The end and start of a year is an opportunity to look both back and appreciate and look forward and set intentions. We can do this will all aspects of our lives, but today I want to focus our attention on our bodies, the most amazing vehicle we have that allows our souls to manifest through action.
Almost two years ago I spent eight days in the hospital after shattering my right elbow in a bicycle accident. I learned many things during that time and continue through my recovery.
Before leaving the hospital I noticed that two surgeries and eight days of being bedridden changed my musculature significantly. My right arm shrunk from being immobilized. My whole body lost muscle tone. Eighteen months later I’m still working on regaining strength in my healing arm.
The experience brought home the importance of doing everything in my power to stay healthy and maintain optimal and functional muscle mass. It made me wonder how I would have fared had I not been in good health as I was at the time of the accident and through my recovery.
Because of my accident I modified my approach to my body. For a number of years I had stopped weight training and, instead, practiced yoga. Although my practice was physically challenging, it had some limitations when it came to muscle maintenance and growth.
Soon after my accident, I began to lift weights and practice yoga.
“Skeletal muscle is recognized as vital to physical movement, posture, and breathing. In a less known but critically important role, muscle influences energy and protein metabolism throughout the body. Muscle is a primary site for glucose uptake and storage, and it is also a reservoir of amino acids stored as protein. Amino acids are released when supplies are needed elsewhere in the body. These conditions occur with acute and chronic diseases, which decrease dietary intake while increasing metabolic needs. Such metabolic shifts lead to the muscle loss associated with sarcopenia and cachexia, resulting in a variety of adverse health and economic consequences. With loss of skeletal muscle, protein and energy availability is lowered throughout the body. Muscle loss is associated with delayed recovery from illness, slowed wound healing, reduced resting metabolic rate, physical disability, poorer quality of life, and higher health care costs.”
I did so as a way to prioritize regaining muscle mass, keeping in mind my body’s need to recover. This is one major reason that you should be thinking about your muscles. Muscles are the body’s amino acid storage bank for healing. To not have an inadequate muscle mass means that we are susceptible when and if we get seriously ill or take a fall like I did.
The common myth is that after a certain age we can’t build muscle mass. The myth is obviously false. The reality is that with hard work and a plan, we can maintain and even gain muscle mass. I am living proof. Because we have kept records for the past five years, I know that I have not lost any muscle mass since I started checking. As a matter of fact I’ve gained over seven pounds while still maintaining my weight.
Sarcopenia is a serious condition that affects over 10% of people over 60. This number is probably quite conservative because sarcopenia begins in middle-age. It is estimated that the average sedentary person loses about 5% of lean muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 35.
You may be wondering why spend so much time on this subject, but you are getting older (we all are!), we can’t prevent accidents, and at some point we may find ourselves facing a major illness. Increasing muscle mass is in our best interest.
In a recent post I mentioned how a friend of ours in her late 50’s fell and fractured her hip. It’s estimated that one in four Americans over the age of 65 fall each year. Those who fall are twice as likely to fall again. One main culprit for these falls is fragility caused by sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is not inevitable in healthy older adults. It can be prevented. But prevention should start before there’s a problem. (Keep this in mind if you have any plans on losing weight. Losing weight without paying close attention to muscle mass is a common mistake people make ultimately jeopardizing health and wellness because it can lead to sarcopenia.)
Start the year by finding out your muscle mass. Having this information will help you develop a plan to better your health.
The most accurate way to do this is through a Dexa scan. There are lots of places that can do this relatively inexpensively.
Maribel can provide you with a less accurate but maybe more useful estimation though a caliper measurement. I say more useful because if you are serious about muscle growth, measuring once every month or so will keep you focused on moving your numbers toward greater health in the new year and decade.
The idea is that the number is not as important as the trend. You want to go up rather than down. This is critical as many people go on diets at the start of the year. They look at the number on the scale and forget that weight loss with muscle loss is a recipe for a rebound in weight gain because metabolism slows down with less muscle mass
We are here to walk, lift, and breathe with you. We are in this together. As older people, we know about the struggle to maintain or increase muscle mass. We would like to help you be as strong and healthy as possible. This is a good time!