The body and agingThe body’s muscles are constantly going breaking down and repairing themselves. As the muscles are used throughout the day, tiny microscopic tears happen from wear and tear. This is where the tears need to be rebuilt with protein. As the body gets older, it stops rebuilding muscle as efficiently and with time, there is a reduction in overall muscle mass and strength. This loss can be from a combination of factors including:
- Hormone changes – increasing/decreasing levels
- Physical inactivity
- Underlying conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer
- Less to no calories burned
- Minimal muscle development
- Negative changes to body composition
- Muscle loss
- Increase in body fat
Muscle loss factors
SarcopeniaSarcopenia is a significant loss of muscle mass and strength. It focuses on diet changes and physical activity that cause progressive loss of muscle mass.
- Balance issues
- Change in walking ability
- Decreased ability to perform daily activities
- Improper nutrition – decreased protein intake
- Hormonal changes
- Increase in pro-inflammatory proteins that the body makes, not the type that is eaten
- Decreased physical activity
- Vascular disease/s
MalnutritionMalnutrition is a lack of nutritional intake, which can affect body composition. Malnutrition can create complications that not only affect diet and exercise but how the body responds to diet and exercise. Elderly individuals tend not to get enough protein, which is essential for healthy muscle repair. This is often because they have trouble chewing, food-costs, and trouble cooking limit their access to getting protein on a regular basis. Inadequate protein intake can lead to sarcopenia. Protein requirements for older individuals are higher than for the younger population. This is brought on by age-related changes like a decreased response to protein intake. This means that older individuals need to consume more protein to achieve the same anabolic effect. Micronutrient deficiency means a lack of nutrients. These are minerals and vitamins, that support body processes like cell regeneration, immune system health, and eyesight. Examples are iron or calcium deficiencies. This deficiency has the highest impact on normal physiological functions/processes and can happen with a protein-energy deficiency. This is because most micronutrients are obtained from food.
Body composition and ageProper lean muscle mass is essential for healthy aging. A lack of enough muscle can result in:
Difficulty movingThis is when regular movements are no longer regular but now take massive amounts of strength and energy. Examples include taking the elevator becoming a necessity and getting in and out of a car is just as challenging. Loss of function and independence are common as muscle loss progresses. Nineteen percent of women and ten percent of men aged 65 or older no longer have the ability to kneel.
Weight gainThe muscles are linked with the body’s metabolism, so once muscles begin to diminish, so does the metabolism. This is referred to as the body’s metabolism slowing down. What is actually happening is a loss of muscle, meaning the body needs fewer calories to function. When the body needs fewer calories and an individual continues eating the same amount of calories, this is when body fat starts to accumulate. This can happen with no significant changes to individual weight. As muscle loss progresses, it is replaced by fat. Body-weight can remain unchanged, but changes in body composition are unseen, which often leads to an array of health problems associated with obesity.
New healthy aging problemsStudies show that weight gain at a steady rate can lead to adult-onset diabetes. This is due to more body fat and muscle loss. Skeletal muscle mass loss has been linked with insulin resistance. This means the less muscle, the less insulin sensitive an individual becomes. As insulin sensitivity decreases and becomes more resistant, the risk factors for type 2 diabetes increases. Loss of muscle can cause other problems with age. One damaging condition is osteoporosis. A few ways to prevent muscle loss.
- Eat a proper amount of protein throughout the day. Space out protein across several meals rather than trying to eat it all at once. This will ensure the proper amount daily.
- Monitor body composition regularly. Try to keep muscle mass loss and fat mass gain at a minimum.
- Begin a strength training routine.
Focus on building muscleMuscle loss and weakness has been shown to not be a part of aging, but rather as a result of chronic inactivity. Muscle mass is lost with age but it is not the aging process itself that causes muscle atrophy. It is because individuals tend to become more inactive. Physical inactivity is really what causes muscle loss and weakness. However, something can be done about inactivity. For example, there was a study on postmenopausal women that revealed that regular resistance training increased muscle strength by about 19% after one year. Scientific researchers believed this training increased bone mineral density, which defends against brittle bones. This along with related studies also confirmed that bone frailty can be reduced. Muscle strength relative to muscle mass can also be improved with resistance/strength training. The idea is that physical aging can be slowed down with physical activity. This is to keep the muscles from losing function.
