Research has found that if seniors want to prolong their lives and, especially, avoid cardiovascular disease, they need to put their efforts toward maintaining muscle mass as they age, rather than focusing on weight loss. As a matter of fact, this new research applies even to seniors who have high cardiovascular risk.
Most adults achieve their peak muscle mass sometime during their late 30s to early 40s. After that point, a gradual loss of muscle mass begins and can continue a steady, downhill course into old age. This age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and function is known as sarcopenia, and it can happen quicker than you think. How quickly? People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3 percent to 5 percent of their muscle mass per decade after age 30.
Having a high level of muscle mass helps reduce risk of death, regardless of body fat, says this new study on the importance of assessing body composition as a way to help predict cardiovascular and total mortality in people with cardiovascular disease, which most often are seniors.
The adoption of a more sedentary lifestyle is the worst choice to make when it comes to warding off sarcopenia. When it comes to sarcopenia, exercise has been shown to increase strength. Resistance exercise, in particular, has been shown to decrease frailty and improve muscle strength in very elderly adults. Exercise is recommended on most days of the week, but a minimum of three times per week is recommended to slow muscle loss and prevent sarcopenia, which is one of the biggest benefits of exercise as we age. Research has even shown that a program of progressive resistance training exercises that build muscle fast can improve sarcopenia in as little as two weeks.
- Increase Overall Dietary Protein
Protein is the most valuable food for repairing and building muscle fibers. Studies show that 12 percent of men and 24 percent of women over age 70 eat significantly less than the recommended 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram of their body weight each day. Currently, the recommended dietary allowance for protein is generally 50 grams of protein per day or 0.8 gram per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight a day for men and women 19 years of age and older. However, recent research shows that higher levels of dietary protein are needed for adults 65 years and older.
To figure out how much protein you need, take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.45. This gives you your body weight in kilograms. Next, multiply that number by 1.2 to reach the recommended grams of protein per day. For example, a person who weighs 150 pounds or 67.5 kilograms should aim for about 81 grams of protein per day. Most meat, poultry and fish have about 7 grams of protein in an ounce. One cup of milk or one egg has about 8 grams of protein. You can add high-protein snacks to your diet as well.
- Choose Protein Wisely
When it comes to positively impacting sarcopenia, it’s not just how much protein you eat, but also what type of protein you consume. Not all protein is created equal, and the type of protein you eat also seems to play a role in preventing muscle loss.
The amino acid leucine has been shown to preserve body muscle. Leucine is an essential amino acid, which means our bodies cannot produce it, so we must get it from dietary sources. A 2010 study showed that the ingestion of leucine-enriched essential amino acids stimulates muscle protein synthesis to a similar extent in both young and elderly individuals. Leucine is found in higher amounts in animal foods, including beef, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and products made with milk. It’s also found in soybeans and, to a lesser extent, other beans, nuts and seeds. Of course, I always recommended choosing the best quality of these food items.
The best protein foods to include in your diet are the following:
- Grass-fed beef
- Whey protein (organic, ideally from raw goat milk)
- Wild-caught fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc.)
- Organic chicken
- Black beans (or other beans)
- Raw milk
- Kefir or yogurt
- Free-range eggs
- Raw cheese
- Up Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to influence muscle protein metabolism and mitochondrial physiology in the context of human aging. The omega-3 fatty acid EPA has been found to preserve muscle mass under various physiological conditions. Like EPA, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA has anti-inflammatory effects, which scientists believe may be of value in managing sarcopenia.
A 2015 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fish oil-derived omega-3 fatty acid supplementation slowed the normal decline in muscle mass and function in older adults and should be considered a therapeutic approach for preventing sarcopenia and maintaining physical independence in older adults.
You can consider supplementing with fish oil or flaxseed oil to increase your omega-3 acid intake.
- Hormone Balance
Hormonal factors can significantly affect muscle mass. If you’re 40 years of age or older, you can have annual blood work done to track your hormone levels. If necessary, deficiencies of essential hormones, such as growth hormone, DHEA and testosterone, can be addressed using natural supplementation under a doctor’s supervision. There are also many ways to balance hormones naturally, which is important to prevent muscle loss.
There are other ways for seniors to improve health and remain independent at home. An Acti-Kare caregiver could assist those who live alone around the house and provide the stimulation seniors need to stay active through our specialized Acti-Vate program™ aimed at keeping seniors moving and active. Contact your local office today to learn more.