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After reaching the age of 50 or 60, many people begin to find that they start to walk slower, stairs become challenging to climb, and their weight seems to fluctuate like the stock market. Despite the common craze advocating for weight loss, unintentional weight loss can signify muscle atrophy, therefore a loss in muscle strength. In Hong Kong, about 11% of older men and 7% of older women suffer from sarcopenia, which characterises low muscular strength and quantity. As a result, they are at an increased risk of falls and fractures. Amongst this population, some of them also suffer from other chronic diseases, such as brain degeneration and cancer.
Muscle loss is affected by many factors, including genes, environment and lifestyle, and slower cell metabolism caused by ageing, lack of exercise and malnutrition, which is directly affected by insufficient protein and vitamin D intake and gastrointestinal disorders. However, some diseases, such as cancer and kidney disease, can also lead to muscle loss.
Methods of evaluating sarcopenia

Muscle boosting diet

Exercise that helps strengthen muscles

Methods of evaluating sarcopenia
As of now, there are three screening methods for sarcopenia: measuring muscle mass, measuring grip strength and a physical performance evaluation. Before deciding whether the elders in the family suffer from sarcopenia, we can first observe whether they have the following signs:
  • Slow walking: it is challenging to walk indoors on flat ground (walking within 6 meters, with a speed of fewer than 0.8 meters per second).
  • Decreased grip strength: it is hard to grab items as well as drying a towel via twisting
  • Difficult movement: it becomes challenging to get up from a seat. For example, you need support from the armrest to get up; it is taxing to climb ten steps, for instance, resting after climbing three or two steps.
  • Repeated falls: the probability of falls increases with muscle loss, with more than two falls in the past year.
  • Weight loss: unintentional weight loss of about 5% within six months.
It is recommended to seek further diagnoses from a professional if necessary.

Muscle boosting diet
Dietary supplements and proper exercise are very important and effective methods to prevent sarcopenia. Such supplements are mainly to add nutrients into your diet, primarily high-quality proteins and vitamins. For example, vitamin D plays a vital role in the human body. Therefore, if you have a vitamin D deficiency, it will affect your body's ability to absorb calcium, reducing muscle strength and causing sarcopenia in addition to osteoporosis.
Every day, you should aim to intake about 1.2-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight of protein. Take an elderly with a weight of 45 kg as an example; they should aim 20-25 grams of protein in each of the three meals. You can find protein from soymilk, milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, fish, beef, shrimp, dried beans and other foods. One of the key points of a healthy diet is a balanced diet. Keep a diversified diet with the appropriate amount of carbs, fats and proteins. Remember the food pyramid!
In addition, adequate intake of vitamins is equally as important. It exists in natural foods and can be divided into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Vitamins are micronutrients which the body needs very little. However, an appropriate intake is crucial for cell growth and helps metabolism.
Vitamin D helps to strengthen muscles and bones. Therefore, a lack of the vitamin will weaken muscle mass and increase the risk of falls. To prevent this, consider incorporating black fungus, salmon, saury, milk, egg yolk, and other foods high in vitamin D into your diet.
In addition to taking vitamin D from food, another simple way to get vitamin D is basking in the sun. According to the research, sufficient vitamin D from the sun requires you to bask for 10-15 minutes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. without sunscreen. If the elderly at home needs to stay in bed for a considerable amount of time, consulting a professional on whether it is suitable for vitamin D supplements would be a good idea.
Exercise that helps strengthen muscles
Muscle weakness is caused by insufficient exercise. Hence, they can be developed again through training. Despite engaging many different muscle groups, the quadriceps of the thighs are the basis of leg movement, supporting the pressing movement of your legs onto the ground when walking. Regardless of weight-bearing, running or climbing, these leg muscles are used the most, so it is imperative to strengthen the thigh muscles.
Aerobic exercise can strengthen not only cardiopulmonary function but also improve muscular endurance. Moderate intensity sports are also more suitable for the elderly; jogging, walking, brisk walking, swimming, and Taijiquan are excellent examples. For those who have been leading sedentary lifestyles, progressively increasing the amount of time given to exercise in a step-by-step manner is recommended. It is also recommended to exercise at least five times a week, with a total time of no less than 150 minutes, i.e. half an hour each time. Make sure to breathe and warm up before exercise! Holding your arms out and raising them, squatting and raising your feet are helpful ways to train the muscles of the whole body.
In addition, aerobic exercise combined with resistance training (muscle strength training) can more effectively increase muscle mass. For example, use a plastic bottle filled with water as a dumbbell to practice weight-lifting or use resistance bands and repeat a movement ten times for the shoulders, arms, thighs and other body parts.
Many studies have pointed out that weight-bearing exercises can effectively slow down muscle loss and functional degradation. Hence, it is essential in the prevention of sarcopenia.
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