Have you ever wondered what makes us all scared of old age? Is it the multiple diseases associated with it or the approaching end of life? Rather, it’s the sense of dependency and disability associated with aging that terrifies us the most. As we age, our bodies begin to “give in” to the daily wear and tear and stresses of life. Among the degenerative changes associated with aging, the most striking change is on the musculosketal system of the body. There is a loss of muscle mass, strength and function along with weakening of our bones as the cells in our body stop repairing and regenerating themselves. We become victims to multiple comorbidities and more vulnerable to falls, fractures and further disability.
Various studies have been carried out with varying degrees of success to elucidate the mechanisms involved in aging and loss of muscle mass. One of the most prominent reasons is found to be a gradual decrease in anabolic hormones in the body. Anabolic hormones include Testosterone, Dihydroepiandosterone (DHEA), Growth Hormones (GH) and Insulin –like Growth Factor 1 (IGF 1). They are responsible for protein synthesis in the body and are responsible for us “growing up”. Among these, Testosterone is considered to be the most potent one. It is a very strong stimulus for muscle hypertrophy and growth. On studying the various causes of loss of muscle mass with age, it was found out that as we age, the level of testosterone in men’s body decreases triggering a loss of muscle mass as well. This process can start as early as 30 years of age and gets progressively more severe with increasing age. It is now an indisputable fact that with age, men undergo “andropause” similar to the menopause of women. This is characterized by a gradual decline in anabolic hormone levels and consequently loss of muscle mass, strength and function along with a weakening of bones and loss of libido as well. So, how to prevent all that? The obvious answer would seem to be a replacement of the decreasing hormones. However, it is not as simple as it sounds. Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) has been tried and it does increase the muscle mass. However it is also associated with potentially serious side effects like prostate carcinoma, increased cardiovascular events, gynecomastia, edema and arthralgia. Pharmaceutical industries and clinicians are therefore; still skeptical about testosterone replacement and it is not an option available to common men. However, we have natural ways through which we can prevent loss of muscle mass and ensure a productive and independent life rather than trekking the unchartered courses of TRT and risking ourselves further.
The first and most potent of these natural interventions is physical activity. The beneficial effect of exercise on the body has been established in various clinical trials. It remains one of the most effective ways to combat loss of muscle mass and ensure a strong body. We all know that neither muscle fibers can regenerate once dead nor can they multiply under the influence of any hormone or physical activity. However, they do undergo hypertrophy, that is an increase in size and become stronger in response to hormones and exercises. Therefore, the more we exercise and implement a healthy lifestyle, the better we will offset the loss of muscle mass and decline in our strength. Evidence suggests that Resistance Training like weightlifting is the most effective in causing an overall increase in muscle protein. It is recommended that all adults even the frailest elderly should undergo resistance training of high intensity at least 2 times per week. The next best thing would be aerobic exercises like brisk walking, swimming and running. These are excellent for overall health and the cardiovascular system as well.
The second natural weapon that we have against loss of muscle mass is Nutrition. This might seem obvious but what we do not know is that, as we age, our nutritional requirement changes as well. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of protein in an average adult is 0.8g/kg/day. Yet, in the elderly, the quantity required is surprisingly higher. It has been established that with increasing age we lose our appetite and hence consume lower amount of calories than required. Coupled with that is the net negative nitrogen balance that occurs in our body that is; more of our muscle protein are broken down than synthesized. The end result is a gradual loss in muscle mass as well as weakening of our bones. In order to avoid this, it is recommended that elderly people consume at least 30 to 40 gram of high quality protein per day. Furthermore, as we get older we require specific amino acids (the building blocks of protein). We require essential amino acids (those that the body cannot make) as well as branched chain amino acids. One such amino acid is leucine. Whey proteins are rich in leucine and are thus highly recommended.
Lastly, we can always do well with additional boosters like natural health supplements. Indeed, there have been natural herbs and roots which have been known for centuries to boost health and reverse aging. One such medicinal plant is the Eurycoma Longifolia Jack otherwise known as Tongkat Ali. Multiple clinical trials with mixed results have been carried out to assess the efficacy of this plant. It is said to boost the immune system, prevent loss of muscle mass, act as an aphrodisiac and causes a boost in the synthesis of natural testosterone from the body. If our natural testosterone levels can be restored to the youthful level then why even consider the risk laden TRT. Added to that, calcium and Vitamin D are also considered to be beneficial for the musculoskeletal system.
Finally, if we want to prevent the effects of aging and especially the loss of muscle mass; it all boils down to a healthy lifestyle. We might have heard it a thousand times, but even that would not be enough to stress its importance. In an attempt to lead a better and luxurious life we tend to ignore our body and then suffer the repercussions as we grow older. A healthy diet, regular exercises and avoidance of smoking is something which we can gradually but surely incorporate in our lives. The key to healthy aging is not some miracle waiting to be discovered, it is rather an old wisdom not taken seriously by anyone anymore.