Focus on Food and Flexibility
Some say some the best time of your life is once you’re over the age of 50. As we’ve gotten better at aging, we’re healthier and therefore living longer, and our expectations and mindsets for the expression ‘over the hill’ no longer applies. Many are embracing career pivots or happily working longer, creating time for new leisure pursuits and community interests, or welcoming back family members to live with them. Therefore, making healthful living a priority to fuel that lifestyle is essential.
To serve you well in these “best years” of your life, let’s hang out for a bit with nutrition—specifically, good sources of protein and why we need it — and how adding flexibility to your fitness routine can make all the difference in how you navigate out in the world.
Maintain Muscle Mass
Our body composition changes as we age. Starting around age 40, two things happen to our muscles: one is sarcopenia, which is the progressive loss of muscle as we age. We may lose as much as 50% of our muscle mass due to sarcopenia and inactivity as an older adult. The second is that we are more likely to experience a period of muscle disuse, often due to an injury or illness.
To counteract these effects, we need to build up our muscle mass by increasing our consumption of protein — and add strength training to our fitness regimen (more on that in a future post). But, before you picture yourself simultaneously snacking on steak sandwiches and curling free weights, it’s important to consider both the quality and quantity of your protein source, as well as timing of protein intake.
Pack on the Protein
Protein-rich foods that contain a key amino acid, leucine, are best to rebuild muscle over age 50. Leucine helps amplify the anabolic resistance of muscle (anabolic simply means the build-up of muscle). Consuming at least 30 grams of protein with 2.5 grams of leucine per meal, spread evenly across meals versus heavy loading at one meal, is advised. Top choices with both include eggs, chicken, soybeans (including tofu and tempeh), almonds, whey and soy protein powders, beef, salmon, peanuts, chickpeas and lentils. Check with your medical professional for any specific dietary concerns.
Flexibility aka Functional Fitness
The concept of a balanced diet should also be applied to physical activity with a focus on brain, body and bone health. This can be achieved through endurance exercise like walking or swimming, strength training like lifting free weights, and functional fitness exercises, which sharpen balance, coordination and agility. Many consider functional fitness to be the “flexibility foundation” of an essential physical activity program for those over 50 because if you aren’t moving well, you aren’t living well!
Functional fitness exercises mimic the motions you make every day, creating muscle memories that help make daily living activities easier, safer and more efficient. Try the following to increase your stability, balance, flexibility and mobility:
- Yoga and tai chi can help you move more fluidly when reaching into a file cabinet as you put away folders.
- Want to be able to reach down to tie your shoelaces without difficulty? Focus on flexibility stretches.
- Wish you could move your shoulders through their full range of motion without modification to easily put on a jacket? Incorporate stretching exercises that build mobility.
- To avoid and prevent falls, often reported as happening unexpectedly and during everyday activities, add balance and stability drills like walking heel to toe in a line for a short distance.
To see benefits in your everyday living, choose one of the above categories to do each day for 5-10 minutes, rotating through the week. You can find printouts and videos online.
Energy Begets Energy
Knowing the physiological changes that come after age 50 will allow you to make smart choices about your food and fitness plans like those noted in this post. Consider it the fuel you need to replenish the energy you’re tapping as you live your very best life.