We can’t stop the clock, but we can help our bodies age better

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A few good choices can help to reduce the risk and impact of sarcopenia: Get an average of eight hours of sleep each night; drink water throughout the day to remain well-hydrated; and walk every day for exercise.

Many adults are familiar with osteoporosis. This “silent disease” afflicts our bodies through the deterioration of our bones. Over time, our bones become thinner because of low bone mass and bone tissue loss.

The other disease that afflicts all aging adults is sarcopenia, or muscle reduction with aging. Although it is not as commonly talked about, it is just as prevalent and often precedes osteoporosis.

Increasing strength

The LMH Health Performance & Wellness Center offers a drop-in class, Adult Movement and Strength, from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The center is in Sports Pavilion Lawrence, which is north of Sixth Street and George Williams Way.

The focus of this class is to help aging adults move better, gain strength, improve their quality of life and have fun. Packages are available at $80 for eight classes. Anyone who is interested can try a single class for no fee. Participants have found great results in improving their balance and flexibility as well as the strength necessary for daily life, such as grocery shopping, gardening and other household chores.

For some people, loss of lean muscle mass can begin as young as 30, which is about two decades earlier than osteoporosis usually kicks in. As we age and lose muscle mass, this can reduce our strength, metabolic rate and mobility, as well as how efficiently our heart and lungs work. Sarcopenia also can be tied to weight gain and development of diabetes.

Here are some other facts about sarcopenia:

• Sarcopenia is thought to affect 30 percent of people older than 60 and more than 50 percent of people older than 80.

• Recent estimates say 45 percent of the older U.S. population is affected by sarcopenia.

• Age-related muscle weakness dramatically increases the risk for falls. A large number of elderly people who fall do not continue living in their homes. Half of accidental deaths among people 65 and older are related to falls.

Although age-related muscle loss is inevitable, therapies and interventions that can halt or reverse these effects hold great promise and are a realistic possibility.

None of us can outrun or outsmart the aging process, but we can make good choices to ensure we are reducing the risk and impact of sarcopenia. Here are some basics:

• Get an average of eight hours of sleep each night.

• Drink water throughout the day to remain well-hydrated.

• Walk every day for exercise.

Strength training also may prove beneficial. Remember to stick with the basics. You do not have to use weights to gain benefit. Any resistance training — using your own bodyweight — is beneficial. Pushups, squats and suspension trainer rows are excellent options. Aim for two to three sessions each week and work up to three sets of 10 targeting the large muscle groups in your legs and arms. Another great option to build strength and capacity is to just carry a weight. Hold any of these in one or both hands: a dumbbell, kettlebell, grocery bag, suitcase or duffle bag filled with a moderate to heavy load. Then walk for time or distance beginning with a short time frame, such as two to three sets of one to two minutes per set.

If you decide to use weights, make sure you are supervised by an instructor who knows how to teach strength training skills and has experience working with older adults. Both are important.

• Joe DeLeo is a certified strength and conditioning specialist for LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s Health section. He can be reached at Joseph.DeLeo@LMH.org.

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