Posted by: 4pack | January 19, 2009

“Ideal Shape” Update: Men Must Actively Fight Sarcopenia, Which Is A Process Of Gradual Muscle Loss As Men Age Which Increases In Middle Age



“…sarcopenia – “a very under-recognised area that is attracting huge interest from scientists” – steals an average one-fifth of a pound of muscle a year from the mid-20s and adopts an almost parasitic speediness after the age of 50, bleeding the body of up to one pound of muscle a year…”

Often it goes unnoticed because the muscle lost is typically replaced by fat.

Unheard of even by many in the medical profession until recently, sarcopenia gradually leeches the body of its muscle mass and strength. It affects men mostly between the ages of 25 and 50, and it worsens as they get older.

According to Avan Aihie Sayer, a professor in geriatric medicine at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) environmental epidemiology unit at Southampton General Hospital in the UK, sarcopenia – “a very under-recognised area that is attracting huge interest from scientists” – steals an average one-fifth of a pound of muscle a year from the mid-20s and adopts an almost parasitic speediness after the age of 50, bleeding the body of up to one pound of muscle a year. Although women suffer from it too, it is the male body, with its naturally greater muscle mass, that is affected most significantly. Often it goes unnoticed because the muscle lost is typically replaced by fat. Until, that is, the effects begin to wreak havoc on well-being.

So seriously is sarcopenia being taken that the MRC is funding a large-scale study into its causes and effects. “Our findings alone have shown that sarcopenia predicts immobility, disability and morbidity in old age,” says Aihie Sayer. “We have also shown that it is linked to insulin resistance and the onset of type II diabetes.” Because it can raise blood lipid levels and body fat, particularly the visceral fat that accumulates around vital organs, sarcopenia has also been proven to play a role in the development of obesity and heart disease. At Oregon State University, researchers have found that the condition can increase the risk of osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease that affects one in three women and one in 12 men, while some small studies have shown an association between sarcopenia and mortality from cancer.

Until now, experts have been at a loss to explain why sarcopenia accelerates with age. Male muscle mass is known to peak at around age 25 and it is well documented that approximately 10 per cent of fibres are lost over the following 25 years. Hormonal changes at around the age of 50 – when testosterone, the hormone DHEA and human growth hormone all begin to decline – and a rapid drop in the motor cells that control muscle-fibre contraction during intense activity cause “fast twitch” muscle fibres (those responsible for power) to die. By age 70-80, the number of fibres in a muscle can be almost half the amount in a 50-year-old, and most of the remaining fibres will be the less effective “slow twitch” variety.

But Aihie Sayer and her team have recently shown how sarcopenia “may in fact have its origins in early life”. The 730 men and 637 women, all in their sixties and seventies, who took part in one of her trials were found to have a much weaker grip strength if they had a low weight at birth. “Our findings indicate that in-utero development has consequences for muscle strength throughout life,” she says. “This is an important discovery because it means we can encourage people to begin practices that minimise these losses sooner.”

Other factors seem to be influential. At the University of Nottingham, smoking was found to speed up muscle loss by slowing down the body’s “muscle protein synthesis machinery”. Dr Philip Atherton, who led the research, says that greater amounts of myostatin, a muscle growth inhibitor that breaks down muscle protein, was present in people who smoked around 20 cigarettes a day.

While some muscle decline is natural – there is no way of preventing it completely – there is much that can be done to stem the speed at which sarcopenia attacks the body. Addressing your diet can help. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that consuming between 0.8 and 1.0 grams of low-fat protein (skimmed milk, yoghurt, low fat cheese) per pound of body weight every day to promote muscle health. But, say experts, this works only in conjunction with the right physical activity. “Muscle function can improve – sometimes robustly – with resistance or weight training, even after the onset of sarcopenia,” suggests Robert Wolfe, a professor of geriatrics at the University of Arkansas and a leading expert in this area. “But it is far more effective to begin it before the process gains momentum. Intervention in the middle years is necessary.”

According to Wolfe, this strength training should entail more than lifting a few light hand weights every so often: rather, it should involve a high intensity of effort (70 per cent of the maximum weight someone perceives they can lift) a couple of times a week for all major muscle groups. Known among fitness experts as “the overload principle”, this training approach causes tiny tears in myofibrils, the proteins that cause muscles to contract. “Cells are activated around the area where this micro-damage occurs and the body recruits protein to repair and strengthen the muscle,” says Louise Sutton, head of the Carnegie Centre for Sports Performance and Wellbeing at Leeds Metropolitan University. “In effect, resistance training acts as a catalyst for muscle growth.”

Even if you need to lose weight, a combination of strength and resistance training with aerobic exercise such as swimming, running or cycling has been confirmed by scientists time and again as the most effective way to shed excess pounds. “All studies show that resistance training is highly important in adult life,” says Aihie Sayer. “The earlier you can start weight or strength training in adulthood, the better. But the overriding message should be that it is never too late.”

Three of the best exercises for strength

A recent American survey of more than 36,000 gym trainers named the squat as the best exercise for toning muscles and improving balance. Done properly, this flexing of the hips, knees and ankles will lengthen and strengthen the spine and will simultaneously work all the main muscles in the legs – including hamstrings, -quadriceps, gluteal and calf muscles – as well as the trunk and lower back muscles, which help to stabilise the body.

Stand with feet almost shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your neck is not tense; try lengthening your torso while retaining the spine’s natural S-shape. Contract your abdominal muscles and breathe in. Start to release your knees out until they are over your toes and your thighs are parallel with the ground at a 90-degree -angle. Keep your heels on the ground and the weight over the back of the foot rather than the toes.

Keep your back straight and hold your arms out in front of you for balance. Try to keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth to -activate the neck’s stabiliser muscles. Breathe out and press through the heels to return to the start position. Repeat 20-30 times, three to four days a week.

2. Press-ups:
A move that the -American College of Sports Medicine suggests should replace more -namby-pamby exercises. Researchers in one American trial showed that, on average, 66.4 per cent of body weight is lifted with each push-up. So if you weigh 70kg you are heaving a mighty 43kg – far more than you would on a bench-press machine. Balance on your toes and hands, pressing your palms into the floor and keeping your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart.

Straighten back and legs so that your body remains in a “plank” position.
Breathe in and lower your torso to the floor by bending your elbows to 90 degrees.
Tense your abdominal muscles to help to keep legs straight.
Breathe out and push back up to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times, three to four days a week.

3. Bench press:
Nothing rivals the bench press in its effectiveness at strengthening the pectoral muscles in the chest, the triceps and shoulder muscles. You will also engage your abdominal and buttock muscles. Lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your back flat against the cushioned -surface. Keep the back of your head in contact with the bench. If you are using a barbell, grasp it with your arms extended and slightly wider than shoulder width apart– a -narrow grip places the weight load more on the triceps and shoulders than the chest muscles.

Hold weights at arm’s length above the chest, in line with your collarbone. Take a deep breath and slowly lower the weight until it almost touches your chest. Do not bounce the bar on your chest or let it rest there. Exhale and push the bar back upwards. -Breathing in and out at the right times means the chest cavity expands fully so that the bar has less distance to travel. Repeat 10-15 times, two to three days a week.



  1. If just starting strength exercises, these can be useful but will have limited results. It would be better to have a professional guidance when starting exercise.


  2. May I buy the above fig of sarcopenis for use in a health book on the web??

  3. sarcopeniA, sorry for the slip!

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