Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Healthy Aging

Healthy aging isn't an oxymoron. You can be healthier and more fit at 60 than you were at 40 if you exercise--both aerobic exercise (brisk walking, jogging cycling, etc) and weight training or resistance exercise. While most of us know that aerobic exercise is important for good health, as we age strengthening our muscles may be even more important for good health. It is especially important for functional health--that is, being able to perform the everyday activities that we did when we were young without even thinking about them. Things like lifting and carrying a 50-pound bag of dog food or reaching the top shelf in the kitchen cabinet or maintaining our balance without worrying about falling. We lose muscle mass as we age, something researchers call sarcopenia, but it can be prevented with strength training and diet.

You don't have to go to a gym to strength train, although that is a good option. Using resistance bands or hand weights can have the same effect as fancy gym equipment--the key is to do it two or three times a week and eat a diet with good quality protein to promote muscle strength. The two go hand-in-hand. I always tell athletes that you can't push protein into muscle to make it bigger--you have to pull it in with strength training.

What is a good diet for muscle? Research suggests getting high quality protein three times a day. Aim for 20 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Spreading the protein throughout the day is better than eating it all at one meal. What is high quality protein? Protein from meat, fish, dairy foods, eggs, or soy is all high quality. Twenty grams of protein is found in a little over 2 cups of milk or yogurt, and 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry and 3 eggs. Nuts are also a good source of protein and make for a good protein-rich snack.

I recently retired after 30 years of teaching and one of my colleagues said we spend the first 30 years of life getting our education, the second 30 years making a living, and if we are lucky the next 30 years enjoying life and doing what we love. Here's to the next 30 years--now I'll have time to get fitter and pick up those weights.

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