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Muscle Loss & Ceramide

Sarcopenia And Body Fat: A Dangerous Combination

exercise halt muscle loss

Humans generally lose 1% of their muscle mass every year after the age of 30. Sarcopenia, however, is not only related to total loss of muscle mass, but the loss of muscle function. Besides decreasing performance in the gym, sarcopenia causes a multitude of health conditions in aging populations, the least of which being functional disability, falls, decreased bone density, glucose intolerance, and decreased heat and cold tolerance.

Though age is not the only reason an individual might develop sarcopenia, it is the most common. As we age, it’s inevitable that without effective interventions not only will our muscles weaken and diminish, but we will also gain more fat. Mitigating sarcopenia while maintaining a healthy body fat composition will lead to greater mobility, functional strength, and, overall, continued independence, health, and an improved quality of life in our later years.

Does Fat Influence Muscle Loss?

You might be surprised to learn of the relationship between body fat and sarcopenia. Recent studies have observed that high body fat is strongly associated with an elevated risk of sarcopenia. One study found that, adjusting for all other factors, lean muscle mass percentage seems to play very little part in an older individual’s strength and mobility–but that increased body fat on top of diminished lean muscle mass resulted in greater frailty and loss of mobility.

Researchers and experts have only recently been turning their attention to the interaction between muscle loss and fat mass and its implications for human health. Various health conditions have been associated with the deadly combination of low-muscle mass and high body fat, including chronic heart failure and cancer.

Why Being Fatter Makes You Weaker

The dynamic between fat and muscle loss is multifold. One study implicated ceramides in the attenuation of muscular strength; the pathways are complex and interrelated, but as the body ages and/or gains more fat, ceramides “[inhibit] anabolic signaling, induce oxidative stress, inhibit muscle growth, and thus…initiate many of the molecular defects that underlie anabolic resistance.” Basically, they interfere with the signalling between our muscles and brain while increasing inflammation.

What Are The Risks?

Besides making you physically weaker, a higher body fat percentage in combination with low lean muscle mass may also contribute to some pretty terrifying diseases. One study found that compared to control subjects, individuals with chronic heart failure had significantly lower fat-free mass, a higher rate of “cardiac events”, and a pretty grim prognosis.

Another study investigating the interrelationship between body fat percentage, skeletal muscle mass, and cancer found body composition, rather than BMI, to be a reliable determinant of prognosis in patients with cancer. Sarcopenia alongside high body fat meant, unfortunately, a diminished chance of survival.

Protect Yourself By Increasing Muscle Mass

Numerous other health conditions are associated with increased body fat and sarcopenia, including osteoporosis, diabetes, liver and kidney failure, and more. In many cases, it can be difficult to tell which came first: the health condition, loss of muscle mass, being overweight or obese, or a combination of all three. But we can state definitively that increasing one’s muscle mass and maintaining a healthy body fat percentage will lead to better health and an improved quality of life.

Next Steps?

Now that we’re convinced of the importance of keeping our muscles strong, where do we go from here? Whether you’re a newbie in the gym–or if you are committed to helping people gain strength and improve their lives–Infofit has all the resources you’ll ever need to become a fitness expert. Check out our personal training courses and continuing education resources here, including a course dedicated to training older adults to prevent the debilitating effects of age-related sarcopenia.

Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!

Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.

Works Cited

Delmonico, M. J., Harris, T. B., Lee, J., Visser, M., Nevitt, M., Kritchevsky, S. B., . . . Newman, A. B. (2007). Alternative definitions of Sarcopenia, lower Extremity performance, and functional impairment with aging in older men and women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55(5), 769-774. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01140.x

Fujiwara, N., Nakagawa, H., Kudo, Y., Tateishi, R., Taguri, M., Watadani, T., . . . Koike, K. (2015). Sarcopenia, intramuscular FAT deposition, and VISCERAL ADIPOSITY Independently predict the outcomes of hepatocellular carcinoma. Journal of Hepatology, 63(1), 131-140. doi:10.1016/j.jhep.2015.02.031

Fukuoka, Y., Narita, T., Fujita, H., Morii, T., Sato, T., Sassa, M. H., & Yamada, Y. (2018). Importance of Physical evaluation using skeletal muscle mass index and body fat percentage to PREVENT SARCOPENIA in elderly Japanese diabetes patients. Journal of Diabetes Investigation, 10(2), 322-330. doi:10.1111/jdi.12908

Lima, R. M., Bezerra, L. M., Rabelo, H. T., Silva, M. A., Silva, A. J., Bottaro, M., & De Oliveira, R. J. (2009). Fat-Free mass, strength, and Sarcopenia are related to bone mineral density in older women. Journal of Clinical Densitometry, 12(1), 35-41. doi:10.1016/j.jocd.2008.10.003

Mangus, R. S., Bush, W. J., Miller, C., & Kubal, C. A. (2017). Severe sarcopenia and increased fat stores in pediatric patients With liver, KIDNEY, or Intestine Failure. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, 65(5), 579-583. doi:10.1097/mpg.0000000000001651

Narumi, T., Watanabe, T., Kadowaki, S., Takahashi, T., Yokoyama, M., Kinoshita, D., . . . Kubota, I. (2015). Sarcopenia evaluated BY fat-free mass index is an important prognostic factor in patients with chronic heart failure. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 26(2), 118-122. doi:10.1016/j.ejim.2015.01.008

Nasimi, N., Dabbaghmanesh, M. H., & Sohrabi, Z. (2019). Nutritional status and body fat mass: Determinants of sarcopenia in community-dwelling older adults. Experimental Gerontology, 122, 67-73. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2019.04.009

Rivas, D. A., Morris, E. P., Haran, P. H., Pasha, E. P., Morais, M. D., Dolnikowski, G. G., . . . Fielding, R. A. (2012). Increased ceramide content and nfκb signaling may contribute to the attenuation of anabolic signaling after resistance exercise in aged males. Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(11), 1727-1736. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00412.2012


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