From the time you are born to around the time you turn 30, your muscles grow larger and stronger. But at some point in your 30s, you start to lose muscle mass and function. The cause is age-related sarcopenia or sarcopenia with aging.
Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Even if you are active, you’ll still have some muscle loss.
When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
Although sarcopenia is seen mostly in people who are inactive, the fact that it also occurs in people who stay physically active suggests there are other factors in its development. Researchers believe these include:
Reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to start movement
A decrease in the ability to turn protein into energy
Not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass
Treatments for Sarcopenia
The primary treatment for sarcopenia is exercise, specifically resistance training or strength training. These activities increase muscle strength and endurance using weights or resistance bands.
Resistance training can help your neuromuscular system, hormones. It also can improve an older adult's ability to convert protein to energy in as little as two weeks.
The proper number, intensity, and frequency of resistance exercise is important for getting the most benefit with the least risk of injury. You should work with an experienced physical therapist or trainer to develop an exercise plan.
Although drug therapy is not the preferred treatment for sarcopenia, a few medications are under investigation. They include:
Urocortin II. This has been shown to stimulate the release of a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) from your pituitary gland. Given through an IV, this can prevent muscle atrophy that can happen when you’re in a cast or taking certain medicines. Its use for building muscle mass in humans has not been studied and isn't recommended.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). When a woman's production of hormones goes down at menopause, HRT can increase lean body mass, reduce abdominal fat in the short-term, and prevent bone loss. However, there has been controversy around the use of HRT due to increased risk of certain cancers and other serious health problems.