When thinking about aging, gray hair, wrinkles, and forgetfulness are some of the first things that come to mind of many. However, the spectrum of aging symptoms can go beyond these telltale signs.
Sarcopenia, or muscle loss, is an age-related condition that is frequently under-recognized among the aging population. This is likely because losing muscle is inevitable in old age due to many factors, such as poor nutrition and a lack of exercise.
However, some seniors may experience faster muscle loss than usual. It can be debilitating to their quality of life since they are heavily reliant on extra help from caregivers for a longer time, not to mention having higher susceptibility to develop life-threatening conditions, such as stroke and heart failure.
Discover more about sarcopenia and its relationship with heart problems, as well as some practical tips for preventing muscle loss.
Understanding the Link Between Sarcopenia and Cardiovascular Health
What Is Sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is a geriatric condition featuring the gradual degeneration of muscle mass and strength. The muscle-wasting syndrome is observed mainly in the aging population, affecting roughly 10-16% of older adults around the world. The literal meaning of “sarcopenia” is “flesh poverty” in Greek or “lack of flesh,” with “sarco” implying “flesh” and “penia” implying “poverty.”
The acceleration of muscle fiber loss can induce muscle weakness in seniors, diminishing their mobility and balance. A senior with sarcopenia may struggle to handle routine activities requiring muscle use throughout the day, such as walking up stairs, lifting heavy objects, and getting out of a chair. Other early signs of sarcopenia include gradual physical weakness, muscle shrinkage, loss of stamina, unintentional weight loss, poor balance, and slow walking.
The teardown of muscle can interfere with seniors’ quality of life because they are exposed to heightened risks of falls, frailty, disability, and other health complications. Over time, seniors may lose their ability to lead independent lives, resulting in increased needs for long-term care. In some cases, sarcopenia can shorten life expectancy.
What Causes Sarcopenia?
The irreversible aging process has a pivotal role in the development of sarcopenia. It is common for adults to involuntarily shed muscle mass by 30, with the rate coming to around 3-8 percent per decade. It indicates that at 80, older adults have lost roughly 40 percent of muscle mass.
However, not all seniors have muscle loss in old age. That’s when other factors are put into the debate. Scientists have suggested that a sedentary lifestyle may be another contributor to sarcopenia. Again, such speculation is not fully convincing because sarcopenia is still diagnosed in people who are frequently active. Although the exact cause is unclear and may vary from person to person, other possible causes of the condition can be the following:
- Hormone imbalances or deficiencies may lead to sarcopenia. Aging can hinder the production of hormones, essential chemicals that fuel various functions within the body. For example, menopausal women are at risk of muscle loss due to lower concentrations of estrogen. Similarly, poor levels of human growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1) are linked with sarcopenia in older adults.
- The nervous system fails to signal the muscles to contract. Scientists have identified an intricate connection between the nervous system and age-related muscle atrophy. With aging, the nervous system may lose efficiency in transmitting signals due to fewer nerve cells. In the case of sarcopenia, reduced motor neurons and changes in nerve function may disrupt the communication between the brain and muscles, potentially leading to muscle weakness.
- Lack of protein and calories required for sustaining muscle mass. The older seniors become, the more likely they are to lack nutrition. Poor diet can be the precondition for sarcopenia in older adults. Not eating enough calories, proteins, and other nutrients may affect muscles in the long term, as protein is vital for preserving muscle mass. Moreover, seniors may encounter issues with turning proteins into energy, explaining why their muscles shrink at older ages.
Sarcopenia and Heart Problems: What Is The Connection?
Can sarcopenia trigger heart problems? Scientists have speculated that there may be connections between the pathologic condition and heart problems. Sarcopenia was found to be common among people with heart failure. In a study that covered 200 senior heart failure patients of an average age of 70, the prevalence of sarcopenia was high, coming to around 19.5 percent. It also reported that sarcopenia was observed in 19.7 percent of patients with preserved ejection fraction.
Doctors also use sarcopenia symptoms to detect the risk of heart problems. Although the scientific explanation for their coexistence is still not developed, it is believed that sarcopenia may be linked to a greater risk of heart problems via various pathogenetic pathways, such as tremendous changes arising from old age. They may be linked in one way or another, and the interaction is rather complicated. Some potential connections between sarcopenia and heart problems may include:
- Sedentary Lifestyle and Inactivity: Exercise is a vital step toward a robust heart by strengthening heart muscles and encouraging blood flow. However, when a person has sarcopenia, their physical ability is diminished, as mentioned earlier. So engaging in physical activity is unlikely. Prolonged inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are well-known risk factors for obesity, hypertension, and metabolic syndromes. These conditions can adversely heart health in the long run.
- Chronic Inflammation: When a person is dealing with sarcopenia, their body is under the influence of chronic low-grade inflammation. Such inflammation is known to speed up the breakdown of muscle mass and protein. However, inflammation has been pointed out as the culprit for many heart diseases. It promotes the accumulation of plaques within the arteries (atherosclerosis), leading to greater risks of strokes and heart attacks.
- Changes in Metabolic Systems: Low skeletal muscle mass is associated with insulin resistance, especially in sarcopenic obesity. Insulin resistance is metabolic syndrome that contributes to heart problems by triggering high blood pressure, abnormal lipid levels, and high blood sugar. It was revealed that sarcopenia patients also undergo disruptions in glucose metabolism. Such changes can elevate blood sugar levels, exaggerating heart disease risks in turn.
- Endothelial Dysfunction: Endothelial dysfunction is an arterial disease that alters the structure of the inner layer of blood vessels. It narrows the arteries and veins. The condition is a key factor in the diagnosis of sarcopenia and other heart diseases, such as atherosclerosis.
