How To Manage Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia is the medical term for muscle loss that occurs due to the natural aging process. Most adults begin losing muscle mass in their 40s, and experts estimate a sedentary individual loses three to five percent of their muscle mass with each subsequent decade. In recent years, scientists have recognized a loss of both muscle strength and function are key characteristics of sarcopenia as well. Signs of sarcopenia include walking more slowly than usual, difficulty lifting common household items, feeling fatigued, and a general feeling of weakness. 

To assess for sarcopenia, doctors will take the patient's health history and perform a physical examination. They may test the strength of certain muscles in the arms and legs and may assess the patient's gait and balance. A test of grip strength in the hands may be performed; grip strength declines with sarcopenia, and this test has been shown to be a useful diagnostic tool. Sarcopenia is a largely preventable condition, and patients with this ailment can take steps to reverse the symptoms and improve quality of life.

Strength Training

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Strength training exercises promote muscle growth and decrease the likelihood of muscle loss with aging. In combination with aerobic exercise and exercises to maintain balance, strength training has been identified as one of the most effective methods of preventing and treating sarcopenia. This training uses weights or the body's own weight. Common exercises that build muscle strength include leg presses, bicep curls, and shoulder presses. Before beginning this form of exercise, patients should check with their doctors to make sure it is safe for them to exercise. Individuals new to this form of exercise may wish to have a personal trainer instruct them on how to perform resistance exercises comfortably and safely.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

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Hormone replacement therapy may be a useful treatment option for some women with sarcopenia. After women go through menopause, they experience a decline in certain hormones, often leading to reduced bone density and muscle mass as well as increased abdominal obesity. Hormone replacement therapy can help increase the amount of lean body mass a woman has, and it may also increase a woman's bone density and reduce the risk of obesity in the short term. Women interested in this therapy should consult their healthcare team about whether it is a safe option for them. The therapy has been linked to the development of certain cancers. Some studies have also indicated hormone replacement therapy may raise the risk of blood clots, heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer.

Metabolic Syndrome Medication Treatment

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Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of ailments that includes abdominal obesity, elevated cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes. Patients with metabolic syndrome are at an increased risk of sarcopenia, and metabolic syndrome medication treatment can help patients have a higher quality of life, reducing the unpleasant symptoms caused by metabolic syndrome and similarly reducing the risk of sarcopenia. Patients are medicated according to what elements of metabolic syndrome they have. Individuals with high blood pressure are given blood pressure medication as well as advice on healthy lifestyle choices. 

Patients with high cholesterol may need statins or newer injectable medications to reduce their levels, and individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes may also require prescription medicines or insulin to control their condition. In addition to medication, individuals with metabolic syndrome may want to consider having sessions with a nutritionist or attending health education classes to learn about lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, that may help with symptom management.

Resistance Training

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Resistance training, just like strength training, improves muscle strength and function, reducing the symptoms of sarcopenia. Patients can practice this form of exercise in their homes, at a gym class, or at a private session with a personal trainer. The exercises are versatile and can be adapted to every ability level; most involve simple, inexpensive equipment. While some patients use dumbbells to add resistance, others may wish to use resistance bands. These bands can be easier to use for patients with arthritis and reduced grip strength or mobility. 

One of the most popular exercises to do with resistance bands is to tie the band to a doorknob or handle and pull the other end of it with one hand or both hands. Patients using dumbbells can choose from a range of weights suited to their needs; it is often helpful to start with a one-pound weight. Rowing machines are also ideal for improving muscle strength.

Pay Attention To Nutrition

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Patients trying to avoid or manage sarcopenia will need to pay attention to nutrition. Along with exercise, dietary changes can help patients have more energy and feel like exercising more. Doctors recommend patients base their diets around fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. In particular, both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet have been shown to help reduce the risks of diabetes and obesity, two factors associated with the development of sarcopenia. 

Patients who want to learn more about the healthiest nutrition options for their situation should consider consulting a nutritionist who can help them with meal planning. Dietitians recommend patients avoid fast food and processed foods as much as possible, opting for whole foods and produce instead. Red meat, deli meat, and fried foods should all be limited. In addition, added sugars need to be monitored and reduced as much as possible.

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