How would you like to extend your longevity while improving or maintaining your state of health? Here is the key fact: the more lean muscle mass as a percent of body weight, the lower your risk of death.

Lean muscle mass is replaced by fat

This applies to adults as they age, as lean muscle percentage tends to fall as a factor of age.  Researchers analyzed data from more than 3,600 older adults who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994. The participants included men 55 and older and women 65 and older.

As part of the survey, the participants underwent tests to determine their muscle mass index (MMI), which is the amount of lean muscle relative to total body weight, height and other relevant factors.

The investigators used a follow-up survey done in 2004 to determine how many of the participants had died of natural causes and how muscle mass was related to death risk. People with the highest levels of muscle mass were significantly less likely to have died than those with the lowest levels of muscle mass, while maintaining a better state of overall health.

“In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death,” study co-author Dr. Arun Karlamangla, an associate professor in the geriatrics division at University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, said in a university news release. “Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass.”

The study was published online recently in the American Journal of Medicine.

The findings add to growing evidence that overall body composition is a better predictor of all-cause death than body mass index (BMI), according to the researchers. BMI is an estimate of body fat based solely on weight and height.

However, the study only shows an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between muscle mass and risk of death, the study authors noted in the news release. “As there is no gold-standard measure of body composition, several studies have addressed this question using different measurement techniques and have obtained different results,” study leader Dr. Preethi Srikanthan, an assistant clinical professor in the endocrinology division at the UCLA School of Medicine, said in the news release.

Many studies that investigate how obesity and weight affect the risk of death look only at BMI, Srikanthan pointed out. “Our study indicates that clinicians need to be focusing on ways to improve body composition, rather than on BMI alone, when counseling older adults on preventative health behaviors,” she explained.

Future research should focus on pinpointing the types and amounts of exercise that are most effective in improving muscle mass in older adults, the study authors concluded.

How to Fight Sarcopenia (Muscle Loss Due to Aging)

It is common for Sarcopenia to become noticeable around the age of 50, but it can be delayed in the case of people who lead a life-style involving regular fitness training, especially weight-resistance types.  A noticeable onset can be controlled or postponed for a considerable time period simply by staying with the training program. 

However, when an inevitable injury from a fall or failure to modulate stress on joints occurs, a period may ensue where regular workouts must be tabled for a period of time.  Hernias or other injuries requiring surgery and layup can also initiate the problem.  Significant muscle loss can occur very rapidly, making it impossible to pick-up where you left off. Body weight can fall and relative weakness develop.

This may come as a shock to a person who has been strong, agile, well balanced and fit.  It can leave one non-plussed about how this could happen and what to do about it.  Some people will rationalize that this is a wake-up call and they should slow down or stop their physical training program.  That would be a significant mistake.  From the point you find yourself at, you could easily and quickly put yourself on a path to an early death.

Now is not the time to give up and quit or slow down significantly.  You have no choice but to take it at a pace that works for you under your circumstances, but now is the point where you must look at how you are going to recover and continue on to the maximum extent feasible.  You are going to have to reassess your abilities to handle resistance at a safe level, your endurance, and frequency.  You must set up a new program that will be both safe and effective.  This is the point to assess the need for prosthetic support, if your case requires.  But most importantly, now is the point to re-examine your diet and life-style.  This part of your life now requires careful examination to assure you are setting your intake of proteins, essential oils and other dietary factors appropriately to you condition, as well as other aspects of life-style, such as sleep and balance.

While Sarcopenia can decrease life expectancy and quality of life, there are actions you can take to prevent and even reverse the condition.

Although some of the causes of sarcopenia are a natural consequence of aging, others are preventable. In fact, a healthy diet and regular exercise can reverse sarcopenia, increasing lifespan and quality of life.

What Is Sarcopenia?

Sarcopenia literally means “lack of flesh.” It’s a condition of age-associated muscle degeneration that becomes more common in people over the age of 50.

After middle age, adults lose 3% of their muscle strength every year, on average. This limits their ability to perform many routine activities.

Unfortunately, sarcopenia also shortens life expectancy in those it affects, compared to individuals with normal muscle strength.

Sarcopenia is caused by an imbalance between signals for muscle cell growth and signals for teardown. Cell growth processes are called “anabolism,” and cell teardown processes are called “catabolism”. You probably already know about this, as fitness-oriented persons usually set up their workout routines based on the catabolic and anabolic processes.

