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What is Sarcopenia?

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  • Written By: Klaus Strasser
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Sarcopenia is a medical condition that refers to the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and coordination, generally as a result of the aging process. Deficiencies in proteins and changes of hormone concentration are usually viewed as the specific causes of sarcopenia. The term sarcopenia comes from the Greek, literally meaning "a poverty of the flesh."

Since muscle mass is made of proteins, the body typically seeks an ideal balance between the use and production of proteins to ensure the health of muscles. As people get older, the ability of the body to produce proteins decreases. The hormonal changes that occur with getting older also affect this production, as hormones are a main source for protein production.

The result of this decreasing protein usually leads to the inability of the body to maintain muscle mass. Most of the common signs of aging, such as wrinkled skin, sunken rib cages, and stooping caused by a decrease of muscle support for the spinal cord can be attributed to this process. Sarcopenia also hinders motor coordination, as the atrophy of muscle mass makes movement more difficult. This generally is why older people may lack coordination or move in a slower manner.

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Some medical experts estimate that sarcopenia entails the loss of a fifth of a pound of the body’s muscle mass for every year a person lives over the age of 25. Other studies note that between the ages of 25 and 80, the decreases in skeletal muscle mass are as high as 30 percent, even when considering people of perfect health. Medical case studies have also shown that the sarcopenia process generally increases after the age of 80.

While sarcopenia is usually related to aging, it also can occur in other contexts. Environmental conditions and exposure to pollution may cause symptoms of sarcopenia. Various degenerative diseases can also lead to sarcopenia or have sarcopenia as a symptom.

Although the aging process is inevitable, there are numerous ways to help minimize the effects of sarcopenia. Exercise generally can help retain the strength of muscle mass and maintain some level of motor coordination. This can aid in offsetting the natural loss of proteins that the aging process entails. Some studies have shown that exercise programs known as Specific Resistance Training (SRT), which incorporates chest presses and leg presses, can assist in building muscle strength, particularly in the lower legs. Nutritional and dietary changes or supplements also could be proscribed as means to lessen the effect of sarcopenia.

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