Living with Sarcopenia

Because the loss of muscle means the loss of strength and mobility, managing sarcopenia needs to be taken seriously. Sarcopenia accelerates around age 75 and is a factor in the occurrence of frailty and the likelihood of falls and fractures.

While there are still no approved treatments for sarcopenia, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help you live with this disease. These include resistance training and a nutritious diet.

Appropriate steps should also be taken to avoid falls.

The following is a story of someone living with sarcopenia.

"I was never one for joining the sports teams at school. Because I had an office-based job most of my working life, I’ve never been what you’d describe as an ‘active’ person. But, as I never smoked or drank much alcohol, I thought I was pretty healthy.

Then my husband sadly died quite young and so I found myself living alone at 60. I had always cooked well for the both of us, but with him gone I started cutting corners; eating too much toast and jam, rather than proper meals. He had always done the driving, so I didn’t get out as much. Added to which when I did go out, I didn’t feel so confident. I’d lost my balance a few times outside, on rough pavements and when it was getting dark, and I’d ended up in a heap on the ground, very embarrassed. These falls always shook me up and so I tended to try to stay in the house.

It was a stormy day in January, when a strong gust blew me over on the ice. I put my hand out to save myself and then I heard the crack as my wrist broke. It was the osteoporosis specialist nurse who suggested I ask my GP about the falls clinic. There I saw a doctor who assessed me; she arranged a bone density scan and timed my walking and ‘get-up-and-go’. From blood tests she discovered my vitamin D levels were very low, as I wasn’t getting enough sunlight. Low vitamin D was making my bones thin (osteoporosis) and my muscles weak (sarcopenia). She prescribed me tablets to replace and then maintain my vitamin D levels. She also suggested I see a dietician, as I wasn’t eating a balanced diet and had grown quite thin, as well as one of their specialist physiotherapists.

The dietician explained to me why I needed to increase my protein intake to make my muscles stronger; I now eat chicken, fish and more pulses. She also explained the need for fresh fruit and vegetables, as these are non-acid producing, as well as the calcium-rich foods for my bones.

The physiotherapist, Mark, ran a 10-week program of falls and balance classes. Here I met other ladies who had experienced falls, and together we learnt specific muscle-strengthening and balance-improving exercises. At the end Mark gave us written instructions about on-going exercises for us to do at home. It really made us feel more confident. Now I go for a walk most days, do my exercises, and have even smartened up the garden.

I understand that I have sarcopenia, and that my muscle mass and strength will continue to decline as I age, but I also know that if I keep up with my exercise plan and eat the right diet for my bones and muscles, I’m much less likely to fall and injury myself again."

Our Bone Health Advocates

Peggy Fleming, Olympic Gold Medalist and former world champion in figure skating, TV sports analyst, osteoporosis advocate Message on the occasion of the 2nd IOF Women Leaders Roundtable, 2006

My biggest message today is to encourage women to take charge of their health. Don’t be an observer, be a participant, and don’t procrastinate about ANY of your checkups, including bone density tests.

Ilie Nastase, tennis champion

It is very important that we are moving, continually moving. It doesn’t matter what we do; exercise, or playing tennis or soccer. We have to move and it is also good for the muscles, not only for the bones. If you want to prevent osteoporosis do like me: have babies when you are over 60 so they can run you all over the place.

Martial Enguehard, Master chef

Food rich in calcium and vitamin D can help us to build strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Cheese is rich in calcium. I live in France. We have more than 400 varieties of cheese! I enjoy cooking healthy food which includes vitamin D and calcium. Think to do the same at home. Bone Appétit!