Nov 8, 2010

Posted by in Chip's Corner, Fitness | 0 Comments

Middle Age and The Decline of Muscle Mass

In 2005, I was 50 years old and weighted 178 pounds. At this writing (July of 2010) I am almost 55 and my body weight is 171. The fact is I’m not trying to lose weight. I liked staying at round 178. I workout (weight train) 3-4 times a week, I stay active (I’m a strength/speed coach plus I assist with physical therapy) and I always watch my nutrition with somewhat higher amounts of protein. So why am I losing weight / what gives?

Not long ago I came across 2 articles that defined and explained what was going on inside this body of mine. The first article was in a local monthly medical newsletter stating that “as we age we lose muscle mass and that the loss of muscle mass is the reason we get older, our resting metabolic rate decreases, we lose strength, and our normal daily activities get a little harder”. Well, I knew all of that but what I didn’t know was it had a name. The term is “Sarcopenia”.

The second was a well written article by Mark Peterson, a fitness and wellness senior consultant for Liberty Athletic Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This article was featured in the June 2010 edition of the National Strength and Conditioning Associations monthly Journal (NSCA). Mark goes into great detail about what Sarcopenia is, the causes and what men and women in their forties and older can do to slow down and minimize this natural process that the body goes through.

The purpose of this article is to share the information that Mark Peterson laid out in the NSCA article, plus give my own thoughts and share with the reader some valuable information to take with them to the gym.

The term sarcopenia comes from the Greek words sarx (meaning flesh) and penia (meaning loss) and was termed by Rosenburg in 1989 in which he made an effort to identify the age associated with the loss of muscle mass and functional capacity. Mark States in the NSCA article, that this decrement of muscle tissue quantity and quality begins to occur in the fourth or fifth decade and gradually worsens through the later stages of life. On the average, the reported decline in muscular strength is typically between is 20 and 40%. The loss of muscle mass and function is further enhanced among individuals in the eight and ninth decades of life and can exceed up to 50% decreases in maximal capacity.

In addition to age, the onset of certain chronic diseases results in a greater risk of muscular degeneration and functional deficits. Osteoporosis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and insulin resistance are demonstrated to be highly associated with the onset of Sarcopenia.

One of the items that really got my attention in the NSCA article was that sarcopenia is more prevalent in “type II” muscle fibers. Now let me explain. There are 2 different types of type II fibers. Type Iia fibers come into play when there is an activity that demands both long bouts of energy and a short duration of power and energy. The second type of type II fibers is the Iib which are strictly for short bouts of power and for maximal force generation that can last up to 8-10 seconds.

The second item that caught my interest was that the degree of muscular atrophy and the decline of strength that is greater in the lower limbs than that of the upper extremities. This stands to reason why lower extremity muscular weakness is a primary contributor to slips and falls in older people.

Mark also gives evidence that suggest a significantly increased fat infiltration (intramuscular lipid content) during aging which seems also to be associated with muscular weakness and atrophy, plus poor function. Of course another factor and key role in one adding body fat at this age is the slowing down of one’s metabolic rate or simply put the rate in which an individual burns and uses up energy.

Now before I go any further let me state that Mark has done an excellent job in his research on sarcopenia. What I will state in the rest of this article, is from my own 32 years of experience in the strength and conditioning field, being an avid lifter and in being in this age group I have experienced the effects of this symptom.

First, the article recommends resistance training 3 days a week and doing a full body workout each in each session. It also recommends 2-3 sets per muscle group as one progresses into the 17th week of training. Now that may be great for the beginner or your general fitness person but for someone a little more advanced that’s just not enough volume. I would suggest performing each body part only once a week except for maybe abdominals (which could be done 3-4 days a week) and performing anywhere from 9-12 sets per body part, and here’s why. A lot of times it’s not the muscle that gives out but the joints. If I trained total body 3 days a week and still did only 3 sets per body part, my joints would be killing me. Sometimes it’s not the muscle that needs recovery but again the joints!

Secondly, a very good point is made in the NSCA article about the decline of the explosive type II fibers in older adults. The point is made that in the 21st to 22nd week of the individual’s workout that they may attempt a faster “tempo” during their resistance training exercises. If the individual would want to try to do these faster tempo or explosive movements much sooner then all one would have to do is be a little creative in their workouts. Something that would be both safe and effective at the same time.

TRX RowsIn figure 1, you see the individual doing a TRX high row at a moderate tempo. As soon as she finishes the required reps (10-12) she then moves to regular medium tension band rows at an attempted fast tempo for again 10-12 reps as shown in figure 2 (see below). The individual may repeat this combination 2-3 more times. This type of training (to add fast tempo to the program) can be performed with any body part combination. Variations may also be done by performing the fast tempo reps first followed by the moderate tempo where the weight is somewhat heavier.

The third item that I’d like to point out in the article is the point made about the degeneration of muscle mass and strength that comes first in the lower extremities (meaning hips and legs) during the on set of sarcopenia. I’ve tried to counter this while personal training this age group and in my own training by working the legs (quads and hamstrings) just once a week but doing anywhere between 12 and 18 sets.

Band RowsAnother way you may want to attack this problem is to perform around 8-12 sets of quad work and 3-5 sets of hamstring work on the 1st training session of the week. Then on the second training session of the week perform 8 sets of hamstring work and 3-5 sets of quad work. Then somewhere in your training routine one may want to do one day of strengthening the hips by performing some type of “deadlift” variation work. Example: Straight bar or “trap” bar deadlifts, kettlebell / dumbbell single arm deadlifts. You’ll also get a little quad and hamstring activation with these movements but the direct work will be centered on the hips.

One may not stop completely the sarcopenia process but you can sure slow it down a great deal by attacking the legs and hips by doing either approach.

The last point that I’d like to make that Mark points out in his NSCA article is the added fat infiltration that occurs around the muscle fiber. One of the main reasons for this happening is that as we get older our “metabolic rate” (the rate in which the body burns energy) slows down. This process usually starts around the 4th decade of ones life. There are 2 things one can do to off set or speed up ones metabolic rate so that weight gain want be as relevant.

The first of course is what the NSCA article points out about weight training and how beneficial it can be to speed up the metabolic rate. However another way to slow down this fat infiltration invasion during this time is of course, diet. There are foods that can help with reducing weight gain other than simply caloric reduction. Below are a list of foods that actually help speed up ones metabolic rate. These are:

    • Start your morning off with a bowl of Oatmeal
    • Drink water all day long
    • Green Tea
    • Believe it or not-a bowl of soup
    • Grapefruit
    • Apples and Pears
  • The super food-Broccoli

So now we all know what Sarcopenia is and the effects it can cause as we get older. Now let’s go slow down the process so that we can improve the quality of life for years to come.

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