Baby boomers could be changing the face of aging by seeking better health and quality of life, and embracing the wisdom that comes with age, over superficial attempts to look young but perhaps not so beautiful with botox and hair dye.
That’s according to industry leaders such as Isabel Gomez from Lipofoods and Eloise Joiner from Fonterra, who are happy to oblige with a “silver economy” – including preventative supplements and perhaps more importantly a spotlight on protein.
This is most timely as lifespans lengthen and health and independence become increasingly vital in an aging population.
Muscle bulk and strength naturally decline with age, as the tissues regenerate more slowly. Without efforts to stay strong and healthy, this can accelerate into sarcopenia, a prevalent, muscle wasting condition with multiple dire health outcomes.
Poor wound healing, increased risk of falls, hospitalisation, loss of independence and mortality are just some of the ripple effects caused by declining muscle mass.
It’s well known that protein is important for helping to maintain muscle mass, with evidence that older adults benefit from 1g protein per kilogram of body weight per day – which is higher than current recommendations of 0.8g/kg body weight.
Some researchers say the focus should be on consuming 25-30g protein per meal for optimum muscle protein synthesis.
In older adults, however, muscle protein synthesis is less efficient if protein and carbohydrates are eaten together. The researchers suggest this could be improved by supplementing mixed-nutrient meals with leucine.
The importance of this can’t be underestimated – and the benefits of muscle mass are thought to extend beyond muscles to give protection from diabetes, heart disease, poor cognition, respiratory problems and even breast cancer.
While dietary protein is important in the first instance, protein powder can help boost intake between meals in people struggling with poor appetite, weak teeth or swallowing problems.
It’s not just about protein, though. Poor quality diets have been linked to weakness and fragility in aging, regardless of protein or energy intake. Even one extra meal a day can halve the risk of dying in people with hip fractures.
Insufficient dietary nourishment can lead to malnutrition, a common and often overlooked problem in older adults that can be addressed with regular meals and snacks high in protein and energy, as well as ensuring dietary intake from all the food groups and regular hydration.
Another largely overlooked lifestyle nugget that can make all the difference between healthy and unhealthy muscle mass – and overall health – with aging is physical activity.
Ideally, the World Health Organisation recommends that all adults should do at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity heart-pumping exercise or a combination of both.
Our Cost of Malnutrition report outlines the problem of malnutrition and its various costs – both financial and physical – and offers a guide to its identification and management.
Download your free report HERE.
Some people will do anything to get out of doing exercise, and researchers are scrambling to oblige, showing physical health benefits – in mice and flies, that is – of isolated proteins that could potentially be taken in a pill.
Noting that a naturally occurring protein called Sestrin builds up in muscles after a heavy physical workout, scientists from the University of Michigan were curious to see if boosting Sestrin levels could produce the same health benefits without exercise.
They tested this in three groups of Drosophila flies, two of them bred either unable to produce Sestrin or saturated with it, and a normal group for comparison.
They were all put on a makeshift fly treadmill for three weeks.
“Flies can usually run around four to six hours at this point and the normal flies’ abilities improved over that period,” says researcher Jun Hee Lee.
But the flies without Sestrin showed no improvement with exercise, while those with maxed-out Sestrin levels showed superior abilities to the trained flies, even without working out – and exercising them didn’t increase their endurance.
They note studies with mice also found that Sestrin improved aerobic capacity, respiration and fat burning – all benefits associated with exercise.
Other researchers at Augusta University, US, targeted a different protein, myostatin, that inhibits muscle growth, testing lean and obese mice that couldn’t make the protein.
Both groups bulked up, but the obese mice had similar metabolic and heart health indicators to the lean mice, and better than obese mice that could produce myostatin.
“While much more research is needed, at this point myostatin appears to be a very promising pathway for protection against obesity-derived cardiometabolic dysfunction,” says researchers Joshua Butcher.
Assuming that you can extrapolate these findings to humans – which itself could be drawing a long bow – researcher and sports dietitian Karen Murphy, from the University of South Australia, expresses concern about replacing exercise with a pill.
“There are multitudes of benefits to physical activity beside burning muscle, like heart health, physical health, weight control, mental health and social interaction,” she says. Even cognitive decline can be buffered with exercise, as well as bone density.
And many other nutrients are essential for wellbeing and muscle mass.
“Most people consuming a balanced diet, with foods from all food groups in the right portions, will have little need for a supplement,” says Murphy.
“For some populations an added supplement that boosts muscle synthesis might help such as in elderly populations where muscle wasting is seen. However, to build muscle you also have to work the muscle.”
Essentially, for people who genuinely can’t exercise, there could be some benefits to pills – but they still can’t replace all the other benefits of moving your body.
Even incapacitated people with dementia can derive surprising benefits from personalised movement.
And in a world where people are moving less, getting active is more important than ever.
Middle-aged people who walk slowly age more quickly, according to new research, while fast walkers are physically and mentally younger.
The study, conducted in nearly 1,000 New Zealanders aged 45, found that slow walkers also had older looking faces – independently rated from photos – and smaller, older-looking brains.
People with the slowest gait performed more poorly on a range of physical tests including grip strength, balance, coordination and two-minute step tests and reported more physical limitations in their daily lives.
Rate of aging measures showed they had been growing old five years faster from the age of 26 than those with the fastest walking speed. Slow walkers had other signs of accelerated aging compared to fast walkers such as unhealthier lungs, teeth and immune systems.
Added to that, they had poorer neuropsychological functioning across a range of cognitive assessments including working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning.
Even more unexpected, the study found that walking speed at 45 years could be predicted by childhood cognitive performance on tests of intelligence, language and motor skills.
Participants, born in the 1970s, had taken part in the longitudinal Dunedin study since the age of three, providing regular tests of physical health and brain function as well as brain scans.
“This study found that a slow walk is a problem sign decades before old age,” Professor Terrie Moffitt told the BBC.
The team said the results were “an amazing surprise”, and the first time walking speed earlier in life has been linked to premature aging.
Doctors often measure walking speed in older adults over 65 as an indicator of general health, as it is linked to muscle strength, lung function, balance, spine strength and vision.
These reflect the importance of mobility for remaining independent and retaining quality of life.
More seriously, slower gait in this age group has also been associated with poorer rehabilitation, greater incidence of diseases – including heart disease and dementia – and shorter life span.
“Doctors know that slow walkers in their 70s and 80s tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age,” Moffitt told Medical News Today.
A brisk walking pace is generally considered as 100 steps per minute, or around five kilometres per hour – but of course this is relative to people’s fitness levels.
A good guide is to walk faster than you would normally, at a pace that makes you breathe a bit harder and your heart beat faster.
When you get a little sweaty and out of breath, this is considered moderate-intensity activity, which has several known health benefits such as improving balance and coordination, and keeping heart, lungs and circulation healthy.
In turn, this lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It could also strengthen bones and muscles and help prevent osteoporosis, although a range of different activities are recommended for optimal benefits.
The key is to find enjoyable walking routes – alone or with a friend, partner or walking group if that’s more motivating – and ways to get active that are fun and enjoyable.
Just pick up the pace up a little.
A new study has found that adults over 84 years who eat more protein are less likely to suffer disability, which is a significant problem in this growing age group.
Researchers took food diaries from 722 community-dwelling adults in the UK and measured disability according to difficulty performing daily activities like moving around the house, getting in and out of a chair, shopping, walking and climbing stairs.
Progression of disability, followed up 18 months, 3 and 5 years later, fell into four distinct categories, from very low to severe.
Results showed that adults who ate more protein were less likely to become disabled over the 5-year follow-up than those with lower protein intake, after factoring in gender, education, physical activity, cognition and chronic diseases.
Lead author of the study, Dr Nuno Mendonca, told Nutrition Insight, “We believe that the largest benefit of protein consumption is due to delaying muscle mass and strength loss.”
Protein is critical for maintaining lean muscle mass, needed for strength and mobility, and healthy bone density. Not only that, if protein stores are low, the liver will draw on the muscle’s protein stores to maintain energy levels between meals.
Dietary protein also has a multitude of other important bodily functions including formation of enzymes and hormones, transporting molecules through the bloodstream, manufacturing antibodies and regulating acid-alkaline levels.
Adults in the study who consumed 1g protein per kg of body weight each day were more likely to have lower disability, supporting calls to increase recommended protein intakes.
For a 58 kg person, that could easily be met by eating 2 eggs for breakfast, 100g yoghurt with lunch and a 100g serve of salmon for dinner – all soft foods for people with dentition or swallowing difficulties.
For adults with poor appetite, eating small meals with protein shakes for morning and afternoon tea will help boost protein intake.
It’s important to note that protein needs increase when the body is stressed by infection, burns, cancer or injury.
And to maximise muscle mass and strength, the benefits of regular physical activity in conjunction with protein intake cannot be underestimated.