Sarcopenia and loss of strength
with advice from Daniel Butler, CEP
Sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle mass, is a part of what has been called “the slippery slope of aging.”
As people age, they often start to experience sarcopenia, as well as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Having weaker muscles and bones, plus the arthritis caused by years of wear and tear, can make movement more difficult and painful. The pain leads to less activity, which contributes to weaker bones and muscles, making it even more difficult to move. And so on.
Doctors and scientists are still not quite sure what causes sarcopenia, but they have linked a number of factors to its development, according to the Mayo Clinic: age-associated hormone changes, physical inactivity, inflammation, and diseases like cancer and diabetes. Because inactivity can lead to sarcopenia, doctors encourage older adults to exercise more to build muscle mass.
Daniel Butler, a personal trainer and clinical exercise specialist who works at the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality network member in Tennessee), is an expert in helping people avoid age-related physical problems. He points out that exercise not only builds body mass, but it also releases some of the hormones that start to dwindle as we age, like testosterone and growth hormones.
In addition, it can help older adults lose weight, reducing the pain associated with arthritis; having more weight on your frame can exponentially increase the pressure on your joints. So activity increases hormone levels, builds muscle mass, and contributes to weight loss. Win, win, win!
If you haven’t been very active and don’t know where to begin, says Daniel, go for a walk. Walking doesn’t take any special skills, and in many areas of the country can be done outside year-round. If it’s too cold outside right now, he adds, there are several places to walk indoors, like shopping malls, commercial gyms and community centers.
Daniel notes that water exercise is a great alternative. Just like walking, it can be done indoors or outside, and the resistance provided by the water is enough to strengthen bones and muscles.
If you’re hesitant about trying a new activity on your own, talk to your physical therapist — PTs can create a walking or exercise program to build muscle mass at a rate that you are comfortable with. Use our locator to find a Physiquality therapist in your neighborhood.
The key to aging well is avoiding frailty, the last step in the “slippery slope.” Daniel recommends keeping an eye on your bone density through DEXA scans, and then taking steps, such as proper diet and exercise, to maintain strong and healthy bones. He also notes that regular balance screenings can detect loss of equilibrium. If loss of balance is present, there are exercise and physical therapy protocols that can help restore balance.
The last point Daniel makes is that it’s important for seniors to be social. Meeting up with friends outside the house, whether you’re going for a walk or seeing a movie together, gets you off the couch and moving — and the more you move, the better you’ll feel.
||Daniel Butler, CEP, has been a personal trainer for more than 10 years at the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. A former Marine, Daniel holds certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine as a clinical exercise specialist and the Arthritis Foundation as an aquatic instructor, and he completed his B.S. in health administration in 2012.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on aging well, in addition to the below links:
Martin, Laura J. DEXA scan (dual X-ray absorptiometry) to measure bone health. WebMD.com, September 16, 2016.
Pope, Elizabeth H. A longer life is lived with company. New York Times, September 11, 2012.
Schwartz, Robert. Sarcopenia and physical performance in old age: introduction. Muscle and Nerve: A Supplement, 1997.
Final image © Peter Gullers.