This is a guest blog for Move it or Lose it! by certified nutrition coach, Daniel Craig.
It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that when we get older, our bodies tend to become smaller and more frail. This is a surprisingly natural process, and is mainly due to our muscles becoming smaller and less capable of dealing with the activities of daily life.
In the 1990s, this process was given the name ‘sarcopenia’, which literally means ‘poverty of the flesh’. It’s a real condition that can have a severe impact of our quality of life – especially in our later years.
Why does it matter? Our muscles get smaller as we age…is that really so bad?
For starters, this loss of muscle size and strength is a major cause of falls in the elderly. And, losses in muscle are usually accompanied by losses of bone tissue. An increased risk of falls plus significantly weaker bones is somewhat of a recipe for disaster when it comes to bone fractures.
A declining muscle mass can impact our metabolic health and increase the risk of diseases including type II diabetes. However, perhaps the biggest problem of all is the impact it has on our level of independence, and the emotional burden that this often carries.
So what can we do to help older adults preserve their muscle mass and stay strong?
It all comes down to how muscle tissue is made.
Imagine one of Escher’s famous ‘ascending and descending’ sketches. On the same seemingly never ending staircase, one person always walks up the stairs and another always walks down the stairs.
In our muscle, the two dominating factors that regulate our muscle size is ‘protein synthesis’ (person walking upwards) and ‘protein breakdown’ (person walking downwards).
Protein synthesis acts to build new proteins in our muscle, and protein breakdown acts to dismantle and remove old proteins. As we get older, our bodies cannot build new proteins as efficiently, and this can lead to an imbalance where protein breakdown reigns.
This is when we start losing muscle.
Exercise, particularly resistance-based, is a fantastic way to boost protein synthesis and keep our muscles in shape. This is why the Strength element of the FABS programme is so important.
However, nutrition plays the co-leading role in promoting muscle health, and all-round health in general!
Dietary protein, like exercise, increases protein synthesis and reduces protein breakdown, allowing muscle to stay big and strong. Unfortunately, when we get older our bodies start becoming ‘resistant’ to the effect of protein. It’s vitally important that older adults maintain a good protein intake. In fact, it’s arguably more important than when we are younger!
One of the most important pieces of nutritional advice you can give to your clients is to boost their protein intake. Try to encourage them to eat protein with every meal, and not to skimp on this when it comes to the weekly food shop. This will help their muscles stay stronger for longer, and reduce the risk of diseases and falls.