Aging is a natural part of the human existence and whether we like it or not, here is the cold, hard truth: We peak physically in our twenties and have to be increasingly vigilant as we age to maintain our vitality. The crazy part is that there are two simple things that we can control to make the process quite easy, yet people ignore the facts and instead search for magic elixirs and quick-fix solutions. Whether you're concerned with beauty, fitness, quality of life or health, there are two great equalizers:
Lifting weights and eating high-quality protein.
It doesn't matter if you're male or female, 25 or 75, by eating enough protein and engaging in regular weight training, you can slow aging, better your appearance, improve your health and prolong your life, as well as the quality of your later years.
I recently spoke with Dr. Stuart Phillips and his message is clear: You need to eat more high-quality protein. His Physical Activity Center for Excellence at McMaster University has done a lot of research on this subject and their latest results reveal that only 11% of Canadians over the age of 50 are eating enough protein daily to battle the effects of age-related muscle wasting (sarcopenia). Combine this with the fact that only 10% of all Canadians perform some kind of weekly weight training, and this is a significant problem.
The amount of research and evidence on this topic is overwhelming and well-understood. If you start weight training and eating adequate dietary protein in your 20s and 30s, you'll be much better off as you age, but this isn't an excuse for Baby Boomers to give up. It is never too late to start adopting these habits. Sarcopenia begins naturally in the 4th and 5th decades of life, making your 40s and 50s an ideal time to increase dietary protein and weight training, but even those in their 60s and beyond can benefit. They've even done studies on institutionalized, frail 90-year olds and demonstrated that weight training can make a significant impact on strength and quality of life even at that stage of life!
We've known for years that aerobic activity is good for the heart, but it's time to get serious. Walking is great, but walking isn't going to help build muscle or maintain bone density. Dr. Phillips' recommendations for the 50+ crowd? Two weight training sessions per week. Why? Because when you're stronger in old age, you have a lower risk of disease and lower risk of premature death. The stronger you are, the more muscle you have, the less likely you are to become sick or die. Yes, it's great to be active, but without muscle and strength you won't have as many years to enjoy being active.
As per Dr. Phillips' video, which outlines his latest research, here are the take-home points for the 50+ crowd:
• Eat quality protein sources at every meal, 25-30g per meal
• The highest quality protein comes from animals: meat, dairy, and eggs
• Lift weights at least 2 times per week
If you're still caught up in the old dogma that eggs and red meat will make you sick, you need to come out from under your rock and look at the actual research of the past 3-4 decades. Dr. Phillips runs a center for recovering cardiac patients and individuals over 75 years of age and they advise these patients to eat eggs. Yes, this is against the advice of many doctors, but this is no surprise given that most doctors have no formal training in nutrition nor do they keep up with the latest research.
You'll also note that he states specifically that aging populations need to consume a "Greater than recommended amount of dietary protein frequently throughout the day" to prevent muscle loss. This jives perfectly with my explanation of how much protein people should actually consume for optimal health. This is an incredibly simple habit that can make everyone a healthier and higher-functioning human.
Indeed, the key to a healthy diet is to focus on nutrients instead of calories, and this is right in line with the advice above. A 3oz serving of lean beef (roughly 200 calories, for the record) is arguably the most nutrient-dense food item on the planet, with excellent levels of iron and B12, 25-30g of quality protein, antioxidants and countless other vitamins and minerals. This is the kind of food that we should all focus on consuming, but it's vital for aging populations. Nutrient-density is the key to health, and animal protein wins this battle.
Finally, some food for thought: The current Canadian population is 15% elderly. This number will jump up to 25% within 15 years. If the aging population does not begin to eat and exercise in a manner that fights sarcopenia, rates of disease will skyrocket and the Health Care costs will cripple us as a country. With this in mind, my personal message is clear:
If you love yourself, your parents, your children or your country, spread this information and start doing the little things today to help increase the overall health of our population.
Eat some protein, lift some weights and life improves for everyone.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook