Two factors that weaken your muscles more than aging

Getting older is no picnic. There are certain signs of aging that we all hope to escape, but that’s much easier said than done.

Consider what happens to your muscles…

Research shows we can expect a substantial loss of muscle mass and strength (known as sarcopenia), decreased regenerative capacity (meaning muscle tissue that can’t repair itself) and loss of physical function — all thanks to aging skeletal muscle.

But what drives this decline — and is it just inevitable?

To answer that question researchers looked at “primary aging” — which may involve things we can’t control — and “secondary aging,” which may play a much bigger role in weakening our muscles than previously thought…

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Two key drivers of muscle changes

The age-related loss of muscle tissue starts as early as our 40s. By age 50, we’re losing 1 to 2 percent of our muscle mass every year as our bodies become less able to convert protein into muscle. And in our 60s and 70s, this loss becomes even more rapid as we lose muscle fibers — and what fibers we still have begin to shrink.

This sets off a vicious cycle: we become less active (because it gets harder) and that directly contributes to further muscle deterioration.

A team of Russian researchers decided to dig deeper into the age-related changes that occur in skeletal muscle. What they found was that chronic inflammation and physical inactivity affected these changes more than primary aging.

In short, the study shows aging muscles are affected more by physical inactivity and chronic inflammation than they are by the aging process itself!

That’s because these two factors influence the expression of 4,000 genes that regulate processes such as mitochondrial function, protein balance and immune and inflammatory responses. These processes can influence healthy aging or — gone wrong — can make it all go awry.

By contrast, they found only about 200 genes where their expression was related to primary aging rather than other factors.

This is one more example of epigenetics, or how lifestyle impacts genes. Epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence and how it is expressed to affect your body and your health.

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A recipe for better muscle strength

It’s clear there are two things we need to do to help protect our muscles as we age: reduce inflammation and move our bodies.

Certain exercises are great for both movement and muscle-building. Walking, swimming, dancing, tennis and elliptical training all combine strength training and aerobic exercise. And yoga can actually help tame inflammation while strengthening your muscles.

Combining exercise with protein helps you build muscle mass as you get older. Including protein with every meal is especially important if you want to protect your aging muscles, as it helps boost amino acid activity.

There are a few steps you can take to tackle age-related inflammation, or “inflammaging” as some call it, while lowering levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation marker associated with reduced muscle mass.

The Mediterranean diet can quench inflammation. Try to eat plenty of these five foods.

Supplements may also help in various ways…

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How do chronic inflammation and physical inactivity affect age-related changes in gene and protein expression in skeletal muscle? — EurekAlert!

Age-related changes in human skeletal muscle transcriptome and proteome are more affected by chronic inflammation and physical inactivity than primary aging — Aging Cell

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.