What is it, what causes it and what can you do about it?


Our muscles are vital. They allow us to move. From about the age of 30, the amount of muscle mass and strength decreases very slowly. In about 10 to 20% of the adult population, this process is faster. This is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is more common among older persons, but younger people can also suffer from sarcopenia.

What is sarcopenia?

People with sarcopenia, a muscle-wasting condition, have lower muscle size  and less muscle strength.  As a result, they are more likely to have poorer mobility. For instance, they tend to have more difficulty standing up from a chair by themselves. Climbing stairs and carrying shopping bags also takes more effort and there is a higher chance of falling and fractures.

What causes it?

Every day, our bodies break down and rebuild protein needed to maintain or increase muscle size mass. This is necessary for the body to work properly. There is a balance if the body builds up the same amount of muscle mass as is broken down.

With sarcopenia, there is usually a normal level of breakdown but a lower build-up. The balance is no longer there. As a result, the amount of muscle mass and muscle strength is noticeably reduced.

This lower build-up of muscle can have multiple causes:

  1. Low physical activity
  2. Not enough protein intake in the diet
  3. Illness

What can you do about it?

To prevent this loss of muscle size and strength, it is important to eat well and be physically active. By eating well, we mainly mean a sufficient protein intake, as protein forms the building blocks of muscles. Proteins are found in dairy products, legumes, meat, fish and grains.

Proper movement means being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day and doing bone- and muscle strengthening exercises twice a week, such as resistance training and daily activities such as cycling and climbing stairs.

Balance exercises are also important. Think of standing on one leg (for example while brushing your teeth, washing dishes, or walking across a straight line.

In illness, sarcopenia develops much faster!

In illness, building muscle size becomes more difficult and so it is even crucial to eat well and exercise in order to prevent sarcopenia and minimise the loss of muscle size and muscle strength.

So, especially in illness, a nutritious diet and exercise are essential for maintaining strong muscles!

This information is part of the SO-NUTS project. The drawings are made by Charlotte van den Bosch.