If you’re over 50 your fitness depends on many factors, some we can control and unfortunately some we can’t. Many of the ones that we have no control over are hereditary, they just “run in the family”. These would be things like heart disease, diabetes and even obesity. One thing beyond everyone’s ability to do anything about though regardless of who their parents are is aging. Or is it really?
As the body ages it sometimes tends to stoop, the skin begins to sag, movement can become slower and uncoordinated. This is all a result of loss of muscle mass, a condition known as sarcopenia. For most of the history of mankind these traits were considered a given. Part of the aging process and nothing could be done about it. Luckily today research upon research has determined that sarcopenia or at least profound sarcopenia is NOT inevitable.
True, there are some contributing factors of sarcopenia that are still beyond our reach such as disease and environmental factors but as it pertains to getting older the main causes that we CAN affect are hormone changes, protein deficiency and motor unit restructuring.
Muscle is made up of proteins. The body is in a constant state of trying to reach a balance between making more protein and using what protein there is available for energy. These processes are called synthesis and metabolism respectively.
The body can produce some proteins itself by converting amino acids. Other needed proteins cannot be made by the body and are acquired from outside sources, these are called “essential proteins” and are derived from the foods that we eat.
As we age, withstanding disease or trauma, we never stop metabolizing proteins but we do steadily lessen the ability to synthesize our own internally. It is thought that this is due to the decrease in hormones testosterone and HGH or human growth hormone. This is where protein and hormone loss contributes to the aging process.
Motor Unit Restructuring happens when the signaling mechanisms (motor neurons) that control the muscles start to die off. There are two types of these neurons, ones that control fast movement and ones that control slower movement. It seems that the ones that control fast movement die first, when this happens the other slower neurons step in and take their place. This is good because other-wise the muscle would die too, but it does noticeably slow the reaction time between thought and movement. It also can cause slooped posture and sagging skin.
Next time I will talk about ways to minimize or reverse the effects of sarcopenia.