As we age, profound changes in our body composition occur. This is typically marked by a significant decrease in skeletal muscle mass. This loss of lean muscle mass is called sarcopenia. We begin to lose muscle at around age 30, and can lose up to 40% by age 80. This loss of muscle mass is a primary cause of disability and loss of independence in the elderly. Staying active well into old age is critical to maintain muscle mass, which in turn can prevent chronic illnesses and injuries associated with old age.
The increase in sedentary lifestyle means more and more individuals are losing muscle mass at younger and younger ages. Normal weight individuals who may appear "healthy" may actually have more body fat than muscle mass. This is where the phrase "a skinny fat person" comes from. These individuals actually have as much fat (and therefore inflammation) in their arteries and organs as obese individuals. In the end, it is not the number on the scale that determines your level of fitness it is the percent of lean muscle mass compared to fat mass.
Calculating your body fat to lean muscle mass can be done with something called Bioimpedance Analysis (BIA). The cost is $25, and we have this technology in our office. An appointment is necessary and a BIA takes less than five minutes of your time.
Bio-impedance body composition analysis measures body composition electronically. BIA is used clinically to assess tissue and fluid compartments in the human body. A normal distribution of tissue and fluid in the body is associated with immunity, high function, and longevity. An abnormal distribution of tissue and fluid in the body is associated with susceptibility to infection/inflammation, low function, and the effects of disease and aging. Our body is bio-electric, and the BIA measures our vitality at the cellular level.
This is just one part of the story. What health professionals are seeing now is sarcopenic obesity. Sarcopenic obesity is the worst of two epidemic worlds - loss of muscle mass and obesity. In obese patients, low metabolic rate due to muscle loss further aggravates the sedentary lifestyle, all of which cause further weight gain.
The Good News
The good news is that the effects of sarcopenia can be greatly reduced, and even reversed, through exercise and strength training. Strength training can be done at any age and at any weight, and is as important as aerobic exercise and proper nutrition.