cyclingFindings from a review paper published in Age and Ageing show that approximately one in three adults aged 50 years and older suffers from sarcopenia, a condition that could interfere with ageing adults’ ability to live a full and active life. 

Sarcopenia is characterised by the progressive loss of muscle mass and strength. Despite the prevalence of the condition, the paper found that adults who increased their amount of resistance exercise and incorporated specific nutrition into their diet such as β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB)* and essential amino acids (EAA) including leucine showed improved muscle mass, function or strength.

Professor Finbarr Martin, Consultant Geriatrician at Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and one of the paper’s authors said, "Most people think that loss of muscle mass and strength is inevitable, but these findings show that is simply not the case. Whilst we need more research to identify the best approaches, this review shows that exercise with adequate nutrition is key to preserving muscle function."

Maintaining muscle mass and strength in adults is important to reduce the risk of adverse consequences in later life. On average, adults lose eight percent of their muscle per decade starting at age 40; that rate accelerates to 15% per decade starting around age 70. Muscle loss is an independent risk factor for adverse outcomes such as disabilities, falls, fractures and even death.6 It can also affect the ability to perform daily activities, such as walking, rising out of a chair, and gripping or lifting objects.

With muscle loss a reality for many older adults, it is important for them to maintain the quality of their diets, ensuring they eat enough protein to meet their bodies’ needs. Many organisations are now suggesting that the recommended daily amount (RDA) for protein needs to be increased for older adults, compared with younger individuals. Changes occur in adults’ bodies as they age: individuals may experience decreased appetite, and physical and mental changes can limit their ability to shop for and prepare food. This may lead to nutrient deficiencies if not addressed either through diet or nutritional supplementation.

Carole Glencorse, Medical Director at Abbott Nutrition UK, said, "With an ageing population, nutrition needs to be a key consideration for healthcare professionals; screening for malnutrition and appropriate intervention is essential to ensure older adults receive the nutrients they need to maintain muscle health as they age."

To maintain muscle health in older adults, the paper recommends:
- Nutritional interventions to increase intake of HMB* and essential amino acids to help maintain muscle, which can help support physical strength and functionality
- Incorporating resistance training into the exercise routine of older adults, which can improve muscle function
- More screening by healthcare professionals to identify progressive loss of muscle mass and strength

The global review paper is entitled, “Prevalence of and interventions for sarcopenia in ageing adults: a systematic review. Report of the International Sarcopenia Initiative (EWGSOP and IWGS),” was led by the International Sarcopenia Initiative (ISI) and sponsored by Abbott Nutrition.