As you get older, you see differences in muscle mass. Just look at your parents and grandparents. Everyone loses muscle when they age. However, simple habits can help you keep some of your muscle. The scientific name for muscle loss is sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the loss of skeletal muscle mass and function that happens with aging.1 This decrease in muscle mass and function leads to increased body fat mass and frailty. This loss can lead to falls, disability, and possible hospitalization. Good reasons to prevent muscle loss!
One other term to learn is sarcopenic obesity. This is the term used when a person has sarcopenia and obesity. One condition can lead to the other. Having overweight often leads to also being less active. Being less active leads to muscle loss. So, the condition can get worse in this circular way. Being older also usually means being less active. Let’s talk about some steps to take to slow this negative process.
Choosing foods wisely can help. Having enough protein in your diet is important. In older adults, 1 – 1.2 g/kg per day of protein is recommended to keep muscles healthy.2 For example, someone who is 130 lbs., this would be 60 – 70 g of protein per day, or two palms of your hand.
Vitamin D intake is helpful in preventing muscle mass loss as well. Older adults are at higher risk for low levels of vitamin D. This happens because of low vitamin D intake and less time spent outdoors.3 Vitamin D can be found in milk, some fish like salmon, tuna, and cod, and egg yolks. Some foods are fortified with additional Vitamin D. Examples of fortified foods include some cereals, yogurt, margarine, and juices.5 Additionally, mushrooms that have been exposed to UV can have additional vitamin D, called irradiated mushrooms. Using the nutrition label is a simple way to see if these foods contain adequate Vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D appears on the label as micrograms (µg) and percentage of Daily Value (DV) for a 2,000 calorie diet. A label with 10% vitamin D is equal to 2.0 µg. Recommendations for daily intake. Individuals under 70 years of age need 15 µg a day, over 70 requires 20 µg daily.
Vitamin D can also be made in your skin when exposed to sunlight. This happens less well in older adults because of skin changes and less sunlight exposure.
Some symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness or pain, and mood changes.4 Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with loss of strength, greater body instability, falls and disabilities in older adults. Vitamin D levels can be checked through a blood test ordered by your primary care doctor. If you have low levels of Vitamin D, your doctor will recommend a supplement.
The Mediterranean diet pattern is rich in lean sources of protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. This dietary pattern is rich in protein and vitamin D, aligning it with preventing muscle mass loss. As an added benefit, the Mediterranean diet showed a greater regulation of hemoglobinA1c levels. Eating a balanced diet and drinking six to eight cups of water gives your body all the things it needs to keep your muscle mass.
Additionally, increasing muscle strength through physical activity can decrease the loss of muscle mass. Resistance exercise training is really good for this. For ideas on how to increase physical activity and recommendations, check out this article on physical activity. These tips together can be used to delay and prevent sarcopenia development.
1. Santilli V, Bernetti A, Mangone M, Paoloni M. Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Clinical definition of sarcopenia. Metabolism. 2014;11(3).
2. Wang M, Tan Y, Shi Y, Wang X, Liao Z, Wei P. Diabetes and Sarcopenic Obesity: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Treatments. Frontiers in Endocrinology. 2020;11. doi:10.3389/fendo.2020.00568
3. Marcos-Pérez D, Sánchez-Flores M, Proietti S, et al. Low vitamin d levels and frailty status in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2020;12(8). doi:10.3390/nu12082286
4. Cleveland Clinic. Vitamin D Deficiency. Published October 2019. Accessed March 1, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15050-vitamin-d--vitamin-d-deficiency
5. Lamberg-Allardt C. Vitamin D in foods and as supplements. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. 2006;92(1). doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2006.02.017