For example, growth hormones act with protein-destroying enzymes to keep muscle steady through a cycle of growth, stress or injury, destruction and then healing. This cycle is always occurring, and when things are in balance, muscle keeps its strength and increases it over time.

However, during aging, the body becomes resistant to the normal growth signals, tipping the balance toward catabolism and muscle loss.


Your body normally keeps signals for growth and teardown in balance. As you age, your body becomes resistant to growth signals, resulting in muscle loss.

Four Factors That Accelerate Muscle Loss

Although aging is the most common cause of sarcopenia, other factors can also trigger an imbalance between muscle anabolism and catabolism.

1. Immobility, Including a Sedentary Lifestyle

Disuse of muscle is one of the strongest triggers of sarcopenia, leading to faster muscle loss and increasing weakness. Disuse can be a choice or an inability due to injury.

Bed rest or immobilization after an injury or illness leads to rapid loss of muscle. Although less dramatic, two to three weeks of decreased walking and other regular activity is also enough to decrease muscle mass and strength and to begin a degenerative process.

Periods of decreased activity can become a vicious cycle. Muscle strength decreases, resulting in greater fatigue and making it more difficult to return to normal activity.

2. Unbalanced Diet

A diet providing insufficient calories and protein results in weight loss and diminished muscle mass, thus decreasing strength, toning and agility.

Unfortunately, low-calorie and low-protein diets become more common with aging, due to changes in sense of taste, problems with the teeth, gums and swallowing, or increased difficulty shopping and cooking.

To help prevent sarcopenia, scientists recommend consuming 25–30 grams of protein at each meal.

3. Inflammation

After injury or illness, inflammation sends signals to the body to tear down and then rebuild the damaged groups of cells. Chronic or long-term diseases can also result in inflammation that disrupts the normal balance of teardown and healing, resulting in long-term muscle loss.

For example, a study of patients with long-term inflammation resulting from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema also showed that patients had decreased muscle mass. Examples of other diseases that cause long-term inflammation include rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, lupus, vasculitis, severe burns and chronic infections like tuberculosis.

A study of 11,249 older adults found that blood levels of C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation, strongly predicted sarcopenia.

4. Severe Stress

Sarcopenia is also more common in a number of other health conditions that increase stress on the body.

For example, people with chronic liver disease, and up to 20% of people with chronic heart failure, experience sarcopenia, In chronic kidney disease, stress on the body and decreased activity lead to muscle loss

Cancer and cancer treatments also place great stress on the body, resulting in sarcopenia. Even a sports hernia, like an inguinal canal hernia, can reduce your workout duration and intensity while unrepaired, or have an impact during the recover period.


In addition to aging, sarcopenia is accelerated by low physical activity, insufficient calorie and protein intake, inflammation and stress.

How to Tell If You Have Sarcopenia

The signs of sarcopenia are the result of diminished muscle strength.

Early signs of sarcopenia include feeling physically weaker over time, and having more difficulty than usual lifting familiar objects or resistance loads. A hand-grip-strength test has been used to help diagnose sarcopenia in studies, and may be used to keep tabs on oneself over longer durations of time.

Decreased strength might show itself in other ways too, including walking more slowly, becoming exhausted more easily and having less interest in being active as well as diminishing sense of balance. Losing weight without trying can also be a sign of sarcopenia.

However, these signs can also occur in other medical conditions. Yet if you experience one or more of these and can’t explain why, take a look at the other factors offered above.


Noticeable loss of strength or stamina and unintentional weight loss are signs of multiple diseases, including sarcopenia. If you are experiencing any of these without a good reason, stop and take time to re-evaluate or see a professional.

Exercise Can Reverse Sarcopenia

The most effective way to fight sarcopenia is to keep your muscles active. Combinations of aerobic exercise, resistance training and balance training can prevent and even reverse muscle loss. At least two to four exercise sessions weekly may be required to achieve these benefits. These sessions should be at least one-hour or preferably more.

All types of exercise are beneficial, but some more than others.

1. Resistance Training

Resistance training includes weightlifting, pulling against resistance bands or moving part of the body against gravity, such as calisthenics.

When you perform resistance exercise, the tension on your muscle fibers results in growth signals that lead to increased strength. Resistance exercise also increases the actions of growth-promoting hormones

These signals combine to cause muscle cells to grow and repair themselves, both by making new proteins and by turning on special muscle stem cells called “satellite cells,” which reinforce existing muscle.

