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When you lose muscle mass, your muscles grow smaller and your body becomes weaker as a result. Although some muscle loss is inevitable with aging, it can be prevented or reversed with lifestyle changes. The best way to hold on to the muscle you have is to engage in a variety of physical activities and eat a balanced diet that contains sufficient calories to sustain your activity level, according to U.S. News Health.
When you don't use muscles for an extended period of time, they begin to atrophy, meaning they grow smaller and weaker. Muscles also need energy and nutrients for maintenance, so poor eating habits cause muscle loss. In addition, muscles grow smaller with age. If you don't take steps to preserve or build new muscle tissue, you may eventually develop sarcopenia in old age, which is also called muscle wasting. Young people who are bedridden or severely ill may also develop sarcopenia.
Common Lifestyle Factors
Muscle loss often occurs among people who live sedentary lifestyles. If you have a desk job and don't work out in your time off, you are likely to shed muscle tissue. Crash diets that severely limit calories also lead to muscle loss, as do diets that are deficient in protein. Your body takes the protein it needs from your muscles if you don't get enough through food, thus shrinking their size.
Dangers of Muscle Loss
Mild muscle loss decreases strength, making it harder to perform everyday tasks such as lifting boxes or opening jars of food. If the problem develops into sarcopenia, which is more common among people over the age of 65, it can affect the ability to take care of yourself. With severe sarcopenia, even getting dressed or using the restroom becomes difficult. Loss of strength also results in loss of balance, so you become more susceptible to falling and other accidents. MayoClinic.com also reports that muscle weakness is linked to heart disease.
No matter your age, you can preserve muscle and even build new tissue with exercise and a healthy diet. During weight loss, women should eat at least 1,200 calories per day, while men should eat least 1,500 calories per day; once the weight is gone, immediately increase calorie intake to meet daily energy needs. While exact requirements vary, Harvard Medical School recommends multiplying your weight times 15 to find daily calorie expenditure if you're moderately active; a moderately active 140-pound person burns about 2,100 calories a day. In addition, women need 46 grams of protein per day, while men need 56 grams. Engage in cardiovascular activities such as jogging or aerobic dancing most days of the week, and perform strength-training exercises such as lifting weights and doing body-weight exercises such as pushups, pullups and squats at least two times weekly. Work all major muscle groups: legs, arms, back, chest and stomach. If you're sedentary or have any health conditions, see your doctor before you start exercising.