How You Can Maintain Muscle Mass with Aging
Loss of muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, is a common and potentially deadly accompaniment to aging and good nutrition proves to be a powerful ally to help counter this debilitating state. Maintaining muscle mass is fundamental to ensuring a healthy metabolism and plays a defining role in maintaining functionality in old age.
In fact, muscular strength, especially of the torso and upper extremities, is the single greatest determinant of independence in the senior years. (And we need to get the word out on this!) Additionally, strength and muscle mass provide protection against fractures and other debilitating injuries.
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The International Osteoporosis Foundation recently sought to review past, worldwide studies to identify the most effective nutritional avenues for preventing loss of muscle mass, known as sarcopenia. Their scientific review identified the following key strategies:
- Optimal protein intake: As we age, it takes higher doses of protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Unfortunately, most people eat less, not more protein as they age. The ideal intake of daily protein based on this evaluation was 1 to 1.2 grams/kilogram of body weight a day. For a clearer perspective – that is about ½ your body weight in pounds. In other words, if you weight 150 pounds you would need 75 grams of protein a day. Based on my experience, I would estimate that less than 10% of the elderly are getting optimal intakes of protein for maintaining or building muscle. (Those with kidney disease need to consult with their healthcare provider about optimal protein requirements).
- Adequate vitamin D intake: Vitamin D plays a pivotal role in the preservation of muscle mass and muscle function. To ensure adequate intakes, get regular, safe sun exposure, consume vitamin D rich foods regularly (fortified dairy products, eggs, and oily fish), and take a daily vitamin D supplement. I recommend 2000 IU’s of vitamin D3 a day for adults or as directed by your healthcare provider based on your blood level measurements.
- An alkaline-based vs. an acid-based diet: Meats, sweets, and processed grains and carbohydrates give rise to acidic metabolic by-products. Consuming fruits and veggies provides an alkalizing effect on the body. For best results, consume an abundance of fruits and veggies while restricting meats, sweets, and processed foods.
There is growing evidence that vitamin B12 and folic acid are also important for improving muscle mass and strength. If you are age 50 or older, get your blood levels periodically checked to be sure you do not need supplements. Please also note that resistance exercise (yoga, bands, Pilates, free weights, and weight machines) is essential for maintaining muscle mass with aging and the most powerful of all muscle-preserving strategies! Strive for 15-20 minutes (that is about a minute a muscle) twice a week.
(Osteoporosis International 2012; DOI 10.1607/s 00198-012-2236-4)
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