As you age, it’s so important to utilize the powers of healthy nutrition for maintaining muscle mass and bone density. By eating to prevent muscle loss and preserve your bone density, you can increase your chances of living happy and healthy later in life.
While oftentimes overlooked, nutrition plays an expansive role in our health. Good versus bad nutrition will have obvious indicators when it comes to how healthy an individual is.
One of the single most important concepts for the human body is nutrition. Nutrition can be a somewhat broad term, but in short, it’s just what we eat and provide our bodies with. This includes what we consume on a daily basis: water, food, supplements.
If someone eats very poorly, they will probably have a host of medical issues. If someone is chronically over-eating, then they will more than likely be overweight. The body is a machine and it needs to be properly fueled.
Now as we age, nutrition for muscle mass maintenance and bone density becomes even more important. There are many things that a younger person can get away with at first, but eventually it will catch up.
As aging sets in, some things change in the body and it’s all just part of the natural process. However, much of it can be either prevented or delayed by properly utilizing nutrition.
Two of the most important, and preventable issues include muscle mass and bone density.
Muscle Mass Decline: How to Help Prevent Muscle Loss
As you age, muscle mass begins to decline. This is called sarcopenia. It is a progressive degeneration of skeletal muscle mass.
This can lead to decreases in strength and functionality. This process typically begins around age 30 and increases more once you get closer to 65.
This could be attributed to the decrease is anabolic hormones (testosterone), but there are multiple other processes attributing to this.
Can Sarcopenia be prevented?
Yes, to an extent. It can definitely be delayed, and the severity can be decreased. Some of this may be because they have great genetics, but more than likely they handle their nutrition and exercise with care.
What preserves muscle mass?
While there is still a lot of research to be done, there is one piece of the puzzle that really matters. That is protein intake. As a whole, majority of individuals do not consume enough protein. A good recommendation for maintaining muscle mass is to be taking in at least 0.8g per pound of body weight. Any less than that, and you are going to be missing the mark.
As you age, you should actually be increasing your total protein, because your ability to properly utilize it decreases as well. Not a great combination!
Studies done on specific nutrients for prevention are few and far between, however, there are beginning to be studies on entire diets.
For example, in one study there was a positive increase in prevention of sarcopenia when people ate the Mediterranean diet. This diet is high in lean proteins such as fish and chicken, packed full of veggies and healthy fats, and allows some whole grains and dairy.
The majority of it is plant based, but protein is also a foundational piece. This diet provides many health benefits, it’s hard to tell which component is helping the most.
Regardless, this shows that just focusing on consuming a healthier diet can help to prevent any muscle degradation. When compared to those who consumed an unhealthy diet (lots of processed foods, simple sugars, etc.), there was a large difference in maintained muscle mass.
Bone Density After 40
Bone density is in simple terms, the sturdiness of your bones. Bones in humans are miraculous structures that can withstand very strong forces. There are powerlifters whose bones are able to withstand hundreds of pounds of force!
As you age and develop you are constantly building up your bones. This continues up until around the age of 40. For most individuals, once 40 hits bone density begins to decline. The quality of the bone lessens, and it can become porous.
This ailment is called “osteoporosis”. This effects men and women, but women are more susceptible to it. It will lead to frail bones, which are easy to break and fracture. As age sets in, there is always more risk for falling. If someone was to have very frail bones and fall, there is a very high risk for a fracture.
Can osteoporosis be prevented?
You can certainly help your body prevent osteoporosis. There will be a natural decrease over time, but the severity can be lessened by a landslide. Of course, they are all nutrition and lifestyle changes.
For starters, don’t smoke. Smoking cigarettes reduces the amount of blood flow to the bones, so even if you are eating right and getting the proper nutrients, they may not be making it to the bones.
If you’ve ever seen a commercial for milk, then you’ve heard that calcium helps to build strong bones. This is so true. Calcium is one of the most important nutrients to help increase and maintain strong bones. Calcium is actually pulled from our bones to be used within the body for some processes, but we replace that calcium and “remodel” the bones.
The issue can arise when we are pulling more calcium out than we are putting in. So, as you age a good nutritional suggestion is to keep your calcium intake high! This can be done by eating calcium rich foods such as yogurt, broccoli, and squash.
Vitamin D is actually the MOST important piece of the bone density puzzle. Without proper vitamin D intake, you cannot absorb enough calcium. Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium in the gut and get it to the bones.
Typically, this is one large reason that women are more susceptible to osteoporosis. Women tend to have lower Vitamin D levels than men. It has been reported that 41% of men in the United States have low Vitamin D, while 53% of women have lower Vitamin D.
So, obviously this is important! A good way to make sure that vitamin D stays high is to get plenty of sunlight. Sunlight is one of the biggest contributors to our Vitamin D levels, which makes sense as to why some Baby Boomers may lack it. As people age, they tend to spend more time indoors, which leads to less Vitamin D.
As far as consuming foods high in Vitamin D, you can eat more:
- Egg yolk
- Fatty fish such as salmon
- Beef liver
These are just a few examples of high Vitamin D foods. There are supplements that you can take as well. This is a good route for people who are massively low on Vitamin D.
All you need to do is consult your doctor on what the best dosage is for you. It is, however, very hard to intake enough to cause toxicity (upwards of 60,000 IU a day). The only issue that may arise is a surplus of calcium which can cause some issues such as nausea, weakness, and frequent urination.
Keeping Muscle Mass and Bone Density Later in Life
To review, there are multiple nutritional changes you can make to prevent muscle loss and bone density decline as you age.
Of course, the biggest change to make is just be healthier. You can consume a balanced diet, and this will more than likely change multiple things with your ageing process.
The majority of these problems can be avoided if you work to prevent them early on. Waiting until it happens sometimes is not the best strategy.
For muscle loss or sarcopenia prevention, the big thing to focus on is protein intake. This will help to maintain muscle mass. A good number to ensure you hit is at least 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight.
If you are an early retiree or a Baby Boomer, you may need more than that since the body will slow down on protein absorption. A diet such as the Mediterranean diet may help as well. This is an all-around lifestyle change that has been shown to help with this issue.
Bone density decline or osteoporosis is an issue that affects many. As you age bones can become brittle and porous. Prevention can be started early on with nutrition and lifestyle changes.
One is making sure to get outside. The sunlight will help to produce more Vitamin D for you, which in turn helps bones. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption, which is used to build bones. Without enough Vitamin D (which many people have a deficit of) it will be hard to maintain integrity of bones.
Supplementation can be helpful if the deficit is large enough. Healthy intake of foods such as mushrooms, egg yolk, yogurt, milk, fatty fish, beef liver, squash, and broccoli will ensure that you get ample amounts of Vitamin D and Calcium. They go hand in hand so designing meals that include both is helpful.
Again, eating a healthy and balanced diet will be your biggest ally!
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