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Why muscles matter as you age

 We’ve all dealt with a jar lid that just won’t budge. Maybe we tried hammering it on the counter or holding it under hot water, and if all else failed, we probably asked someone for help. Over the years, it might start to feel like these stubborn lids are getting stronger but for many people, the problem is that their hands and bodies are simply getting weaker.

Could your health status be in the palm of your hand? It’s not quite that simple, but your hand grip strength is a critical indicator of overall muscle strength and can tell you a lot. Muscle loss, an often-overlooked aspect of the ageing process, remains largely unaddressed, with symptoms like diminished hand grip strength commonly dismissed as something that happens when you grow older. According to a multic ontinental study involving a healthy elderly population, 17.5 per cent of Indians had advanced muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. This is a considerably higher figure than other Asian countries and Europe.

Our muscle health can often tell us how we are going to age and how we can measure and rebuild muscle health to reduce the effect of sarcopenia as we age.

Sarcopenia and Your Health

Sarcopenia, also known as advanced muscle loss, is when a person loses a large amount of muscle mass along with strength and function as they age. Muscle loss is not be just a disease of the old, but it starts much early in life. In fact, starting at the age of 40, adults can lose up to 8 per cent of muscle mass per decade. After 70 years old, that rate potentially doubles. Prevalence of sarcopenia has been observed in every 3rd man or every 5th woman in India .Globally, an estimated 50 million people are affected by this condition, and this number is expected to increase to more than 200 million in the next 40 years .

Muscle loss can reduce energy and movement, raise the risk of falls and fractures and also compromise someone’s recovery and survival from sickness or surgery . When it comes to measuring muscle mass, it is also a far better indicator of health than the widely used measurement tool Body Mass Index or BMI.

Measuring Muscle Mass

Why is measurement so important? Sarcopenia is considered as a hidden or invisible condition because, unless you test your muscle strength, you may not know if you’re losing muscle mass.

So, how do you put your muscle strength to the test? Grip test is a simple test you can do for yourself which is as simple as opening a jar, squeezing an orange, or detecting the strength of your handshake. If you see a difference in your strength, it’s time to take action.

A chair challenge test is also a simple measure of your muscle strength which can help you to adopt timely corrective measures. The time you take to do 5 sit-ups on a chair of 43cm (1.4 feet) height can determine muscle age. To know more about how the chair challenge test works, you can visit www.muscleagetest.in

Rebuilding Muscle and Strength As You Deal With Sarcopenia

While this invisible condition is not talked about enough, the good news is that muscle and strength can be rebuilt and regained through a combination of strength exercises and a balanced diet with sufficient nutrients. Here is how you can do that:

Don’t skip breakfast no matter how scarce your time is. Breakfast is the powerhouse of nutrition that your body needs to take on the day ahead. You should eat nutrient-dense and well-rounded meals with food like eggs, whole grains, fruit and dairy can help you stay full while also keeping your energy levels high.

Ensure daily physical activity as it can go a long way in making muscles stronger. You can begin by including simple activities like walking, cycling, swimming, jogging, playing badminton/cricket, or even climbing stairs in your daily routine. An hour of physical activity every day can make a significant difference in muscular strength and health. 

Identify and meet your daily protein needs – Consuming adequate high-quality protein per day (about 1g/kg of body weight) along with physical activity can help your body optimize protein for muscle building and restoration throughout the day.

Embrace nutrition supplements-While a regular and balanced diet is essential for building stronger muscles as you age, some nutritional deficiencies might persist. To close these gaps, people should incorporate balanced nutrition supplements such as Ensure HMB into their diet. Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) supplementation, can help in maintaining and restoring lean body mass, muscle strength and function in adults.

Muscle plays an important role in many aspects of life, and there are plenty of effective ways to test and improve muscle health to effectively deal with sarcopenia. Through awareness, education, and action, we can empower ourselves and others to prioritize muscle health by adopting healthy lifestyle habits and promoting a vibrant and active ageing experience. Together, we can build a future where healthy ageing and strong muscles go hand in hand, enabling us to live life to the fullest at every stage.

(Dr Irfan Shaikh, Head, Medical & Scientific Affairs at Abbott’s Nutrition business)

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