Twenty-five years ago, the world's leading experts in cardiovascular diseases warned of an impending epidemic of heart disease in developing countries. This warning was largely ignored and we are now seeing a dramatic increase in prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in the developing world. We must not allow the same thing to happen for osteoporosis. We must act now.
Because the loss of muscle means the loss of strength and mobility, managing sarcopenia needs to be taken seriously. Sarcopenia accelerates around age 75 and is a factor in the occurrence of frailty and the likelihood of falls and fractures.
While there are still no approved treatments for sarcopenia, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help you live with this disease. These include resistance training and a nutritious diet.
Appropriate steps should also be taken to avoid falls.
The following is a story of someone living with sarcopenia.
"I was never one for joining the sports teams at school. Because I had an office-based job most of my working life, I’ve never been what you’d describe as an ‘active’ person. But, as I never smoked or drank much alcohol, I thought I was pretty healthy.
Then my husband sadly died quite young and so I found myself living alone at 60. I had always cooked well for the both of us, but with him gone I started cutting corners; eating too much toast and jam, rather than proper meals. He had always done the driving, so I didn’t get out as much. Added to which when I did go out, I didn’t feel so confident. I’d lost my balance a few times outside, on rough pavements and when it was getting dark, and I’d ended up in a heap on the ground, very embarrassed. These falls always shook me up and so I tended to try to stay in the house.
It was a stormy day in January, when a strong gust blew me over on the ice. I put my hand out to save myself and then I heard the crack as my wrist broke. It was the osteoporosis specialist nurse who suggested I ask my GP about the falls clinic. There I saw a doctor who assessed me; she arranged a bone density scan and timed my walking and ‘get-up-and-go’. From blood tests she discovered my vitamin D levels were very low, as I wasn’t getting enough sunlight. Low vitamin D was making my bones thin (osteoporosis) and my muscles weak (sarcopenia). She prescribed me tablets to replace and then maintain my vitamin D levels. She also suggested I see a dietician, as I wasn’t eating a balanced diet and had grown quite thin, as well as one of their specialist physiotherapists.
The dietician explained to me why I needed to increase my protein intake to make my muscles stronger; I now eat chicken, fish and more pulses. She also explained the need for fresh fruit and vegetables, as these are non-acid producing, as well as the calcium-rich foods for my bones.
The physiotherapist, Mark, ran a 10-week program of falls and balance classes. Here I met other ladies who had experienced falls, and together we learnt specific muscle-strengthening and balance-improving exercises. At the end Mark gave us written instructions about on-going exercises for us to do at home. It really made us feel more confident. Now I go for a walk most days, do my exercises, and have even smartened up the garden.
I understand that I have sarcopenia, and that my muscle mass and strength will continue to decline as I age, but I also know that if I keep up with my exercise plan and eat the right diet for my bones and muscles, I’m much less likely to fall and injury myself again."
Our Bone Health Advocates
In the UK alone, every three minutes someone breaks a bone because of osteoporosis and we know that unless we take action now, the number of cases will keep rising. I hope that as many people as possible take the one-minute osteoporosis test, so we're all aware of the risk factors that we face.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a candidate for osteoporosis. I know now, I should have paid more attention to my personal risk factors; I should have taken better care of my bones. You know what? So should you. So come on, Beat the Break, take responsibility for your bones. Just talk to your doctor about osteoporosis.