Preserving Muscle Mass as We Age/Viewing Nature for Health and Longevity
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As we age, entropy kicks in and most people begin to consistently lose muscle mass and strength, a process known as “sarcopenia”. This leads to a host of other aging-related problems, including metabolic disorders, and increased risk of falling. And, if the process is not halted, elderly people can end up unable to do even basic functions like rise out of a chair, or climb up and down stairs, eventually even being unable to walk unaided. All of which makes it more likely that such individuals will end up in a nursing home, or need regular assistance for day-to-day living.
Many seniors consider a protein supplement to be something for athletes and bodybuilders but, as a study from McMaster University has shown, regular use of a whey protein supplement (in this case combined with a few other nutrients) can have a dramatic effect on reversing sarcopenia.
This study was based on providing the elderly subjects with whey protein, fish oil, calcium, vitamin D and creatine, and determining if they could increase lean body mass and strength in this group. All participants in the study were age 70 years or older, and they were divided into two groups, one receiving placebo. The first part of the study ran for 6 weeks, during which they did not engage in any type of exercise regimen. After the first 6 weeks the subjects, while continuing to take the supplements, also added a serious workout program that lasted 12 more weeks. This program included high-intensity interval training and resistance training.
During the first 6 weeks, in the absence of an exercise program, the participants who got the supplements, gained 700 grams of lean body mass, an amount roughly equal to how much muscle mass a man in his 70’s would lose in a year. This of course also contributed to an increase in strength, but those receiving the placebo did not gain any muscle mass or strength.
After the subjects followed the exercise program (twice weekly), they showed significant gains in strength, as to be expected, but also significantly more that the group exercising but receiving the placebo supplements. The successful supplement regimen (given twice daily) consisted of 30 g whey protein; 2.5 g creatine; 500 IU vitamin D; 400 mg calcium; and 1500 mg fish oil (providing 700 mg EPA, 445 mg DHA).
My personal observations on this study is that one could obtain the same results without the calcium, though if one wished to follow this exact regimen, I would suggest that they also include at least 200 mg of magnesium with each serving of calcium, to ensure that the calcium is well and safely absorbed. As well, I believe one would gain even better benefits by increasing the amount of vitamin D recommended. I would suggest taking 4 – 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily (5 days a week). Finally, I will note that whey protein blows plant protein out of the water, not only for its ability to preserve and increase muscle mass, but also for its ability to increase glutathione levels in the body, an antioxidant critical for detoxifying the body. And, for those with dairy sensitivities, remember that a whey protein isolate contains no lactose and no casein, the two components that cause most dairy allergies.
Kirsten E. Bell, et al. A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial. PLOSONE, 2017
Viewing Nature for Health and Longevity
The Japanese practice of “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku) is becoming popular in the West as we try to get people (especially children) away from technological overload and back to nature. Being in nature has proven benefits for health, including powerful stress-reducing and mood-elevating properties. In fact, studies have shown that urban residents were 17% more likely to suffer from psychological problems than those living in a rural environment. Being in nature is proven to contribute to increased energy and feelings of vitality, and reduced feelings of anger, anxiety and depression.
But, for those stuck in an office, or for those times when we can’t be in nature, much benefit can be gained from surrounding ourselves with plants, and even photographic nature scenes.
In 2006 Health Promotion International did a meta-analysis on the benefits of viewing nature scenes. Below are the benefits to be gained from surrounding yourself with indoor plants and/or visual representations of nature.
- Improved productivity and concentration.
- Higher life satisfaction and a more positive outlook on life.
- Improved healing after surgery and other medical procedures.
- Greater tolerance for pain in hospital environments.