Muscle up to stave off the ill effects of ageing

Prof Dr Shahrul Bahyah says the elderly are the most affected by muscle loss.

LOSS of muscle strength is a natural part of ageing.

Healthy adults between the age of 40 and 70 years lose an average of 24% muscle each year and after that, they lose 15% each decade.

“Some experience accelerated loss of muscle mass, especially the elderly, given their risk of malnutrition, physical factors, social factors and medical illnesses,” said University of Malaya Medical Centre Geriatric Unit head consultant geriatrician Prof Dr Shahrul Bahyah Kamaruzzaman.

“Ageing in itself can cause physiological loss of appetite, due to a reduced sense of taste and smell which can lead to malnutrition.

“Combined with poor oral health and medication, malnutrition can happen with low intake of calories and protein, among others, which is often underdiagnosed,” she said.

Dr Shahrul Bahyah said muscle does not only support physical movement and strength but it is also important for the maintenance of posture and balance.

“Hence, it is important in reducing the risk of falls. Muscle function is also important for metabolic functions.

“Muscle is the main reservoir for proteins. It synthesises and stores protein, and regulates sugar level. That is why people with diabetes can have certain muscle weaknesses.

“The fat-to-muscle ratio increases with muscle loss and that too affects performance,” she said, adding that high body mass index does not mean adequate muscle mass or strength.

Dr Shahrul Bahyah said older people were also at risk of sarcopenia, a geriatric syndrome associated with being frail.

“It is not just about reduced muscle mass but also about physical disability, falls and death.

“Hospitalised people are most at risk.

“If you lose 10% of muscle mass, it affects immunity and increases the risk of infections, and if you lose 20% of muscle mass, you will have poor healing of infections.

“If you lose 30% of muscle mass, you become too weak to sit up in bed. Then, you are at risk of getting pressure ulcers and pneumonia.

“If you lose 40% of muscle mass, you face the risk of dying. Because our respiratory muscles are needed to breathe,” she said.

However, Dr Shahrul Bahyah said muscle decline was reversible.

“You have to eat adequate good quality food and keep moving for muscle health.

“The more you move, the better you will do for your muscle.

“What we eat when we are young also reflects on our muscle health in old age.

“People are now having to pay more to eat healthier. The cheaper food are loaded with carbohydrates and full of sugars. This creates an inflammatory state which causes oxidative stress and inflammation, and ends with muscle strength decline.

“If your daily diet consists of nasi lemak, teh tarik, roti canai and you are sedentary, you reduce the lifespan of your muscle.

“On top of the natural muscle mass loss in ageing, you get accelerated ageing because you are obese, get diseases early and age early,” she said.

Dr Shahrul Bahyah is having a talk at Menara Star on July 21 on the topic “The Importance Of Muscle Strength As You Age”.

Seats are fully booked.

To learn more about events in the future, visit

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