Saturday, December 1, 2007

Scary Sarcopenia

During the holiday season, temptation to eat sugar is everywhere and there’s less time to exercise. Given these circumstances, this article will have good or bad timing, depending on how you look at it.

Adults have a tendency to lose muscle mass and replace it with fat. Yikes!!! The loss of muscle mass starts as early as the fourth decade of life and in the fifth decade, adults can lose 1-2% of muscle a year, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Physicians Assistants. There’s even a medical term for this sad state of affairs—sarcopenia—which has repercussions more serious than an extra wiggle in the walk.

Some people develop low back or hip pain out of the blue. With a sudden onset, you’d expect the cause to be a particualr injury. Instead, they simply lost muscle mass and gained weight to the point where the hip stabilizing muscles weren’t strong enough for certain normal activities like walking up or down stairs. The muscle(s) became strained, which exacerbated injury and weakness and created a downward cycle of pain.

There’s actually a simple solution: exercise more to build (or just maintain) muscles and stay limber. An hour of exercise at age 30, now equals an hour and half for me at age 43. That means I’ll need to plan more time for exercise into my life as I get older. I try to get 5 hours every week with a variety of strength-building, cardio, and flexibility.

The Canadian Women’s Health Network website,, has practical advice. Here’s an excerpt from their site:
“One who does not exercise regularly:
§ gradually depletes her physiological reserves in some or all systems (loss of muscle and bone mass, loss of flexibility, loss of connective tissues);
§ lets fat take over muscle = sarcopenia, which reduces the strength/weight ratio. Strength and velocity are needed for good posture and to help prevent falls (they help maintain balance).

There’s no need to join a gym. Using weights at home (wrist or hand weights, soup cans…) allows a variety of positions and gradually increases the levels of difficulty. Sitting down, standing up, standing on one leg, holding on to a chair with both hands, then with one, then with a finger, then with eyes closed…”

Of course, you may think of needing more exercise as a disadvantage, unless you enjoy your activity. Frankly, exercise bores me, so I have to change it up regularly. My current choices are yoga, Pilates, and bellydancing. My motivation is so bad that I’m paying for classes in all three. It’s nice to just show up and let someone else be the director. Without the classes, I know I’d go home and eat chocolate instead.

Before long, the New Year will be here with its usually injection of enthusiasm for activity. In the meantime, I’m fending off sarcopenia the best I can. Feel free to share what motivates you to stay active.

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