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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Health

Nutrition and Fitness:

What does it have to do with aging?

Candance Gabel, M.S. R.D., Curriculum and Staff Development Coordinator, Family Nutrition Education Programs and Associate State Nutrition Specialist, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension; and Stephen D. Ball, Ph.D., Nutritional Sciences, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension


Have you ever heard of sarcopenia? "Sarco" means flesh, or muscle and "penia" means loss. The fragility we see in the elderly is in large part the result of muscle loss known as sarcopenia. Although, many of us work at preventing chronic diseases associated with aging such as heart disease and diabetes, sarcopenia is a disease that is often overlooked.

After the age of 45, muscle mass begins to decline at a rate of about 1 percent a year. Why? Decreased physical activity levels can explain most of this loss. When muscle mass decreases so does muscle strength. When you lose muscle strength it becomes more difficult to climb stairs, do chores, dance, take walks, enjoy a day of touring, go grocery shopping, or accomplish other activities. How can we break this vicious cycle? The answer may be strength training. A research study led by Tufts researcher Maria Fiatarone, MD, showed that even frail nursing-home residents in their 90s could build muscle and strength. Two study volunteers were even able to walk without needing their canes after the 8-week program.

Many of us find time to do aerobic exercises such as running or swimming. Although, this type of exercise is great for strengthening your heart and lungs it may not be sufficient enough to prevent sarcopenia. Whereas, weight lifting can! You just have to get into the habit of doing strength-training exercises two to three sessions a week for about 20-30 minutes. Ideally, you should perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions on a variety of exercises that work the major muscle groups.

See your local fitness professional for more information if you are not familiar with how to properly strength train. It is also important to get the recommended amount of protein in your diet every day. Try to consume at least .36 grams per pound of body weight of protein a day. Protein won't necessarily enlarge your muscles or make them stronger, but it will help prevent some of the loss of lean muscle tissue. The bottom line to maintain strong muscles and a healthy body is to eat a variety of foods - including adequate amounts of protein, participate in aerobic exercise at least 3 times per week, and strength train 2-3 days per week. Prevent sarcopenia before it happens!

Resource: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, March 2003







Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009





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