Thanks to this process, resistance exercise is the most direct way to increase muscle mass and prevent its loss.

A study of 57 adults aged 65–94 showed that performing resistance exercises three times per week resulted in increased muscle strength over 12 weeks. However, it is far better to avoid setting a program up that has an ending date.  You should incorporate this program into your daily life-style permanently.

In this study, exercises included leg presses and extending the knees against resistance on a weight machine, but unless you have specific limitations, a complete schedule of all physical muscles should be followed.  You can do this on a rotational basis, if necessary.

2. Fitness Training

Sustained exercise that raises your heart rate, including aerobic exercise and endurance training, can also control sarcopenia.  You can set up a walking routine, or tennis, mixed with a resistance program on different days to keep it fun and interesting. Most studies of aerobic exercise for the treatment or prevention of sarcopenia have also included resistance and flexibility training as part of a combination exercise program.

These combinations have been consistently shown to prevent and reverse sarcopenia, although it is preferrable to perform aerobic exercises with a resistance training routine.

One study examined the effects of aerobic exercise without resistance training in 439 women over 50 years of age. The study found that five days per week of cycling, jogging or hiking increased muscle mass. Women started with 15 minutes of these activities per day, increasing to 45 minutes over 12 months.

3. Walking

Walking can also prevent and even reverse sarcopenia, and it’s an activity most people can do for free, anywhere they live.

A study of 227 Japanese adults over 65 years old found that six months of walking increased muscle mass, particularly in those who started with low muscle mass. The distance each participant walked was different, but they were encouraged to increase their total daily distance by 10% each month.

Another study of 879 adults over age 60 found that faster walkers were less likely to have sarcopenia. Walking over a terrain of hills and valleys is more beneficial than flat terrain.


Exercise is the most effective way to reverse sarcopenia. Resistance training is best to increase muscle mass and strength. However, combination exercise programs and walking also fight sarcopenia.

Four Nutrients That Fight Sarcopenia

If you’re deficient in calories, protein or certain vitamins and minerals, you may be at higher risk of muscle loss.

However, even if you aren’t deficient, getting higher doses of some key nutrients can promote muscle growth or enhance the benefits of exercise.

1. Protein

Getting protein in your diet directly signals your muscle tissue to build and strengthen. As people age, their muscles become more resistant to this signal, so they need to consume more protein to increase muscle growth.

One study found that when 33 men over age 70 consumed a meal containing at least 35 grams of protein, their muscle growth increased.

Another study found that a group of younger men only required 20 grams of protein per meal to stimulate growth.

A third study got seven men over the age of 65 to take daily 15-gram supplements of essential amino acids, the smaller building blocks of protein, which resulted in muscle growth.

The amino acid leucine is particularly important for regulating muscle growth. Rich sources of leucine include whey protein, meat, fish and eggs, as well as soy protein isolate.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is related to sarcopenia, although the reasons why are not entirely understood.

Taking vitamin D supplements can increase muscle strength and reduce the risk of falling. These benefits have not been seen in all studies, possibly because some research volunteers may have already been getting enough vitamin D.

The best source of vitamin D for preventing sarcopenia is currently sunlight.

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

No matter how old you are, consuming omega-3 fatty acids via seafood or supplements will increase your muscle.

A study of 45 women found that those who ate fish in their diet on a regular basis, combined with resistance training, increased muscle strength more than resistance training without dietary fish.

This is likely due to the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. However, research has suggested that omega-3s might also signal muscle growth directly.

4. Creatine

Creatine is a small protein normally made in the liver. Although your body makes enough to prevent you from becoming deficient, creatine in the diet from meat or other sources will benefit your muscle growth.

Persons consuming 5 grams, or more of the creatine, got more benefits from resistance training compared to when they performed resistance training with no creatine.

Creatine is not beneficial for sarcopenia if used alone, without exercise.


Protein, vitamin D, creatine and omega-3 fatty acids can all improve muscle growth in response to exercise.

The Bottom Line

Sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength, becomes more common with age and can decrease lifespan and quality of life.

Eating enough calories and high-quality protein can slow down the rate of muscle loss. Omega-3 and creatine may also help fight sarcopenia.

Nevertheless, exercising is the most effective way to prevent and reverse sarcopenia.

Resistance exercises appear to be particularly effective, including using resistance bands, lifting weights or doing calisthenics like squats, push-ups and sit-ups.

However, even simple exercises like walking can slow your rate of muscle loss. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to get active.

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