Herds of sylph-like ectomorphs can be seen these spring mornings and evenings, swarming along the seawall as they work up to one of the dozens of runs and marathons for various good causes coming up in the next few months. These people are in such good shape that they’re able to carry on complex conversations while running. And chances are, unless they’re doctors, they’ve never heard of sarcopenia.
It’s Latin, of course. Sarco means muscle and penia means wasting. And that’s exactly what’s happening to your body while you’re reading this. Read on -- it gets worse.
As we age, we lose up to 40 per cent of our muscle mass. That’s if we remain relatively active. For couch potatoes, the process accelerates. As the metabolism slows, so does the regenerative ability of the body we’ve taken for granted all these years. Muscles that used to stretch and snap back, now just stretch. Or snap, which is worse. You see where this is going.
When you're young, almost anything can be fixed with a couple of aspirin and a good night’s sleep. But old bodies don’t bounce back like young ones do. Instead, injuries beget other injuries as the body torques and contorts to accommodate the insults of aging. And sarcopenia doesn't help.
Some people run to stay in shape. Others play sports or go to a gym. I figure life is a gym. I climb a couple hundred stairs a day. I walk and cycle. An active life should be enough without having to get on a treadmill.
Which is why I’m in this shape. Round is a shape. Or stocky, if you prefer. I’m sometimes surprised when I catch sight of myself in a store window, because I still think of myself as a skinny kid in my twenties, when I couldn’t gain an ounce no matter what I ate. Now I gain weight whether I eat or not.
Still, I’m not about to take up running, although friends who are runners tell me it’s the quickest way to shed pounds, and they are all slim and suspiciously tall. For one thing, my knees aren't up to the pavement-pounding pace of running. I don’t even run for a bus or a traffic light. If the sign says “DON’T WALK” I don’t, much less run. And I really don't look good in Spandex.
But I am embarking on a modest exercise program that I think will keep sarcopenia at bay, or at least slow it down a bit. I won’t give away too much because if it’s successful, there may be a book in it, or at least an appearance on Oprah, which would impress my wife. But I can tell you that it includes more golf, more strumming of the ukulele (which helps to slim the wrists) and definitely more time in the canoe. Stay tuned.