Sarcopenia or Muscle Atrophy – Can Pilates help?

Sarcopenia or Muscle atrophy – what is it & how do we fight it ?

The original definition of Sarcopenia, or muscle atrophy, is age related loss of muscle mass. Also, lately, it can be defined as a decline in walking speed, and/or grip strength associated with low muscle mass. Sarcopenia leads to loss of mobility and function, falls, and mortality[HaRP1] . After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% muscle mass per decade[HaRP2] ! So, later on in this blog we’ll look at how Pilates can help fight sarcopenia!

Causes of sarcopenia

Causes include disease, age related hormonal changes, vascular changes.

Unfortunately, we will all experience some form of sarcopenia as we age. It’s a natural consequence of aging yet, there are some contributory factors that are preventable! Although aging is the main cause of sarcopenia, some other lifestyle factors contribute to the loss of muscle mass.

These include,

Sedentary lifestyle: lack of regular physical activity puts people at an increased risk of developing sarcopenia as they age.

and

Poor nutrition: poor dietary habits contribute to sarcopenia development, especially insufficient high-quality protein intake.

Prevention and Management

Regular physical activity plays a role in the prevention of sarcopenia. When it comes to muscle mass you might not be surprised to learn it’s use it or lose it! Working those muscles helps maintain muscle mass and strength. Strength training, or resistance training, can improve muscle size, strength, and tone. The best way to fight sarcopenia is to keep your muscles active! Combinations of aerobic exercise, resistance training and balance training can help prevent muscle loss and even reverse muscle loss!

Nutrition can help!

Poor dietary habits contribute to sarcopenia development, this is true, especially of insufficient high-quality protein intake. Protein supplementation using cheese and milk protein, essential amino acids, leucine, beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate and vitamin D has been investigated as a potential supplement to improve muscle quality in sarcopenic elderly people.

Pilates and Sarcopenia  

There is no “cure” for sarcopenia, however Pilates can be part of an ideal mix of resistance and stretching to help counteract the effects of sarcopenia. Pilates is a wonderful form of resistance training, whether you use resistance bands, springs, or your own body weight. Pilates can be a great introduction to strength training in general.  Remember that used alone, or in addition to other strength building exercise forms (weights), Pilates can help maintain muscle mass.

Have a look at our series of short videos on our website to inspire your practise !? See https://www.reformdublin.ie/on-demand-videos/

Summary

The best way to fight the effects of sarcopenia is to keep your muscles active! WHO guidelines recommend a mix of moderate and high intensity exercise for adults. Recommended weekly amounts are :

  • 150 Minutes for moderate activity such as brisk walking and water aerobics
  • 75 Minutes for high intensity activity such as swimming, running, skipping.

This level of activity coupled with some form of resistance training such as Pilates gives you the best chance of slowing the rate of muscle loss !

WHO have declared 2021 – 2030 as UN Decade of Healthy Ageing – this is a global collaboration that brings together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media, and the private sector to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live. See https://www.who.int/initiatives/decade-of-healthy-ageing for more details.


 [HaRP1]Morley, J.E., Anker, S.D. & von Haehling, S. Prevalence, incidence, and clinical impact of sarcopenia: facts, numbers, and epidemiology—update 2014. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle 5, 253–259 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13539-014-0161-y

 [HaRP2]Musumeci, G. Sarcopenia and Exercise “The State of the Art”. J. Funct. Morphol. Kinesiol. 2017, 2, 40. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk2040040

 [HaRP3]Oliveira, Laís & Oliveira, Raphael & Pires Oliveira, Deise. (2015). Effects of Pilates on muscle strength, postural balance and quality of life of older adults: a randomized, controlled, clinical trial. Journal of physical therapy science. 27. 871-6. 10.1589/jpts.27.871.