Tufts University researchers are finding the consumption of protein from healthy sources, combined with aerobic activity and weight-training exercises, can help counteract the loss of muscle mass frequently linked with aging.
According to a recent newsletter, it’s estimated that 20% of people between the ages of 51 and 70 have an inadequate protein intake. The newsletter reported on a Tufts study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The study looked at the protein intake and physical activity in 2,425 people over the age of 50 during a four-year period. The scientists studied and measured skeletal muscle mass, protein intake, and exercise patterns. The study found those who consumed enough protein got the most benefit out of exercise. Interestingly, people who did strengthening exercises without adequate protein intake (at least 70 grams daily) actually had lower muscle mass.
The gradual loss of lean muscle mass that can occur with aging is called sarcopenia, which speeds up in later years. It affects 15% of people older than 65, and 50% of people over the age of 80.
It’s a special concern as low muscle mass is a cause of poor muscle strength. This makes daily activities challenging and could lead to loss of independence. Those with poor muscle strength are also at a higher risk of falls. This is why strength training is essential.
Martha Savaria Morris, PhD, a lead author, offered an important take home message for seniors. She advises that muscle mass won’t maintain itself without some effort.
“Exercise as vigorously as you, your doctor and your physical therapist will allow,” Morris recommends. “Begin at mild levels and work up to moderate and vigorous activities, making sure your diet includes an adequate amount of high-quality protein.”
She suggests a three pronged attack on muscle loss, including aerobic activity, strength/resistance training and a diet with the right amount of healthy protein.
In the end, how much protein do you need? Morris says everyone is different, and the percentage goes up the more exercise you get. The range is between 40 and 70 grams per day. For instance, a 125-pound woman needs about 46 grams of protein daily, while a 175-pound man requires 64 grams per day.