The world’s population is ageing, particularly in Western countries. It is estimated that by 2035, the majority of the UK population will be over 40 (ONS), which calls for specific dietary approaches to promote health and independence later in life. Physical well-being partly relies on muscle and bone mass. Many of the diseases suffered by older persons are a result of lasting dietary imbalances and lack of physical activity.
Yet, it is never too late to change your habits and prepare for a long and healthy life.
Healthy Ageing is « the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age” WHO.
The role of proteins
Proteins are essential from conception, as they allow the growth and maintenance of tissues. They contribute to the structure of our bodies, from muscle to skin, facilitate chemical reactions (enzymes), participate to the immune (antibodies) and endocrine systems (hormones), help maintain pH, balance fluids, and act as carriers (haemoglobin for oxygen).
There is a physiological mechanism of recycling of amino acids, which means that we only need to compensate for the proteins/amino acids that are excreted, especially since adults are mostly in a maintenance phase…
Protein and muscle
Muscles are made up by proteins. When we exercise we « use » the proteins in our muscles, which must then be « rebuild ». Significant decline in muscle mass and strength is observed from the age of 40 but nutrition guidelines only recommend to increase the intake of protein from the age of 65, from 0.8g per kilo per day (WHO, roughly 55g for a 70kg adult) to 1-1,2g per kilo per day for healthy individuals. Should these be reviewed?
It is important to remember that we do not store proteins, extra protein is not used efficiently by the body and may result in a metabolic burden on the bones, kidneys, and liver. In Western countries, where access to a variety food is very easy, lacking protein in is almost impossible, whatever your diet: indeed proteins are found in carbohydrates, legumes, dairy, fish, meat…
A recent study confirmed that the protein requirements were indeed higher in older adults, but that 1g per kilo per day is enough. There is no need to stress about your protein intake or worth, spend your money in useless protein bars/shakes/powders etc.
The crucial aspect of healthy ageing is maintaining a good level of physical activity to keep your muscle mass and strength and promote mobility. Exercise helps fight muscle loss, bone loss, and is beneficial for mental health.
Engaging in regular moderate and high intensity strength training and exercise is crucial to prepare your body for healthy ageing. It is useful to combine endurance training with weight training to strengthen bones, muscles and the cardiovascular system more effectively.
Some ideas: brisk walking, cycling, climbing the stairs, gardening, dancing, swimming… The NHS website provides additional resources here.