Our body goes through plenty of changes as we age, and knowing how to properly care for it through diet and exercise is vital.
Some of the key changes occur in our nutritional requirements, which increase as we age due to changes in the body such as loss of muscle mass.
Loss of muscle mass can affect our heart health, physical capacity and strength and ultimately reduce our ability to lead an active and healthy life. That’s why it’s important to help our bodies build and maintain healthy and functional muscles.
Professor Robin Daly, the chair of exercise and ageing at Deakin University, says there are two main ways to head off the loss of muscle and maintain strength: eat more protein and do functional, challenging strengthening exercises.
“Older people need more protein in their diet than a younger person to help them maintain their muscle mass,” he says.
That’s because protein is the building block for muscle, Daly explains.
“If you have insufficient protein and don’t do enough strengthening exercise you will progressively lose muscle over time,” he adds.
But rather than just hitting the gym or going on a protein binge, Daly says it’s the combination of the two that produces the best results in rebuilding and maintaining muscle mass, size and strength.
“People tend to be a little scared of strengthening or resistance training,” he says.
“But once they do it and realise they can do it, the improvements they get are rapid and quite remarkable. It doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym.
“It can be as simple as doing the vacuuming on a regular basis, carrying the groceries home from the supermarket or digging in the garden.”
Protein is found in a range of foods, including red meat, fish, chicken, dairy, eggs, legumes, and nuts, and is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Experts recommend eating two protein-rich meals each day from a variety of protein sources. Including protein in each of those two meals will help ensure you’re meeting your daily requirements.
As an added benefit, most protein sources also contain essential nutrients. For instance, dairy foods are important sources of calcium, which helps strengthen bones to reduce the risk of fracture. To get enough calcium, three to four serves of dairy foods a day, which also contain good-quality protein, are recommended.
Lean red meat such as beef and lamb is an excellent source of protein, iron and zinc while fish is important for omega-3. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends eating red meat three to four times a week and fish twice a week.