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How to stay strong as you get older

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How to stay strong as you get older

If you’re over 50, the bad news is that you’re losing muscle. But the good news is you don’t have to accept that getting older means getting weaker. With an active lifestyle and a balanced protein-rich diet, you can stay fit and strong no matter what your age.

The process of muscle loss that accompanies aging is something that gets gradually and progressively worse throughout life. Its official medical name is sarcopenia and it’s more common than you might think.

3 signs that you might have age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia)

1
Loss of strength – difficulty lifting objects
2
Walking at a slower pace than you are used to
3
Feeling tired

This mysterious-sounding condition affects one in three of people aged over 60 and more than half of octogenarians1. It affects both people with a sedentary lifestyle and those who make an effort to stay in shape, which is why it has come to be accepted as just a natural and inevitable part of getting older.

However, researchers are now finding out that although you’re never going to beat it entirely, you can slow down this age-related muscle loss by making simple adjustments to two parts of your life. And you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s not rocket science. With small changes to your diet and by adding some exercise to your lifestyle, you’re well on the way to staying fit and healthy. The exercise part is however paramount. You simply won’t get the benefits of the protein unless you also exercise.

The wonder of protein

Let’s start with diet – and more specifically dietary protein. Protein is seen as the key ingredient to muscle strength. Why? The short answer is that protein is a basic component of all living cells. In fact, around 17% of our body is made up of protein.

You probably already know that protein is found in a wide range of foods – from almonds, to cheese to meat and broccoli. But did you know that not all proteins are the same when it comes to delivering nutritional value? If you want to build up muscle, you need a protein that contains all essential amino acids. These are vital for our body functions and growth.

Whey protein – not just any protein

This is where whey protein comes in. Whey protein is considered to be a complete protein6, since it contains and provides all the essential amino acids in the right proportions – needed by a human being on a daily basis – and a definite name to remember for anyone looking for a helping hand to increase their muscle mass. And not only is whey a wonder protein for muscle health, it’s also completely natural.

If you haven’t come across whey before, this is the watery appearing part of the milk that is separated during the cheese-making process. In the past, whey was just considered a by-product and often thrown away during the cheese-making process. Happily, times have changed and today the nutritional value of whey is both known and highly appreciated.

Scientifically proven

In addition to being a great source of protein, whey is also easy to digest and absorb. This is why whey protein is fast becoming the go-to protein supplement for older people who want to slow down sarcopenia. A whey supplement taken each day contributes to growing and maintaining muscle mass.  

Stay strong as you get older

Protein is a safe and natural part of your diet

So the next question has to be if you want to get the benefit of protein in your diet – how much is enough? The amount of protein we need to eat every day, changes during a lifetime and varies with health-status and lifestyle, it ranges from 0.8g/kg body weight to 2.0 g/kg bodyweight per day for adults4 with an even distribution of intake throughout the day. Over the past few years, there have been many stories in the media about very high protein diets and whether you can have too much protein. A common myth is that a high-protein diet can damage the kidneys. This has been thoroughly scientifically examined, and a meta-analysis from The Journal of Nutrition found no differences in kidney-function between healthy adults (with no underlying kidney-disease) who consume high- and low-protein diets5. Another myth states that very high amounts of protein you can damage your bones. This has been laid to rest by a study carried out by the National Osteoporosis Foundation (Arlington, VA) that showed no negative effects of high protein intake on bone structure – and even evidence to suggest it was beneficial2

In other words, you can safely use a whey protein to help meet your daily protein needs and get the complete protein6 your muscles need in a form that is both nutritionally efficient and easy to absorb. But as mentioned at the start of this article, whey protein is not alone in having a beneficial effect on sarcopenia. Exercise is renowned for its positive effects on health and wellbeing.

Time to get your sneakers on!

What are the health benefits of whey protein?

Superior nutritional quality and rich in all essential amino acids
Promotes muscle growth more effectively than other protein sources
Supports healthy bones

Studies by the National Council on Aging3 show that physical activity make older people more independent and stronger. Let’s be honest, if you start exercising in your twilight years, you probably aren’t going to run a marathon. But one thing is sure, by exercising you’ll not only preserve muscle mass and increase balance but you’ll decrease the risk of multiple health problems. Even simple activities like going for a walk, doing lifting exercises or taking the stairs can make a difference to your muscle strength – not to mention your mood.

We all know that we can’t stay 20 forever and sarcopenia is going to affect all of us as we age. But if you find the thought of becoming frail and having to rely on others for help unappealing, make a note of the two things you can do to slow down muscle loss: 1) Make sure you eat enough protein to meet your needs and 2) get more exercise. Following these two simple pieces of advice, you can be sure you’re doing what you can to stay strong and independent so you can carry on enjoying life to the full.

About the author
Stuart Phillips

Professor, Director, Physical Activity Centre of Excellence (PACE), McMasterUniversity Department of Kinesiology

Dr. Stuart Phillips’ research is focused on the impact of nutrition and exercise on human skeletal muscle protein turnover. He is also keenly interested in diet and exercise-induced changes in body composition.

In addition to being a full Professor in Kinesiology, he is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Medicine at McMaster University. He is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American College of Nutrition (ACN).


[1] Baumgartner RN, Koehler KM, Gallagher D, Romero L, Heymsfield SB, Ross RR, Garry PJ, Lindeman RD. Epidemiology of sarcopenia among the elderly in New Mexico. Am J Epidemiol. 1998;147:755–763.[PubMed]

[2] https://www.iofbonehealth.org

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/

[4] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/protein.html

[5] Devries et al.: Changes in Kidney Function Do Not Differ between Healthy Adults Consuming Higher-Compared with Lower- or Normal-Protein Diets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (The Journal of Nutrition, 2018)

[6] On www.wheyforliving.com we refer to proteins with the DIAAS score 1 or above as complete proteins.