Your muscles serve essential functions in your day-to-day life, allowing you to start your day by getting out of bed, engaging in your daily activities like walking, running and even crossing race-day finish lines. However, starting at the age of 40, adults can lose up to 8 percent of muscle mass per decade and after 70 years old, that rate can potentially double[i]. When a person loses a large amount of muscle mass along with strength and function as they age, they experience advanced muscle loss which is also known as sarcopenia. Despite relying on your muscles extensively every day, there are many intriguing aspects about them that remain unknown.
Prof. Dr Agam Vora, Senior Consultant Chest Physician and Medical Director at Vora Clinic, Mumbai has compiled a list of lesser-known facts about your muscles along with some tips on how to optimize your muscle health through proper nutrition as you age.
Muscle Health as an Important Health Indicator
The condition and vitality of your muscles can serve as an indicator of potential health risks beyond just muscular well-being. A study published in The Lancet[ii] found that muscle strength can determine the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease more accurately than systolic blood pressure. Additionally, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who have higher muscle mass are also likely to experience better respiratory outcomes.
Together, muscles work like a huge organ, impacting mobility, balance, strength and even metabolism. People with advanced muscle loss or sarcopenia can have adverse health outcomes, especially those living with chronic diseases. Some negative outcomes can be a poorer quality of life, more surgical complications, lower physical function and overall lower survival than those with more muscle mass.
Muscle mass and strength are important indicators of health status. They should be regularly evaluated by a doctor just like routine assessments of blood pressure or heart rate. Moreover, the proportion of muscle mass in relation to fat mass, known as body composition, emerges as a more comprehensive measure of overall health compared to the commonly used body mass index (BMI).
The Link Between Muscles and Immunity
When it comes to ensuring good health, fortifying your immune system and minimizing the risk of bacterial and viral infections cannot be overlooked. Muscles play crucial in building a strong immune system. Scientific research has demonstrated that muscle tissue actively contributes to the activation of immune cells, and individuals with lower muscle mass and strength may experience diminished immune function[iii]. Maintaining an active lifestyle proves beneficial for overall health.
To bolster your immune health, there is a need to assess your dietary choices. Make lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and low-fat dairy the focal points of your meals. This harmonious blend of foods provides essential micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, iron, and antioxidants, all of which fortify the immune system and rejuvenate muscle health. By adopting a balanced diet enriched with these vital nutrients, you can unleash the full potential of a resilient and thriving immune system.
Role of Protein in A Muscle-Strengthening Diet
While a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a decline in muscle mass and accelerate sarcopenia, your body also becomes less efficient at utilizing the protein you eat to build muscles as you age. To ensure ideal nutrition for your overall health as well as your muscles, try to add beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) along with your daily protein intake in your diet. It’s a natural compound that can help preserve muscle mass in healthy older adults[iv]. You can get it in small quantities from foods like avocados, grapefruit and cauliflower. You can also find it as an ingredient alongside protein in dietary nutritional supplements. To ensure you are getting enough protein to stay strong and avoid falls, try these tips:
- Start the day with a high-protein breakfast. Eggs, mashed beans on whole-wheat bread or cottage cheese with fresh fruit are all great choices
- Consume a protein-rich afternoon snack. Half of a turkey sandwich, Greek yoghurt with berries, cheese and whole-grain crackers or a protein shake are some options
- Choose a protein-rich main course for lunch and dinner. Top picks include grilled chicken, fish and shrimp; stir-fried veggies; and seared tofu
- End the day with a protein-packed snack like a chia pudding[v]
It is highly advisable to seek advice from your doctor on effective strategies to combat sarcopenia by preserving muscle, enhancing strength, and maintaining balance. Whether it involves fine-tuning your diet or incorporating suitable exercises into your routine, their professional recommendations, combined with these fundamental guidelines, can empower you to achieve and maintain optimal health as you embrace the ageing process