- Hormonal Changes: As mentioned earlier, sarcopenia results from hormonal changes. Decreases in growth hormone levels, insulin-like growth factor 1, and testosterone can all affect muscle growth and heart health at mass.
How To Treat Sarcopenia?
While losing muscle mass is a part of aging, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing seniors can do to prevent it. A combination of physical activity and proper nutrition can help seniors maintain their muscle strength and control sarcopenia. Getting up and moving and working up muscles with exercise is the most promising way to fight muscle loss.
In addition to 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week, seniors should incorporate a set of resistance and fitness training into their exercise regimen to increase muscle mass. A study following 57 adults aged 65-94 found that their muscle strength increased due to performing resistance exercises three times a week over 12 weeks.
Cycling, hiking, and jogging are some of the exercises that can assist in seniors’ muscle preservation. A Japanese study examining the physical activity of 227 older adults over 65 discovered that six months of walking increased their muscle mass. Another study revealed that faster walkers are less likely to develop sarcopenia.
As malnutrition plays a role in muscle weakness, it is possible to slow the progression of muscle loss by eating higher doses of nutrients. It is a practical way to promote muscle growth and boost the effects of exercise. Plus, proper nutrition is critical for achieving healthy aging. Some nutrients worth adding to seniors’ plates include the following:
- Protein: eggs, lean meats (beef, lamb, pork, veal), poultry (chicken, goose, duck), fish and seafood (crab, fish, lobsters, clams), dairy products (cheese, milk, Greek yogurt), nuts and seeds (almonds, pine nuts, macadamias).
- Vitamin D: eggs, fatty fish (trout, sardines, salmon), mushrooms, milk (soy milk, oat milk, almond milk), vitamin D-fortified foods (cereals, orange juice).
- Creatine: beef, chicken, herring, salmon, tuna, cod, parmesan cheese, white beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, and watercress.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: fish and seafood (mackerel, salmon, seabass, oysters), seaweed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, edamame, soybean oil, kidney beans, wheatgerm, omega 3-fortified foods (bread, fruit juices, yogurt).
Muscle loss or sarcopenia is a critical condition in the sense that it leaves many seniors struggling to maintain an independent lifestyle. Luckily, there are several ways you can use to minimize the rates of muscle degeneration and prevent the risk of heart problems. Consider working with doctors, nutritionists, and certified trainers to find the best exercise plan for your fitness and goals.
- Bian A, Ma Y, Zhou X, Guo Y, Wang W, Zhang Y, Wang X. (2020). Association between sarcopenia and levels of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 in the elderly. BMC Musculoskelet Disord.
- P. Aagaard, C. Suetta, P. Caserotti, S. P. Magnusson, M. Kjær. (2010). Role of the nervous system in sarcopenia and muscle atrophy with aging: strength training as a countermeasure. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
- He N, Zhang Y, Zhang L, Zhang S, Ye H. (2021). Relationship Between Sarcopenia and Cardiovascular Diseases in the Elderly: An Overview. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.
- Dalle S, Rossmeislova L, Koppo K. (2017). The Role of Inflammation in Age-Related Sarcopenia. Frontiers in Physiology.
- Donini LM, Busetto L, Bischoff SC, Cederholm T, Ballesteros-Pomar MD, Batsis JA, Bauer JM, Boirie Y, Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Dicker D, Frara S, Frühbeck G, Genton L, Gepner Y, Giustina A, Gonzalez MC, Han HS, Heymsfield SB, Higashiguchi T, Laviano A, Lenzi A, Nyulasi I, Parrinello E, Poggiogalle E, Prado CM, Salvador J, Rolland Y, Santini F, Serlie MJ, Shi H, Sieber CC, Siervo M, Vettor R, Villareal DT, Volkert D, Yu J, Zamboni M, Barazzoni R. (2022). Definition and Diagnostic Criteria for Sarcopenic Obesity: ESPEN and EASO Consensus Statement. Obesity Facts.
- Khoo SB, Lin YL, Ho GJ, Lee MC, Hsu BG. (2021). Association of endothelial dysfunction with sarcopenia and muscle function in a relatively young cohort of kidney transplant recipients. PeerJ.
- Reid KF, Callahan DM, Carabello RJ, Phillips EM, Frontera WR, Fielding RA. (2008). Lower extremity power training in elderly subjects with mobility limitations: a randomized controlled trial. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research.
- Yamada M, Nishiguchi S, Fukutani N, Aoyama T, Arai H. (2015). Mail-Based Intervention for Sarcopenia Prevention Increased Anabolic Hormone and Skeletal Muscle Mass in Community-Dwelling Japanese Older Adults: The INE (Intervention by Nutrition and Exercise) Study. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.
- Akın S, Mucuk S, Öztürk A, Mazıcıoğlu M, Göçer Ş, Arguvanlı S, Şafak ED. (2015). Muscle function-dependent sarcopenia and cut-off values of possible predictors in community-dwelling Turkish elderly: calf circumference, midarm muscle circumference and walking speed. European Academy of Nutritional Sciences.
If you have questions about sarcopenia or any health problems discussed here, contact us and learn more.
At Peak Human, our team of healthcare professionals helps you reach your ‘peak’ health with a custom whole-person approach. Using the most cutting-edge, science-backed biohacking and aesthetic tools available today, we help you achieve the highest physical/cognitive performance state, improving your overall quality of life.
Don’t hesitate to contact us for questions or to book an appointment. Get personalized support and insight from expert physicians.