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What is sarcopenia and how does it affect older adults?

As a personal trainer and gerontologist, I work with clients with varying backgrounds and goals all the time.  However, there is one common goal all my clients have.  They all, in one way or another, want or need to put on lean muscle mass.  Muscle mass is important for weight control, increased strength, reduced injury, and improved stamina.  The issue most of my clients face, is at some point after age 30, you tend to start to lose muscle mass.  Not only do you begin to lose muscle mass, you start to lose function and all the other great benefits muscle mass offers.  This is a condition known as sarcopenia with aging, or sarcopenia for short.  Sarcopenia can be defined as the age-related loss of muscle mass, strength, and function (Waters, Baumgartner & Garry 2000; Vandervoort & Symons 2001).  The challenge most people face is inactivity.  People that don't move on a consistent basis can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass every 10 years.
 
At this point in time, there is no commonly recognized stage of muscle mass loss for sarcopenia diagnosis.  However, any decrease in muscle mass should be of concern, since decrease of muscle mass means a decrease of strength and mobility.  Sarcopenia usually increases, more or less, around age 75, and can be a cause of frailty, and the occurrence of fractures and falls in older adults.
 
The most important treatment for sarcopenia is movement and exercise.  This should be done in the form of resistance training; resistance training works to increase muscle strength and endurance by doing repetitive exercises with body weight, weight machines, or resistance bands.  Resistance training has been reported to positively influence the neuromuscular system, hormone concentrations, and protein synthesis rate.  Balance training is the most beneficial type of resistance training. 
 
Resistance training that focuses on balance is a great method for improving lean body mass, coordination, and neuromuscular efficiency.  I have noticed huge results with my clients that utilize this form of training.  I had a 94 year old client that complained of significant muscle loss, reduced energy, and lack of balance.  He was once again happy after only six months of balance training!  He was able to get around well without the use of a cane, and to have the energy to keep up with his girlfriend who was 20 years younger!  This is just one example of the many people I have been blessed to work with, and have seen the positive impact balance training has had in their lives. 
 
Remember, you are never too old to get started; balance training will aid anyone at any age!  Don't be afraid to start moving, and have fun with it!  Seek advice from health and wellness experts, including your primary physician, before you begin any program.  Start slowly, but stay consistent with whatever you do.  Consistency is key, because all the small changes you make, if done over time, can greatly affect your life for the better. 
 
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Justin Eastwood is a personal trainer that specializes in fitness, healthy aging, and personal transformation.  He earned a Master's Degree in Gerontology from the University of Southern California, and a B.S. in Wellness and Fitness from the California University of Pennsylvania.  He is a member of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and is a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.  Justin is the co-owner of Anytime Fitness in Oak Hills, California.

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