DNA damaged cellsTelomeres are caps at the end of DNA strands that protect the chromosomes. They can be thought of as the plastic ends on shoelaces. If those shoelaces lose the plastic ends the laces become frayed until they unravel and can no longer do their job. The same can be said of telomeres, the DNA strands become damaged and the cells cannot do their job. A shortening of the Telomere is a hallmark of cellular aging. Cells with shortened telomeres tend to malfunction and secrete hormones that trigger an inflammatory response and tumor formation. A study found that individuals that exercise regularly have longer telomeres. This does not mean that an individual has to spend the entire day at the gym. Only moderate, not heavy strength training was found to be effective.
Maintain muscleOlder individuals can still be reluctant to try improving their fitness level. Many believe that years of inactivity has done its damage and that they are too old to train. However, anyone can set goals to improve body composition that will improve energy levels and maintain activity. Functional fitness refers to the ability to move comfortably throughout daily life. It not only benefits physical activity but contributes to improved body composition. The aging process does reduce metabolic rate and often leads to increased body fat. Lean Body Mass contributes to the overall Basal Metabolic Rate also known as metabolism. This is the number of calories the body needs to support its essential functions. Engaging in strength training or resistance exercises can regain some of the muscle loss brought on from aging and inactivity. This can lead to an increase in lean body mass, which increases Basal Metabolic Rate. This all helps prevent:
- Bone loss
- Heart disease
- Age-related falls
It is never too lateSix percent of adults in the United States engage in resistance training or some form of weight training at least twice a week. There are misconceptions that weight training has an age limit. This is not true. The benefits from lifting weights, whether dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, bands, machines, etc are for everyone young and old. This does not mean training at high-intensity. Older adults should look to resistance training to increase energy levels and decrease body fat. A study in Sports Medicine focused on the effects of strength training for older adults found:
- Increased power
- Reduced difficulty to perform daily tasks
- Enhanced energy
- Improved body composition
- Participation in spontaneous physical activity
- Eating sufficient nutrients
- Monitoring body composition
- Strength/resistance training
Vitamin DVitamin D is a nutrient that can be acquired in several ways. It supports the normal physiologic functions that include the absorption of minerals like calcium and zinc. This nutrient can be acquired through food consumption, supplemental form, and exposure to the sun. Most foods in a regular diet provide a relatively small amount with the exception of fatty-fish. Examples of natural food sources include:
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods like milk, orange juice, and yogurt
Building muscleVitamin D plays an important role in bone health. More recently it has been reported to contribute to muscle quality. Skeletal Muscle Mass decreases with age, primarily from decreased activity. Treatment includes proper nutrition, exercise, and vitamin D naturally or in supplementation form. It was found to slow down muscle loss, help regain muscle mass and strength.
On your feetFalls are the number-one cause of fatal and nonfatal injury/s. Low vitamin D levels could be partly to blame. There is strong evidence that vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of a fall in older adults. The connection has to do with the effects of muscle strength and function. Around 250 older adults participated in a trial of taking vitamin D daily plus calcium supplementation improved:
- Quadriceps strength
- Postural control
- Daily functions
- Standing up
Blood sugar checkVitamin D benefits for muscle health have been linked with muscle mass and blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone that allows blood sugar into the muscles. Individuals with sufficient blood vitamin D levels have a significantly lower risk of hyperglycemia than those with below-recommended levels. Research shows that daily vitamin D supplements in combination with calcium slow down the long-term rise in blood sugar in individuals with prediabetes. Research has shown that supplementation is beneficial for those who are classified as having a deficiency.
Vitamin D SupplementsFor individuals with vitamin deficiencies, supplementation can help prevent loss of muscle, strength, falling, and the progression of hyperglycemia. Aging can be accomplished strength training, aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and the regular monitoring of body composition.
Healthy agingMaintaining optimal health and aging the way we were supposed to is possible. It does get harder to maintain ideal body composition. The muscles have a harder time rebuilding/repairing and can experience sarcopenia and malnutrition. It is not about getting a flawless physique, but about being able to participate in activities and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Achieving functional fitness through:
- Diet evaluation
- Dietary supplementation
- Twice a week strength training
- Five-time a week moderate cardiovascular fitness