Sarcopenia is a term describing a condition of low skeletal muscle mass, low muscle strength, and poor physical performance as people get older. Sarcopenia is most concerned within the older adult population as it may result in physical disability, poor quality of life and increased mortality. Sarcopenia is associated with metabolic changes in the skeletal muscle. In the sarcopenic muscle, the protein that is responsible for cell growth and muscle synthesis is dysfunctional, which leads to a loss in the number of muscle fiber.
Currently, there are no pharmacological interventions for sarcopenia, therefore, non-pharmacological approaches (e.g., exercise or nutrition) are the only options to prevent and manage sarcopenia.
How Can Exercise Help?
It is well-documented that trainings, which include resistance exercises, are associated with increased muscle mass and strength. It is recommended that elderly participate in a regular exercise schedule that is at least three sessions per week, with a minimum duration of 30 minutes. Endurance (e.g. jogging or biking) exercises, balance exercises, and resistance exercises can all be incorporated within a single exercise session. Specifically for resistance exercises. It is recommended to perform 8-12 repetitions, targeting 8-10 major muscle groups, at least twice a week on any non-consecutive days. Other factors such as proper warm up and cool down, goal setting, gradual progress in duration and intensity all compliment the effect of counteracting sarcopenia.
What About Diet?
Evidence supports that protein intake within 60 minutes after the exercise session can provide the best effect in muscle synthesis and growth. A study done by Malafarina in 2017 suggested that consuming milk based nutritional supplement that contained 20 grams of milk protein had a better effect in maintaining muscle mass compared to individuals who did not consume the supplement.
Numerous research have shown consuming supplement (i.e. fish oil) that contains omega 3 fatty acids are associated with increased muscle mass. Lalia el.al (2017) found that the rate of muscle synthesis in the omega-3 supplement group is higher compared with the control group (i.e., no treatment). In summary, though not all research has shown protein and omega 3 fatty acids supplements definitely can protect ones from developing sarcopenia, there are no negative or adverse effect in doing so.
Nonetheless, a well-rounded diet may work just as effectively or better, than individuals relying on nutrient supplements. These supplements are most useful to individuals who are unable to follow a healthy diet due to cognitive decline or inability to prepare a meal themselves.
Ganapathy, A., & Nieves, J. W. (2020). Nutrition and Sarcopenia—What Do We Know?. Nutrients, 12(6), 1755.
Phu, S., Boersma, D., & Duque, G. (2015). Exercise and sarcopenia. Journal of Clinical Densitometry, 18(4), 488-492.