Why we get weaker as we age: Understanding muscle loss

Did you know that there are over 600 muscles working together to enable the full functioning of the body? Supporting movement, stability, digestion, circulation and more, muscles provide strength and energy needed for everyday activities.

“Muscles are the largest component of our total lean body mass, which is everything that makes up our body except for fat,” explained Dr. Jose Dimaano Jr., medical director for Abbott’s nutrition business in Asia Pacific. “In fact, muscles usually account for 50 percent to 60 percent of our body weight. This is why healthy muscles are essential to a person’s physical strength, organ function, skin integrity, immunity and wound healing.”

Muscle health matters, especially for older adults who are vulnerable to involuntary age-related muscle decay. Starting around the age of 40, adults can lose up to eight percent of their muscle mass per decade, and this rate of loss almost doubles after the age of 70.

“As we age, muscle fibers shrink. Muscle tissues are also replaced more slowly, and often by tough, fibrous or fatty tissues that are rigid. And if you don’t meet your nutritional and exercise needs, your muscles will be less efficient in their ability to contract, leading to diminished strength and function,” says Dr. Dimaano.

The condition of advanced muscle decay and function is called sarcopenia, which may affect nearly one in three people over the age of 50. Sarcopenia can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and drive health complications. Drastic muscle decay can impede one’s ability to do simple tasks such as walking, climbing a flight of stairs or even standing up from a chair.

“Malnutrition is one of the many factors that can quicken muscle mass loss among older adults,” Dr. Dimaano added. “What’s tricky is that malnutrition is actually common but often goes undetected because it can be asymptomatic or dismissed as part of the aging process.”

Dr. Dimaano stresses the value of early detection and intervention to address nutritional gaps to prevent sarcopenia. “Consuming a healthy diet and proper exercise are critical to prevent and treat sarcopenia,” he said.

Choosing a balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and key vitamins and minerals, like calcium and vitamin D, can help protect muscle mass. Older adults should also look to protein and HMB (hydroxymethylbutyrate). Protein forms, builds and repairs the physical structure of every part of our body. High-protein foods include meat, fish, beans, soy and nuts.

HMB is a small molecule found in the body after the amino acid leucine is metabolized. HMB has been shown to support healthy aging. In one study, HMB supplementation among older hospitalized adults was associated with increased handgrip strength. HMB occurs naturally in foods such as avocados and grapefruit, but it’s difficult to get enough of it from your diet alone to experience its effects. Oral nutrition supplements that contain HMB can help support muscle health.

“We often don’t get the right amount of nutrients our body needs from our meals alone,” added Dr. Dimaano. “That’s why Abbott develops science-based nutrition for people of all ages, including oral nutrition supplements with HMB to help Filipino adults stay strong and active.”

 Abbott’s Ensure Gold provides a good source of HMB + Triple Protein to help older adults slow down age-related muscle decay. This helps empower older adults to lead active, independent and full lives throughout their golden years.

“What we want people to understand is that while aging is natural, age-related muscle decay doesn’t have to be inevitable. Eating healthier, engaging in physical activity and using HMB nutritional supplementation are the right steps toward preserving muscle strength,” Dr. Dimaano concluded.

To schedule a free nutrition counseling, go through Alagang Abbott’s Facebook messenger.