Risk of falls and broken bones: muscle loss in old age is often underestimated
From around 30 years of age, muscle breakdown usually begins slowly, sometimes even earlier for people who are not physically active. The decline in muscle mass and function, known as sarcopenia, increases the risk of falls and broken bones. But you can do something about it.
Muscle breakdown starts at 30
30 is generally by no means considered to be "old", but muscle degradation and the associated loss of strength begin to occur at this age. This process accelerates from around 50 years of age. The decrease in muscle mass and function, the so-called sarcopenia, leads to frailty, weakness and balance disorders. This can result in falls and broken bones. Experts explain what can be done about it.
Muscle maintenance and building possible into old age
Sufficiently trained muscles are a key prerequisite for maintaining health, independence and quality of life into old age.
Nevertheless, many people do not counteract muscle loss in old age. The serious impact on those affected is still underestimated.
The German Society for Internal Medicine e. V. (DGIM) on the occasion of the International Day of the Elderly on October 1st, 2017.
According to the experts, muscle maintenance and building is possible into old age. Doctors should therefore always keep an eye on their patients' muscle mass and, if necessary, prescribe exercise, targeted training and a protein-rich diet at an early stage.
How do you recognize sarcopenia?
From around the age of 30, the physiological transformation of muscles into adipose tissue begins at 0.3 to 1.3 percent / year.
"If you do nothing about it, around 30 to 50 percent of the muscle mass is gradually lost up to the age of 80," explained Professor Dr. med. Cornel C. Sieber, Chairman of DGIM 2017/2018 in a communication.
But how do you know that sarcopenia is present? "With sarcopenia, muscle mass, muscle strength - such as the gripping force of the hands - and muscle function - for example the patient's walking speed or the ability to get up from the chair - are reduced."
"A circumference of the lower leg of less than 31 cm is also an indication of the presence of sarcopenia."
Prerequisite for physical performance
Good musculature is the prerequisite for physical performance. "It is also crucial to independently manage everyday activities such as getting up, getting dressed, climbing stairs or shopping," says the doctor.
In addition, trained muscles help to reduce the risk of falling. It increases resistance and helps to maintain the cardiovascular system, metabolism and brain functions.
A good muscular corset is also helpful for recovery after an operation: "If the patient can work actively, early mobilization and rehabilitation are better."
Stay physically active
"Nevertheless, awareness of the problem of sarcopenia, even among us doctors, has been rather low so far," said Professor Sieber. You can counteract the muscle loss within certain limits: "Muscle building is possible into old age."
He therefore advises to take every opportunity to be physically active. "Older people in particular, who are sitting a lot anyway, should regularly interrupt longer sitting periods by getting up and walking a few steps for a few minutes."
A targeted physical activity of 150 minutes per week would be optimal, divided into five units on different days.
Other experts repeatedly point out how important regular exercise is in order to stay fit and healthy into old age.
High protein diet
Sarcopenia can also be slowed down with good nutrition. “In old age, the body is less able to utilize protein. At the same time, he needs more of it, ”explained Professor Sieber.
Proteins are essential building blocks for muscle tissue. “That is why older people should specifically eat more of it.” He recommends a daily protein intake of 1.0–1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight (even a little more if the conditions are exhausted).
This is more than the recommended amount of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for healthy adults. Often this can only be achieved by taking additional protein-rich dietary supplements, which can be prescribed by the treating doctor.
But buttermilk also contains the protein leucine in quite high concentrations, which supports muscle building.
Cottage cheese is also one of the foods that can increase muscle growth.
“A balanced Mediterranean diet is optimal. This includes a lot of vegetables and fruits, olive oil, eggs and nuts. The protein should come from plants and fish more than from red meat, ”says the doctor.
“Moderate wine consumption is also allowed. Adequate calorie intake of 25-30 Kcal per kilogram of body weight and about 1.5 liters of hydration are important especially in old age. "
Vitamin D to maintain muscle and strengthen the bone
Vitamin D has also proven to be effective in maintaining muscle and strengthening bone. Here the geriatrician recommends taking at least 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily.
Especially in the cold winter months with little sunshine, the additional intake of the vitamin can be useful.
According to the DGIM, research is currently underway into the effects of additional nutrients in stopping muscle breakdown. However, it was still too early for a final recommendation.
"Sarcopenia as a risk factor for functional loss should be addressed before the patient suffers irreversible restrictions," said Professor Dr. Dr. H. c. Ulrich R. Fölsch, General Secretary of the DGIM from Kiel.
In retrospect, it is much more difficult to regain lost terrain. "Especially against the background of the increasing aging of our society, a rethinking of all those involved - doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and patients - in the direction of prevention is necessary." (Ad)