By Joseph Maroon, MD, FACS
You may be taking steps to support your brain, bones and joints even though only a percentage of adults will ever experience problems in those areas.
Sarcopenia literally means “lack of flesh” and is the technical name for the condition of losing muscle. Age-related muscle degeneration, or losing muscle, is primarily an age-associated condition common in people over 50. Muscle mass can be maintained easily through an exercise and diet program specifically designed to combat this issue.
Like most people, you may be ignoring a looming issue that’s as serious or more serious, and that affects everyone over age 50: age-related muscle loss. Alarmingly, if you don’t do something about losing muscle mass, it could ultimately lead to losing your physical independence and quality of life.
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Why Losing Muscle Matters
Many doctors don’t discuss muscle loss during an annual physical, even though it is a part of the aging process. Everyone’s body gradually becomes less efficient at replenishing muscle tissue.
If you’re weakened by diminished muscle mass, you may find it harder to get out of a chair, walk the dog or carry in groceries. You may feel more fatigued. Muscle loss also increases your risk of falls and fractures.
I’m a veteran of 72 triathlons and eight Ironman triathlons. In the fourth quarter of my life, I’m also working diligently to maintain my own muscle mass.
Thankfully, muscle mass is super easy to measure, so you can forecast where you’re headed. Even better: New science shows that you can get a jump start on increasing your muscle mass, even without exercise, by supplementing with an ingredient called HMB, which is readily available in dietary supplements.
Beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl butyrate (HMB) is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine. It is often used as a bodybuilding supplement to help improve muscle strength by reducing protein breakdown. HMB is also added to some medical foods for patients with muscle wasting and cachexia.
The Grip Strength Test
Your grip strength doesn’t just measure the strength of your hands. It’s also an excellent indicator of your muscle health and is correlated with your longevity.
For example, some studies have found that strong grip strength correlates with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. You can buy an inexpensive grip strength dynamometer online for about $20 that will give you a baseline. This simple device is growing in importance as a diagnostic tool.
There are also simple steps to maintain and improve your muscle health at any age. There are plenty of septuagenarians and even octogenarians who, like myself, are doing the right things to support their overall wellness.
Maintaining Your Muscle
- Move more, sit less. Many people stop exercising because they get older; what they don’t realize is that they get older because they stop exercising. If you don’t use it, you do lose it to some extent. While exercise is important for everyone, it is especially crucial for older adults to improve cognitive function while increasing muscle mass and strength.
- Add a quality muscle health supplement to your routine. Most people think that if they just consume enough protein, our muscles will be fine. But as we age, we can’t process protein as well as we once did. However, just as adding vitamin D to calcium improves its bone health benefits, and the combination of glucosamine with chondroitin helps your joints, adding a supplement that contains HMB plus Vitamin D3 to your daily protein intake will improve your muscle health.
Nothing else helps to stop muscle loss and increase muscle mass as well as HMB. This is incredibly unique because it stimulates the body to make protein and also decreases protein breakdown.
Look for supplements that contain both HMB and Vitamin D3. The results of a year-long study involving healthy adults over age 60 found this specific combination significantly improved muscle function in older adults, even without exercise.
The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, also found that HMB plus D3 helped people feel more energetic. So, you might be more inclined to exercise.
- Eat a more nutritious diet: A poor diet can contribute to the deterioration of your body, including your brain. When you eat a fast-food burger infused with antibiotics and hormones, washed down with a bottle of phosphoric acid and 12 teaspoons of sugar in your soda, it will create inflammation in your body. That is a common cause of many chronic diseases.
- Steer clear of environmental toxins. Smoking and drinking are two common toxins. There’s also indoor air pollution which may be a bigger factor now because of the pandemic. It’s a good excuse to take a daily walk outdoors and enjoy nature.
- Find your balance. In my book, Square One: A Simple Guide to a Balanced Life,” I describe the importance of avoiding burnout and how to develop Resilience. The four key areas to rebalancing your life are good health, a sense of spirituality, meaningful work and strong relationships.
Your muscles are involved with everything you do in your life. Allowing them to gradually diminish jeopardizes your ability to live life on your terms. Taking better care of your muscle health may help you age better overall.
Biography: Joseph C. Maroon, MD, FACS
Joseph C. Maroon, MD, FACS is a clinical professor and Heindl Scholar in Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In addition to being a renowned neurosurgeon, he is a sports medicine expert, health and nutrition expert, and Ironman triathlete.
Dr. Maroon, the neurosurgeon
Dr. Maroon is regarded as a premiere specialist in the surgical treatment of injuries and diseases of the brain and spine, specializing in minimally invasive procedures. Consistently listed in America’s Best Doctors for the past 20 years, he has an international referral base, including numerous professional athletes and celebrities.
