In a month I’ll turn 62, and while I don’t feel old when I look at myself in the mirror, pictures tell a different story. Physical characteristics such as facial wrinkles, graying hair, and saggy skin. However, one of the biggest health threats to aging doesn’t get nearly enough press, and that is age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia

Beginning at around age 35, you can lose 1% of your muscle each and every year. This is mainly due to two factors; less physical activity and a decline in the anabolic hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor. This makes daily tasks like lifting, climbing ladders, carrying things, and getting up and down more difficult, and negatively affects balance-one of the biggest dangers of aging. Sarcopenia also makes it more difficult to stay physically active, which can lead to weight gain, diabetes type 2, heart disease, cognitive dysfunction, arthritis, and depression. There is also some compelling evidence for increased risk of certain types of cancers.

Fortunately, sarcopenia’s influence can be attenuated by diet and exercise, and these two have to compliment one another. Neither one can do it alone. Exercise (the right type) can build muscle, but only if diet (protein) provides the raw materials.

I provide services to a mainly senior clientele, and most don’t get enough protein. I recommend 80-90 grams of protein per day to most of my clients. Many older folks don’t have a hearty enough appetite to reach these numbers, so I recommend protein shakes. Costco has a very tasty on called Premier which provides 30 grams of protein and only 1 gram of sugar. I also recommend eating three meals a day, and to make sure that they eat a hearty breakfast. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, as is yogurt and kefir. Miking in nuts, especially almonds, adds flavor and protein. Animal protein is always the best choice, but one can also combine legumes with whole grains like rice and beans, or yogurt and granola. Caution: Those with kidney problems should consult with their doctor before increasing protein intake.

Walking and basic yoga can help maintain muscle, but to increase muscle, some form of resistance training must be done. This can be with free weights, resistance bands, or body weight exercises. A mistake many people make when doing resistance training is stopping when the exercise gets difficult (when the muscle starts to ‘burn’). I tell them to work into that ‘burn’ for a couple more reps. This is where the “no pain no gain” phrase came from. But make sure the pain is muscle burn and not nerve pain. If the pain is sharp, tingling, or a dead, aching feeling, stop immediately.

Post workout. It’s important to get both protein and carbs in your body within 2 hours of exercise. Here is where protein shakes or chocolate milk are ideal. Skeletal muscle will absorb twice the amount of carbs and protein within this two-hour window.

Stay well, John R Blilie, MS