Losing muscle and strength as we age…you can do something about it!!
What Do Older Adults Really Want?
Prime Fifty, a company who have developed a range of nutritional supplements for older adults, recently carried out extensive market research on the over 50s (over 1000 of them!) asking them to talk about their health, their nutrition and what they wanted to retain as they got older.
All of them said their priority was to stay active, avoid losing their mobility and keep enjoying normal things like holidays, playing with the grandkids, walking and going to the shops.
In essence, this means that overall musculoskeletal health needs to be maintained and nurtured continuously. This includes looking after your muscle, bone and joint health as you age. In fact, maintaining our mobility and strength as we age is more important than ever.
First of all, we know that exercise is the real ‘silver bullet’ of health. Countless scientific studies show lists and lists of health benefits from regular exercise. If we could put the benefits of exercise into a pill, then it would surely be the most impactful medicine known to mankind. Unfortunately, though, most people just can’t be bothered and miss out on the wonderful benefits of exercise.
A sedentary lifestyle can catch up with us if we continue to ignore this need to exercise as we get older.
“But while exercise is king, then surely nutrition is queen and together they make up the kingdom of wellness”.
Most Older Adults Have Many Nutrient Deficiencies
Some people may get their recommended daily allowance of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients through a healthy diet, and good for them! However, there is a growing amount of scientific data from many food intake, diet and nutrition studies showing that many over 50s are simply not getting their RDA (recommended daily allowance) of a number of key vitamins and minerals. Even quality protein is lacking!
If we fail to get the target amounts of these key nutrients then we may feel tired, our bone health may suffer as we age, our brain may not operate as effectively and we can lose cognition skills. The efficiency of cell division and cell replacement drops. Our joints may suffer as our collagen quality can suffer. Our cells are always being attacked by free radicals in our bodies, which are aggressive molecules which can be controlled to some extent by ensuring we have adequate amounts of antioxidants in our diet. If we don’t have adequate antioxidants we can experience ‘oxidative stress’. This can wreak havoc within our cells and lead to a range of inflammatory ailments, leading to a range of long-term health conditions later down the line.
The Importance of Muscle Health with Ageing
Many of these deficiencies can also lead to loss of muscle function as we age, and this is something we should sit up and take note of. Low calcium, low vitamin D, low magnesium, low zinc and importantly, low protein intakes, can all contribute to poor muscle function and loss of muscle mass as we age.
And looking after our muscles is not just for the youngsters or the gym bunnies….it’s for all of us and, if anything, muscle health is even more important to manage as we age.
As we get older, we tend to start losing muscle mass naturally. In fact, after the age of around 45 years old, we lose around 1-2 % muscle mass each year, which means that by the time we are 65 years old, we may have lost a quarter of our muscle mass! This is called ‘sarcopenia’. Sarcopenia speeds up even faster as we get past 70 years old.
This continuous loss of muscle mass leads to a reduction of strength and balance, which in turn can lead to the onset of frailty later on in life. Frailty can lead to a higher incidence of falls and fractures, the hip fracture being the most common and this is something we all want to avoid if possible. In fact, a recent scientific study, published in the Journal of Musculoskeletal Health showed that about 27% of older adults with fractured hips do not survive longer than one year. So staying strong and retaining one’s balance is important as we age!
Being Sedentary Leads to even Greater Loss of Muscle Mass and Strength
Recent studies have also examined what happens to seniors when they are sedentary and the results are quite shocking.
In a simulated bedrest study, where young adults and older adults were asked to lie down continuously for 28 days, the scientists reported a loss of around 350-400 grams after this period across the younger adults….BUT the older adults lost a staggering 1 kilogram of muscle tissue!
Furthermore, this was after not 28 days, but after only 10 days.
In other words, the older adults lost muscle mass around nine times faster than their younger counterparts.
Also, this study was conducted on healthy adults on a controlled healthy diet too! With genuinely hospitalised patients, this loss of muscle mass and function could be even greater.
Can Nutrition Help?
We can fight back against this loss of muscle quite easily with a two-pronged approach.
Nutritionally, the first is to eat plenty of protein, as protein is the main building block of muscle, which after all replaces itself every three months! When we are older the efficiency of our muscle replacement is not as good as it used to be, through something called ‘anabolic resistance’.
There are many scientific studies which shows that older adults on diets which are inadequate in protein, lose muscle faster than those on higher protein diets. This is not really that surprising. And it’s unhealthy too.
The now (quite old) recommended daily intake for protein was originally set at around 60 grams a day for a 70 kg person. Most of us should get this if our diet is good. But it is now understood that a higher protein diet is necessary for older adults to combat this muscle wasting and the suggested intake of protein is nearer 90-100 grams a day, not 60 grams.
The problem with this, of course, is trying to eat all that protein every day! In fact, 100 grams of protein is around three to four chicken breasts (or eighteen eggs if you prefer!).
This is why Prime Fifty believes that older adults would benefit from daily supplementation of high-quality, specifically formulated nutritional supplements.
The second way of fighting back against muscle wastage is to remain active. The ‘use it or lose it’ saying is quite true when it comes to ageing and muscle mass.
Furthermore, if this exercise can be weight baring, then this will be even better, as this will help strengthen legs; which is vital in gait, posture and balance.
The very best form of exercise is resistance-based exercise, in which weights or resistance bands can used to stress the muscles. The muscles then want to recover afterwards and this is when they use protein from the diet or supplements, to rebuild themselves, so leading to enhanced strength over time.
If it’s your first time in the gym or at home doing resistance exercise, then this should be with a trainer who understands the needs of the older client.
The combination of both resistance exercise and a high protein intake is a proven combination to help inhibit sarcopenia or muscle loss with age.
Prime Fifty have developed four bespoke nutritional supplements specifically with the over 50s in mind. Full details of their supplements can be found on their website, www.primefifty.co.uk.