As you get older, changes in your sex drive, energy levels and memory are all things you have to contend with.
But what you may not realize is the loss of muscle and strength — a preventable medical condition known as sarcopenia —can impact older Americans too.
Between 5 and 13 percent of people age 60 to 70 and between 11 and 50 percent of those age 80 and older are affected by sarcopenia, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle.
Without taking steps to prevent muscle loss, the condition can affect your ability to move, recover from illness, and ultimately lead the healthy and active lifestyle you’ve always wanted. In fact, some experts are even coining sarcopenia “the new osteoporosis.”
The good news is with some simple diet and lifestyle changes, sarcopenia can be prevented and your golden years can be great ones. Here's how to prevent muscle loss as you age:
1. Eat protein-rich foods.
Studies suggest adults can lose up to 8 percent of muscle mass each decade after age 40.
One of the major reasons older adults in particular are affected by a decline in muscle mass is they’re not eating enough calories, protein and amino acids.
“Amino acids are what the muscle uses to build itself,” Suzette Pereira, PhD, an associate research fellow at Abbott, told Fox News.
Protein is best consumed throughout the day, and experts say you should aim for double the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of the nutrient — between 90 to 100 grams.
People who doubled up on protein had an increase in muscle protein synthesis, the process by which your cells use protein to build more muscle, a 2014 study in the American Journal of Physiology–Endocrinology and Metabolism found.
Eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, dairy, beans and legumes are all great protein sources. Or consider adding a whey protein shake into your diet to get your fill.
2. Hit the gym.
Cardiovascular exercise and weight training are crucial because they consistently activate and signal the muscles to grow.
In fact, men and women in their 60s and 70s who started weight training developed muscles as large and as strong as people in their 40s, a 2011 study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found.
Aim for 150 to 300 minutes of any type of moderate-endurance exercise a week in addition to weight training three times a week to build muscle and improve strength, Jim White, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia, told Fox News.
Start with eight to 10 repetitions of one exercise per body part, with 30 to 60 seconds in between sets to rest. Then gradually work up to four exercises per body part for maximum benefits.
After a workout, your body needs time to regenerate itself, and most of that work happens while you sleep, so try your best to get seven to nine hours each night.
5. Don’t cut carbs.
“When you’re not eating carbohydrates, you’re often lackluster,” White said. “You lack energy to be able to lift weights, you’re weak, and you’re jeopardizing your chances of building more muscle mass.”
Instead of white, refined grains — which lack vitamins and fiber, and can spike your blood sugar — aim to get 6 to 11 servings of whole grains, sweat potatoes, beans, legumes and fruit.
What’s more, studies suggest eating a combination of protein and carbohydrates before and after a workout can also help build muscle.
6. Get enough vitamin D.
A lack of vitamin D can impact your body’s ability to build muscle. Age itself can predispose you to a lack of vitamin D, but if you have darker skin, avoid the sun or are obese, you’re at risk too.
Talk to your doctor about checking your levels, and ask if a supplement is a good idea.
Make sure to get vitamin D through fortified milk, orange juice, cereals, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, beef liver or egg yolks.
7. Limit your alcohol intake.
Drinking alcohol can make you dehydrated, which can affect muscle function.
Women should limit their alcohol consumption to one glass per day — a 5 ounce glass of wine or a 12 ounce beer — and men should limit it to two, White said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.