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Life Lessons: Combatting muscle loss

By Nancy Werteen, Anchor / Reporter, NWerteen@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 21 2013 04:00:00 AM CDT

Besides osteoporosis, which affects bone density, there's also an age-related condition that makes us lose muscle mass as well.

Most of us have heard of osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass as we age, but did you know doctors say there's an age-related condition that makes us lose muscle mass and get weaker?

It's not a disease but instead a natural part of aging called sarcopenia.

Dr. Frances Salerno, associate chief of geriatrics at Lehigh Valley Health Network, says sarcopenia is a natural part of the aging process.

"As we age, we begin to build up muscle until about the age of 30, 31 and then we begin to decline," said Dr. Salerno.

Studies show sarcopenia can start as early as your 30's and by the time you're 50, you're losing 1 to 2 percent of your muscle mass every year.

But there are a few things you can do about it.

Dr. Salerno says we should all plan for the future of our health just like we plan for our financial future.

He says the problem with losing muscle mass is it can lead to bigger problems.

"You need to preserve your muscle mass to prevent you from having what is know as the geriatric syndromes," says Dr. Salerno.

Sarcopenia can lead to chronic disease, falls, and even dehydration.

Dr. Salerno explains, "Most of our water is stored in our muscles so that can lead to lightheadedness, dizziness and falls."

But there are a few things you can do to fight back:

*Exercise: but include weight training. "It can be lifting soup cans in the kitchen and doing repetitions and curling your arms and so on," Dr. Salerno says.

He says we don't need to go to the gym every day but should get an hour of exercise six days a week with two of those days including some type of weight training.

Also, he says we should focus on improving balance and flexibility as well.

And no matter how old you are, Dr. Salerno says,"You're never too old to exercise. You can be creative to figure it out and do it."

*Eat a healthy diet including protein-rich foods like fish and nuts.

*Check your Vitamin D to make sure you're getting enough.

Doctors say sarcopenia typically accelerates around age 75 -- although it may become dangerous in people as young as 65 --especially if those people are inactive.