Muscle loss: Can nutrition make a difference?

Elderly people dining in a carehome

Our muscle strength peaks when we reach 30 years old. Over the age of 50, our muscles get weaker at a rate of around 15 per cent every ten years; increasing to 30 per cent per decade after the age of 70. Additionally, our skeletal muscle mass decreases by up to 50% between the ages of 20 to 90 (McLean & Kiel, 2015). A recent systematic review published in Age and Ageing, reported that age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, affects up to 1 in 20 of us over 60 years old, and up to one third of older people living in institutional settings like care homes.

The high prevalence of sarcopenia is of particular concern given the global ageing population. Sarcopenia can lead to frailty, increased risk of falls and a loss of independence. All of which can substantially reduce an individual’s quality of life while increasing pressure on healthcare systems (Landi et al, 2012). Nursing home admissions go up as muscle function declines.

The European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People (EWGSOP) published guidelines on the definition and diagnosis of age-related sarcopenia in 2010. This clear standard has allowed improved research into diagnosis and treatment of sarcopenia. The British Geriatric Society recommends all social and health care interactions with the elderly should include screening for frailty, including sarcopenia, using standardized guidelines and agreed measurements.

The systematic review published in Age and Ageing, reports that nutrition and exercise interventions can be used to effectively manage sarcopenia. However, these strategies are not only useful for managing sarcopenia. A healthy, nutritious, balanced diet with increased protein intake accompanied by resistance training can improve wider health outcomes. Interventions such as ‘LEAP’ (Lifestyle, Eating, Activity & Planning) run by the LiveWell team at Newcastle University use this scientific evidence to promote healthy ageing through improved diet and increased physical activity after retirement.

Ninety-five year old Dr Charles Eugster would certainly agree with the scientific research and the ‘LEAP’ approach as we get older. He believes the solution to longevity is work, nutrition and exercise (in that order!). His philosophy is difficult to challenge given Dr Eugster, dubbed the ‘World’s Fittest OAP’, has just set the world record for the over 95’s 200m sprint. You can watch the interview with Dr Eugster, from the Nutrition Society’s 2014 Winter Meeting here and watch his record breaking 200m sprint here.

 

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