10 November 2020

It was my last year at University, and the final exam was coming up. This final exam is called the thesis; you have to work on a subject that can be measured and proven, and defend your research in front of a group of influential people that are experts in the field.

I was working on this with a group of University friends, and together we agreed that we wanted to work on Sarcopenia.

You might be thinking: “What is that?”

Don't worry - at this stage I wasn't familiar either, but I remember recognising ‘Sarco’ from  Sarcomero (the muscle cell).

Here’s the dictionary definition, from Wikipedia:

Sarcopenia is a type of muscle loss that occurs with aging and immobility. It is characterised by the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, quality, and strength. The rate of muscle loss is dependent on exercise level, co-morbidities, nutrition and other factors

Now you might be asking, why did we choose this topic? 

We chose to investigate Sarcopenia because we were wondering what happens to our muscles and body as we get older, particularly if we were to do no movement or exercise.  

As part of our research we gathered a group of people who were sedentary (not very active) and put in place a weekly exercise plan. During our study, we checked in on our subjects by asking them to perform fitness tests. After a month of research we found that a 30 to 60 minute exercise class was enough for our test subjects to improve their heart rate, body fat, and body mass.  

Our research confirmed that it is possible to delay Sarcopenia with a regular exercise plan and a healthy diet.

 After we passed the exam, I became fascinated with this topic, and decided to study it further. 

What causes Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia is to our muscles what osteoporosis is to our bones.

Sarcopenia means "lack of flesh,” and it's a type of age-associated muscle degeneration that becomes more common in people over the age of 50.

After middle age, adults lose 3% of their muscle strength every year, on average. This limits their ability to perform many routine activities. Unfortunately, Sarcopenia also shortens life expectancy in those it affects.

Sarcopenia is caused by an imbalance between signals for muscle cell growth and signals for tear-down. Cell growth processes are called "anabolism," and cell teardown processes are called "catabolism". 

For example, growth hormones act with protein-destroying enzymes to keep muscle steady through a cycle of growth, stress or injury, destruction and then healing. This cycle is always occurring, and when things are in balance, our muscle keeps its strength over time. During aging the body becomes resistant to the standard growth signals, tipping the scales toward catabolism and muscle loss.

Ageing disrupts the body's ability to produce the proteins needed to grow or maintain muscles. As we age, fewer signals are also sent from the brain to the muscles, leading to a loss in the mass and size of our muscles.

Other causes of Sarcopenia can include:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Malnutrition
  • Changes in hormones like testosterone and growth hormones
  • Increased inflammation
  • The presence of other age-related diseases
  • Sarcopenia was first characterized by the slow and progressive loss of muscle mass that is
  • associated with ageing, in the absence of any underlying disease or condition.

Subsequently, it was recognized that the key element was a loss of muscle strength (dynapenia) rather than a loss of muscle mass. This has led to a change in the definition to include muscle strength (grip strength) or muscle function (walking speed or distance).

Based on this concept a number of societies around the world have provided revised definitions. These definitions have to some extent de-emphasized the importance of ageing, recognizing that Sarcopenia has a variety of causes in addition to the physiological effects of aging. The growing interest in this subject is clearly seen by the increased number of publications in recent years.

Sarcopenia is now recognized as a disease after being added to Australia's formal list of diseases, called the (ICD-10-AM).

How can we stop or delay Sarcopenia?

The good news is that people with Sarcopenia can rebuild their muscle mass and strength via strength or resistance training, and some diet modifications. These are things we can all do to protect ourselves.

Right now, the biggest challenge in the field is accurately and consistently diagnosing the condition. The type of assessments for muscle mass, strength and function used to diagnose Sarcopenia continue to be debated. 

We need to progress towards a single international definition that includes region- and ethnic-specific criteria.

I wanted to share this with you,  to realize that your future as a trainer can impact people’s lives and your life. Help people to stay and become fit and more energetic as they age, and you can help your clients to delay or prevent Sarcopenia.

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