Not only can getting rid of nutrients regularly can wreak havoc on several systems such as the heart, brain, and intestines, it can also lead to muscle loss as you age, according to a new study in Scientific Reports.
This is a big problem because muscle mass actually decreases naturally as you get older. When this is accelerated, the condition is called sarcopenia and poses significant health risks, including loss of mobility.
In the study, researchers looked at 1,211 participants over the age of 65 in Singapore. They found that there are many factors that contribute to low muscle mass, including socioeconomic status and underlying chronic disease, but malnutrition was particularly notable. This may be in part due to what is called “geriatric anorexia,” or loss of appetite that leads to reduced food consumption. When this happens, older adults may not be getting the nutrients they need, which means a rapid loss of muscle mass may soon follow.
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Maintaining your muscle mass through strategies such as regular exercise and eating nutrient-rich foods can not only help your overall function, but may increase your chance of living longer. According to a study in Journal of Bone and Mineral ResearchLoss of muscle mass may be associated with early mortality.
Researchers studied a group of 839 men and women over the age of 65 for about four years, recording their body composition with bone density scans over time. They looked at “appendicular muscle mass,” that is, the arms and legs, as well as subcutaneous and visceral fat.
The results showed that women with low appendix mass were 63 times more likely to die early than women with low appendix mass. Men with low appendix mass were 11 times more likely to die prematurely.
“Muscle mass plays a major role in stabilizing the hips and shoulders,” says lead researcher Rosa Maria Rodriguez Pereira, MD, of the University of São Paulo School of Medicine in Brazil. “When you lose that stability and a fall occurs, the lower your bone mineral density means you are more likely to have a fracture.”
In terms of the significant difference between men and women, Pereira suggests that the hormonal changes associated with menopause may play a role. With low estrogen, it can have a negative effect on muscle mass, leading to muscle loss, as well as decreased bone density and increased belly fat.
She adds that sarcopenia is not inevitable, and can even be reversed through lifestyle habits such as exercising, not smoking, and eating nutrient-rich foods. This tip isn’t just for middle-aged and older people, as well – the earlier you start, the more muscle you’ll retain as you age.
For tips on foods you should eat to preserve your muscle mass, check out the best foods to strengthen muscle after 50, says a dietitian. And for more nutrition advice, sign up for our newsletter!