Food & Fitness After 50: Is 70 the New 40?

First, let me wish you a Happy Older Americans Month; May is the month when we celebrate those of us in the “older” demographic! May coincided with a conference that I participated in and the timing was perfect.

SCAN symposiumLast week, my co-author, Bob Murray and I delivered a presentation to a group of sports and wellness professionals in Keystone, Colorado. The theme of the conference was “No Limits Nutrition,” and when it comes to older, active adults, there are no limits on eating well, moving well, and being well.

Here is a summary of our presentation. We started with some demographic facts, but I don’t want to bore you, so here are a few of  the statistics that I found most interesting:

  • “There are more people on the planet over the age of 65 than ever before in human history.”
  •  If you are fortunate enough to make it to 65, your life expectancy is another 19.4 years (20.6 for women and 18 for men).
  • But, “healthy” life expectancy is only 2 more years or to age 67 for many of us.
  • Only 27% of older adults meet the minimal recommendations for physical activity.

I think we would all agree that we want the extra 20 years to be healthy, functionally fit, and independent. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I wish I was in a nursing home and had to use a walker to move around.”

Muscle Changes with Age

There are some changes in every body system as we age, but it is hard to untangle normal aging from usual aging when disuse is the norm. Muscle is the most plastic of tissues, meaning that it can readily adapt to exercise and nutrition to regain function.

  • From age 40 to 65 we lose muscle mass at about 1% per year, with declines of about 1.5% thereafter; strength loss is more rapid. Our strength declines about 2 to 4% per year.
  • Seventy year olds are 30% weaker than they were at 50; that is big strength drop in 20 years.
  • Illness that results in bedrest and a decrease in activity accelerates muscle loss that can result in “sarcopenia,” literally meaning vanishing flesh.

A double whammy can occur when we get older with something called “anabolic resistance,” meaning that older muscle is less responsive to the stimulating effect of dietary protein and exercise. So, what can we do?

A Prescription for Muscle Health

  • Begin a strength training program. There are many ways to get started:
    • Visit the weight room at the gym; hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to show you how to use the equipment and properly perform the exercises to get the most benefit.
    • Use exercise bands to do upper and lower body workouts.
    • Try a free fitness videos (we like Fitness Blender) or simple home exercises from Go4Life, from the National Institute on Aging.
  • Eat more protein-rich foods and spread your protein intake out across the day.
    • Aim for 30 to 40 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
    • A key amino acid is leucine, found in milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, and soy foods. Leucine is found in plant foods, like quinoa and peas and beans, but you have to eat larger portions to get the same benefit from the animal food.

Don’t forget to get the heart moving! 

Aerobic exercise is also important; don’t forget to get your heart pumping and lungs working to deliver oxygen to working muscles. Focus on getting a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise (like brisk walking to raise your heart rate and breathing) or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise (like jogging or swimming laps). Bob suggested these simple steps:

  • Reduce sitting
  • Take frequent “activity snacks” throughout the day
  • Walk faster than the Grim Reaper; according research, the Grim Reaper walks about 2.0 mph, so walk faster than that to beat the reaper!

So, to answer the question is 70 the new 40? We like baseball player, Satchel Paige’s answer! “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”