Proper diet and exercise today can help prevent post-menopausal weight gain and improve quality of life for years to come:
As we age our body composition naturally changes. Our skeletal muscle mass peaks in our 30s and declines thereafter, as we gradually lose lean muscle mass and accumulate fat. This age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia and can lead to reduced muscle strength, frailty, osteoporosis, fractures, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes. There is no fountain of youth, but we can delay the inevitable by remaining active and eating right. Exercising regularly and consuming plenty of muscle-supporting nutrients in midlife can slow the progression of muscle atrophy and reduce body fat. In addition to the immediate impact on your waistline, developing the healthy exercise and eating habits below will have a lasting, positive effect on your mobility, vitality and independence well into your prime years.
Use It or Lose It: Loss of muscle mass accelerates with inactivity, and strength training is the only established method to counteract the effects of aging on our muscles. Lifting weights 2-3 times a week will help build and strengthen the muscles we need to perform everyday activities like getting in and out of the car, walking quickly, playing with children or grandchildren, carrying groceries and preventing falls. And you don’t have to hoist heavy barbells loaded with cast iron plates over your head to get the benefits. Body weight exercises of all kinds – push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, squats – can have the same impact. Studies also suggest, resistance training maintains and possibly improves bone density and blood sugar levels. Want to avoid unwanted weight gain as you age? Start lifting! Muscle tissue revs up our metabolism and burns more calories than fat helping to keep us trim. (If sedentary or suffering from health issues, consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program. For animated illustrations of strength-training exercises, visit www.strongwomen.com/vibrant/).
Eat Lean Protein: Protein is the building block for muscle. In order to maximize the benefits ofstrength training, your body needs high quality, lean protein.The daily Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein is .36 grams per pound of body weight or roughly 55 grams of protein for someone weighing 150-pounds. But a growing body of evidence suggests that, to build muscle, older adults need closer to .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight (or roughly 75 grams of protein a day for someone weighing 150-pounds). Research also confirms that we should spread our protein intake throughout the day. Typically Americans eat a carbohydrate-rich breakfast and lunch and load up on protein at dinner. Instead, try eating 20-30 grams of protein each meal by incorporating these healthy, protein-rich foods into your diet:
- Eggs: 6 grams per egg
- Fish: 7 grams per ounce
- Greek Yogurt: 23 grams per cup
- Cottage Cheese: 28 grams per cup
- Beans: 12-16 grams per cup
- Edamame: 27 grams per cup
- Poultry: 7 grams per ounce
- Red meat: 8 grams (eat sparingly, if at all and choose 100% grass-fed cuts when available.)
To get protein at breakfast, forgo toast or cereal for eggs, plain Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese. At lunch, top off your salad with poultry, beans or edamame, and for dinner enjoy a piece of fish and veggies. Added bonus: replacing processed carbohydrates with lean protein will help you lose weight. But just because some is good doesn’t mean more is better. If you’re already consuming enough protein for your body weight, eating more is not going to help you maintain or build muscle. The excess will be stored as fat. (If you have kidney disease, please consult your doctor before increasing your protein intake.)
Maintain adequate Levels of Vitamin D, B12 and Folic Acid:
Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium, which is critical in preserving bone strength and muscle function. Unfortunately, there are few natural sources of this nutrient, so it’s very difficult to get enough from our diet. Unprotected sun exposure remains the best source but concerns over skin cancer obviously prohibit such action. Consequently, most women need to take a supplement. Have your levels tested and talk to your doctor about your results. If you need a supplement, consider this high quality D3 vitamin.
B12 and Folic Acid deficiencies have been shown to impair muscle function. To ensure you’re getting sufficient amounts of these nutrients eat plenty of dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, beans, whole intact grains, and lean animal protein. Get your levels tested annually and consider a supplement if necessary. Folic acid deficiencies are rare but vegans and possibly vegetarians may benefit from a B12 supplement.