By James Staring, Fit to Last
“Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d” Daniel Defoe, The Political History Of The Devil, 1726
In the same way that death and taxes can be firmly believed, so can the fact that we are all getting older.
Exercise and proper nutrition are not the panacea to stop the ageing process – nor are they the recipe for the fountain of youth. However, exercise and proper nutrition are a brilliant ‘prevention strategy’ to help delay the effects of ageing; enabling you to enjoy life more and for longer.
As you age three things happen:
- Loss of lean muscle mass
- Increased difficulty to lose weight
- Loss of bone strength
Let’s look at each and understand why these changes take place – and what we can do about it in order to slow the aging process.
1) LOSS OF MUSCLE MASS
Between the ages of 25 and 65, people lose about five pounds of lean muscle mass each decade, with this process accelerating after the age of 60.
A significant cause of loss of muscle mass as we age is sarcopenia (from the Greek translation ‘poverty of flesh’), which is to our muscles what osteoporosis is to our bones. As we age our muscles lose their ability to respond to growth-encouraging substances, one of which is insulin. Insulin resistance also being a contributing factor in obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.
Nutrition as prevention
Here are a few nutritional interventions that will help prevent age-related muscle loss. These suggestions are not age-specific, therefore regardless of how old you are they can be implemented straight away.
Non-processed carbohydrates: switch your carbohydrates from processed to unprocessed (simply, ditch the white bread and white rice, opt for the whole grains). You will stabilise your blood sugar and avoid insulin resistance.
Omega 3: make sure you are consuming 2-3 portions of oily fish per week (i.e. mackerel, fresh water salmon) to make sure you are getting sufficient Omega 3 in your diet. This will ensure that your cells are healthy and the required nutrients will get where they need to go. Also, Omega 3 regulates hormone production. (N.B. If you are vegetarian, algae is an effective alternative).
Colourful fruit and vegetables: think bright and deep colours in your fruit and vegetables, and make sure you are having five to seven portions a day. In addition to the antioxidant qualities of berries and apples, multi-coloured vegetables carry a range of different nutrients, so consume the rainbow and load up!
2) INCREASED DIFFICULTY TO LOSE WEIGHT
After the age of 25, with each passing decade individuals experience a 2-4% decline in their Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). This is the calorie requirement to perform your body’s daily functions.
Decline in RMR
According to Dr. John Berardi from Precision Nutrition, a 25 year old with an RMR of 1500 calories will see that figure decrease to 1400 by age 35, with this decrease continuing over the decades. What this means is that as you age it becomes more difficult to lose weight. A contributing factor also is the tendency toward decreasing activity levels as we get older.
Preventing a decline in RMR
Yes, you knew this was coming. Starting an exercise regime now will help you retain muscle mass as you get older. By getting into a regular habit of exercise (this can include walking, swimming, yoga, or other activities involving your whole body), you will maintain muscle mass while at the same time improving joint health. Full body activities performed correctly will help maintain joint health through putting your joints through a full range of motion, thereby keeping your joints in good working order.
3) LOSS OF BONE STRENGTH
A natural consequence of ageing is that our hormone production decreases. The onset of menopause (for women) which includes the decrease in estrogen production starts at an average age of 51. The male decline in testosterone production (andropause) begins after age 30, decreasing at a rate of 1% per year. An important side effect of this decrease in hormonal output is increased risk of osteoporosis, or a loss of bone strength.
Preventing loss of bone strength
Supervised weight bearing and resistance training using exercises that load the bone along the length will help prevent osteoporosis, but please visit your physician before starting an exercise programme.
By loading ‘along the length’ of bone, we’re referring to exercises that use more than one joint, or complex movements (for example, a squatting motion is more effective at loading than a leg extension, because more joints are utilised in the former than the latter).
By using this guideline when choosing exercises, you will help decrease bone loss as you age, as well as increase your metabolism which will also help you control weight as well as retain muscle mass.
No one wants to get old, but if you start to exercise regularly and eat properly now, you can keep yourself in a ‘state of denial’ and fend off the clock for a lot longer, smiling along the way.