World experts advise that consuming adequate amounts of good quality proteins across the day, such as those found in dairy products, can help to preserve muscles into old age. “Timing and type of protein are key”, says Dr. Lex Verdijk, from Maastricht University, who recently spoke at the World Congress on Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculskeletal Diseases, in Malaga, Spain (14th-17th April, 2016). Dr. Marianne Walsh, Nutrition Manager with the National Dairy Council reports from the Congress attended by over 3,500 clinicians and international experts to discuss and exchange latest research.
LIFE – A BED OF ROSES
If you had a beautiful bunch of roses, you might place them in the conditions that best prolong their life, to delay the inevitable wilting of the blooms. Similarly, when it comes to ageing, many of us think of aesthetics and attempt to delay our own journey from full bloom by covering up the grey hairs or investing in an anti-wrinkle cream, but we often forget about one of the greatest markers of youth: our muscles.
Numerical age indicates our chronological ageing, but metabolic health is perhaps the best indicator of our biological ageing. Apart from giving us strength and youthful definition, our muscles also play a vital role in our metabolic health. Like a beautiful bunch of roses, we all want to stand firm and strong for as long as possible and that’s why maintaining muscle mass is perhaps one of the most important steps in preseving youth and prolonging vitality.
MUSCLES: NOT JUST FOR FLEXING
We all know that our muscles are vital for movement, supporting our skeleton and positioning our posture, but why are they important as we age?
The word sarcopenia, coming from the Greek ‘sarx’, for flesh and ‘penia’ for loss, describes the progressive decline in muscle mass that accompanies ageing. Generally speaking, after the age of 50 we naturally lose about 1 % of our muscle mass per year. These small losses go mostly unnoticed, but over time they can accumulate, resulting in decreased strength and function. Initially, it may be that we don’t look as toned as before or maybe we don’t feel strong enough to run up a flight of stairs but fast forward and the impact can be more devastating.
In Ireland, there are currently 1.1 million people over the age of 60 and this figure is set to more than double in the next 25 years, with the greatest increase being in the over 85 age group. While, it is great news that people are living longer, such increases in the proportion of elderly living in our population means that the prevalence of sarcopenia is set to increase, creating a major public health burden.
As sarcopenia is characterised by a progressive decline in muscle mass and strength, it can lead to physical disability, frailty and poor quality of life. In reality, this can translate to being unable to complete everyday tasks such as getting out of bed unaided or being able to lift one’s self off the toilet. Sarcopenia also increases the risk of falls and fractures, which in turn cause loss of independence and an increased risk of death.
PREVENTION: WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Speaking at a symposium dedicated to Sarcopenia at the World Congress, Dr Lex Verdijk explained that “skeletal muscle represents the most abundant tissue in the human body, accounting for up to 50% of body weight in young adults”. Each day, about 1-2 % of this muscle is broken down and rebuilt but our ability to regenerate muscle tissue is reduced with ageing. Exercise, combined with good quality protein, such as that found in dairy, is a potent stimulator of muscle growth and they are therefore vital factors that most people can incorporate to help prevent the onset of sarcopenia.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
In terms of exercise, the important thing to remember is that it gets easier when it is built into a routine. Signing up to an exercise class in advance or commiting to meet a friend for a brisk walk can help to stay motivated. Before jumping in the car or using the elevator, ask yourself if you could walk instead. Any exercise is better than none and the best types to stimulate muscle growth are ‘resistance’ types, which are weight bearing or involve impact. Examples include brisk walking, running, lifting weights or step-aerobics. If you are not sure where to start, ask an expert for advice.
In terms of nutrition, aim to have a varied diet, rich in fruit and vegetables and good quality protein. Try to avoid highly processed foods or excessive alcohol consumption.
Remember that not all proteins are the same and that type, amount and timing are important. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids, with an amino acid called leucine being one of the most effective at stimulating muscle growth. Protein sources which are rich in leucine include lean meat, eggs and dairy. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are not only good sources of protein but also contain a matrix of other vital nutrients including calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, iodine, potassium and phosphorus.
The Department of Health recommend three servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day. Examples of a serving include a 200 ml glass of milk, a 125 ml pot of yogurt or a 25 g portion of cheese (match-box size). For optimal benefit to muscles, try to consume such protein containing foods across the main meals of the day and after exercise.