Sarcopenia is a condition leading to the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength which in turn affects balance, gait and overall ability to perform tasks of daily living. Scientists have long believed muscle loss and others signs associated with aging are an inevitable process. However, researchers are now looking for ways in which we can slow the aging process, specifically in relation to loss of muscle mass and strength.
According to the population projections in different countries, the percentage of 65 years of age or older is increasing randomly. Millions of people will become weak and frail as they age due to severe loss of muscle mass. As humans age, the force-generating capacity or strength of their skeletal muscles is reduced. As a result, many older people experience difficulty in performing their activities of daily living and instrumental activities.
Although Sarcopenia is mostly seen in people who are inactive, the fact that it also occurs in people who stay physically active throughout life. People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30.
Current research is finding that the development of Sarcopenia is a multifactorial process. Many factors, including physical inactivity, motor-unit remodelling, decreased hormone levels, decreased protein synthesis, inadequate intake of calories may all contribute to Sarcopenia.
Fortunately, Sarcopenia is partly reversible with appropriate exercise interventions. The primary treatment for Sarcopenia is exercise. Specifically, resistance training or strength training exercise that increase muscle strength and endurance with weights or resistance bands have been shown to be useful for both the prevention and treatment of Sarcopenia.
Resistance training has been reported to positively influence the neuromuscular system, hormone concentrations and protein synthesis rate. Research has shown that a programme of progressive resistance training exercises can increase protein synthesis rates in older adults as little as two weeks. Strength training promotes mobility, enhances fitness and improves muscles and bones health. Optimising muscle mass helps improve strength, functionality and overall health and well-being, even into advanced age.
For optimal benefits with minimal risk of injury, the proper number, intensity and frequency of resistance exercise is important. For that reason, you should work with an experienced physiotherapist to develop an exercise plan.
Although drug therapy is not the preferred treatment for Sarcopenia, a few medications are under investigation. Several nutrients, including creatine, vitamin D and whey protein have shown great promise in combating Sarcopenia.
The article is compiled by Dr Dolilur Rahman, Senior Consultant, Bangladesh Physiotherapy Hospital, Dhaka.