age of 80, up to 50% of limb muscle fibers can be lost.

Why is it important to understand muscle loss?

Muscle loss plays a key role in many day-to-day activities from climbing stairs to opening cupboards. Our limb muscles provide us with strength and stability to complete those tasks. Muscle strength is also a key component of balance. Maintaining muscle strength throughout life can prevent falls, the number one accidental cause of death in adults over the age of 65. Muscle strength also helps older adults maintain independence and quality of life.

How can one prevent muscle loss?

Poor diet and physical inactivity are risk factors for sarcopenia. Eating a nutrient-rich diet to support healthy aging and remaining physically active can go a long way toward preventing muscle loss. Although the body needs many nutrients to run efficiently, the following nutrients are specifically useful for preventing muscle loss and promoting healthy aging:

MyPlate
  • Protein – Takes care of cell repair and regeneration
  • Folate / Folic Acid – Decreases risk of dementia, stroke, and heart disease
  • Vitamin B12 – Assists folate to reduce risk of dementia, stroke, and heart disease
  • Vitamin D – Aids in calcium absorption, helps repair the nervous system, and aids the immune system
  • Calcium – Aids in blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction and blood clotting
  • Iron – Transports oxygen through the body, works with folate and vitamin B12 for DNA synthesis and protein transportation
Two older adults doing dancing or doing tai chi in a park

Exercise is important as well. There have been many studies done to determine which types of exercise are most effective for older adults, and Tai Chi has been identified as an effective way to maintain muscle mass because it helps with balance and skeletal strength. Other beneficial activities include swimming, yoga, Pilates, bodyweight training, and cardio training like walking or running. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, and walking 30 minutes five times a week is a good starting place. Exercise routines should be based on your personal needs and your primary care physician’s recommendation. Any activity is better than none!

Written by: Angela Manch, Dietetic Intern, The Ohio State University and Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Franklin County

Reviewed by: Kathy Tutt, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Clark County

Sources:

Acclimate Nutrition (2022). Sarcopenia. https://sites.google.com/view/sarcopeniabasics/home

Fielding, R. (2021). Muscle Loss in Older Adults and What to Do About It. https://now.tufts.edu/2021/02/09/muscle-loss-older-adults-and-what-do-about-it

Lobb, J. (2021). Smart Eating for Healthy Aging. Ohio State University Extension. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/ss-207

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf

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