How older men can maintain and increase strength

by Ruth Nichol / 15 February, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - How older men build strength

Photo/Getty Images

New research has pinpointed how older men can maintain and even increase their strength.

Toast with peanut butter (instead of jam) for breakfast; a meat sandwich followed by yogurt for lunch; 200g of chicken breast with potatoes and vegetables for dinner.

It‘s not quite full-on paleo, but Kiwi researchers have found that eating twice as much high-quality protein than recommended by international guidelines – and eating it at every meal, rather than just at dinner – can help older men maintain muscle size and strength.

And although the study involved only men aged 70 or older, lead scientist Cameron Mitchell, a research fellow at the Liggins Institute in Auckland, says it’s likely that eating more meat, fish, dairy and eggs will help older women maintain muscle mass, too.

“Testing it with women would be the next logical step,” he says. “There’s no reason to think we would find anything different, but we do know that after menopause, women have a few differences in protein metabolism than men, so that would be interesting to investigate.”

Everyone starts to lose muscle mass and strength from about the age of 50, but losing too much – what’s known as sarcopenia – increases the risk of falls and fractures. “You don’t have the strength or speed to stop yourself falling over, and it can get to a point where you can no longer do basic tasks such as carrying groceries up the stairs or getting out of bed to go to the toilet.”

Mitchell says that as many as 35% of those aged 75 or older have lost so much muscle function it affects their daily life. But it doesn’t have to be that way. He says upping your protein intake at every meal, combined with resistance exercise at least twice a week, can not only slow the rate of muscle loss but also help you regain some of your lost muscle mass.

“You can build muscle mass. It becomes harder to do as you age, but it’s not impossible, and you can definitely build strength rather than muscle.”

Several previous studies have found that older adults who eat the most protein have the strongest and largest muscles and lose the least muscle over time. But what makes the Liggins Institute study – published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – different is not just that it was a randomised controlled trial but it also involved real food rather than protein supplements.

The 30 participants had all their meals and snacks delivered to their homes for 10 weeks. Half the men had a diet that contained the amount of protein recommended by the World Health Organisation – 0.8g of protein for every kilogram of body weight a day. That’s slightly lower than the 1.07g/kg a day recommended by New Zealand health authorities. The other men had a diet that contained twice the WHO-recommended amount of protein – 1.6g of protein per kilogram of body weight a day.

For men weighing 75kg, that meant they were eating either 60g of protein a day – the amount contained in 200g of chicken – or 120g of protein a day. It came from a variety of sources including meat, fish, dairy food and eggs.

Ten weeks later, the men in the first group had lost muscle size and strength, while those who ate more protein had maintained muscle size and strength and increased their leg power.

But it’s not enough to simply swap tea and toast for a protein-rich breakfast and start eating more steak. Regular exercise is also essential, particularly resistance exercise. Whereas for younger people this generally involves using weights, Mitchell says simple body-weight exercises such as rising from a chair then sitting down again can help older people maintain strength in their lower body – vital for things such as walking up stairs and being able to balance.

In fact, sets of chair rises are an excellent way of building and maintaining lower body strength.

“If you can only get up once and that’s a struggle, then get up once and take a rest and do it again. But if you can do 15 to 20 of them before it gets hard, then you could start adding weights. And if you’re getting past chair-raising and you haven’t exercised much before, you may want to get a personal trainer to give you a basic programme.”

This article was first published in the January 27, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period drama Colette
102397 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period dr…

by James Robins

The story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a heroine of French literature, focuses on her early struggles.

Read more
Is barbecued meat bad for your health?
102255 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is barbecued meat bad for your health?

by Jennifer Bowden

Sizzling meat on the barbecue is the sound and smell of summer, but proceed with caution.

Read more
March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more