Dr. Maroon obtained his medical and neurosurgical training at Indiana University, Georgetown University, Oxford University in England and the University of Vermont. He conducted extensive research into neurotrauma, brain tumors and diseases of the spine, which has led to many innovative techniques for diagnosing and treating these disorders. His research efforts garnered him numerous awards from various national and international neurological societies.
Dr. Maroon is the author of six books, and (co-)author of 40 book chapters and over 280 published scientific papers. He has given more than 150 presentations at national and international conferences and is often invited as visiting professor and key-note speaker.
Dr. Maroon has served on the editorial boards of eight medical and neurological journals and is currently an editorial board member of Neurological Research and The Physician and Sports Medicine journals. He also is past-President of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, one of the largest societies of Neurosurgeons in the world.
Dr. Maroon, the sports medicine expert
Dr. Maroon has been the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1981, and is Medical Director of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). He has successfully performed surgery on numerous professional football players and other elite athletes with potentially career-ending neck and spine injuries. Notably, he safely returned most to their high level of athletic performance.
Dr. Maroon is highly invested in the prevention and treatment of concussions in high school, college and professional sports, specifically football. While working with the Steelers in early the 1990s, the lack of an objective, reliable instrument to evaluate concussion symptoms became very apparent to Dr. Maroon. To fill this void, he and Dr. Mark Lovell developed ImPACT™ (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), an easy-to-administer, 20 minute long test to assess presence and severity of concussion symptoms.
ImPACT™ has become the worldwide standard tool to assess sports-related concussions and has been used in over 4.5 million athletes. In 2007, Dr. Maroon was invited to join the National Football League’s mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee as a concussion expert. This committee was subsequently renamed The National Football League’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee.
For his expertise on sports medicine and concussions, Dr. Maroon is frequently interviewed and quoted by the media, including the New York Times, USA Today, Associated Press, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and ABC News Nightline.
Dr. Maroon, the health and nutrition expert
Dr. Joseph Maroon has a major interest in regenerative medicine and is senior Vice-President of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Furthermore, he served on the Board of Directors of Mylan Laboratories, the 3rd largest Generic drug company in the world.
Dr. Maroon developed research interests in the use of omega-3 fatty acids as a safe and natural alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in treating neck and low-back pain in patients with disc and arthritic causes. He wrote the book, Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory, which highlights many of the benefits of fish oil, not just for back-pain, but also for general good health.
His recent research interests involve the dietary supplement resveratrol, found in red grape skins, which has been shown to activate genes for improved health. To make his research findings available to the public, he authored the book, The Longevity Factor: How Resveratrol and Red Wine Activate Genes for a longer and Healthier Life. In 2012, this book was made into a PBS special and featured in TV stations throughout the country.
Through his intensive athletic involvement, Dr. Maroon has a personal interest in healthy living and healthy nutrition. He is much invested in keeping his expertise up to date as he “practices what he preaches”.
Dr. Maroon, the athlete
Dr. Maroon received an athletic scholarship to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana where as an undergraduate, he was named a Scholastic All-American in football. Dr. Maroon has successfully maintained his personal athletic interests through participation in 9 marathons and more than 72 Olympic-distance triathlon events. However, his greatest athletic accomplishment is his participation in 8 Ironman triathlons (Hawaii – 1993, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2013; Canada – 1995; New Zealand – 1997; Germany – 2000), where he usually finishes in the top 10 of his age group. Recently, in July 2012 and 2013, he finished second and third, respectively, in his age group in the Muncie, Indiana half Ironman triathlon. In October 2013 he completed his 5th World Championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. In 2019 and 2020 he finished first in his age group in the Columbus, Ohio Olympic distance triathlon.
As a result of his athletic dedication and performance, Dr. Maroon (along with NFL’s great Joe Montana and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was inducted into the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame for his athletic accomplishments and contributions to sports medicine on June 27, 1999. Eleven years later, on March 14, 2010 he was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in Chicago. Other inductees include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Jack LaLanne; and Kenneth Cooper, founder of the Aerobic Movement.
For all his accomplishments, Dr. Maroon was in 2011 selected as a “Distinguished Alumnus” of Indiana University—one of 5 selected annually from 500,000 alumni from the university. In 2019 he was selected as Man of the Year by the Jerome Bettis Foundation for his athletic accomplishments and contributions to sports medicine.
In 2019 he was selected as Man of the Year by the Jerome Bettis Foundation for his athletic accomplishments and contributions to sports medicine.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product(s) on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Always consult a licensed health care professional before starting any supplement or nutraceutical. Especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing medical conditions. Individual results may vary. These are from my own experience and the experience of others and only our opinions.