Protein and Maintaining Vitality as a Part of Healthy Aging

  • Article
  • March 31, 2016

While athletes are generally concerned about growing strong muscles to help peak performance, we all should be concerned about how to keep our muscles in good, healthy condition to help our own peak performance in accomplishing everyday tasks. Strength – and more specifically functional strength for everyday tasks – can make a difference for people’s well-being, and often hits home as we reach milestones, such as a 40th or 50th birthday, that prompt us to think about quality of life.

High-quality protein is considered a cornerstone of the diets of athletes looking to enhance gains in both strength and muscle size, but it can also help maintain vitality as part of healthy aging. We know that whey protein (i.e., a protein found naturally in milk) powder can help enhance gains in muscle mass for strength trainers, but some may not know that the same results have been observed when protein is simply provided by milk.

What many people may not realize is that we can start losing muscle during the third decade of life if we don’t regularly do strength and conditioning exercises and eat properly. It’s about helping to give the runner, gardener, dancer, hiker or power walker the ability to continue to perform these activities whether they are 40, 60 or 80 years old. In essence, it’s about being able to do the things you love for as long as possible with a good quality of life, and lifestyle factors like what we eat and our level of physical activity can help us achieve this. When I’m approaching retirement age, I suspect I’ll be less concerned about how toned my muscles are and more concerned about having the strength to carry the groceries, go for a run, lift a suitcase or pick up a grandchild.

Why is strength so important? Some evidence indicates that strength may not only be important for activities of daily living, but also an important indicator of long-term health. The Health ABC Study found that better leg and grip strength were strongly associated with reduced mortality in older men and women, but not muscle size. This finding has been observed in other studies as well and indicates that strength is an important indicator for long-term healthy aging in the same vein as other established biomarkers like blood pressure. In fact, greater strength has been linked to reduce mortality in men with existing hypertension.

So, what can we do to help optimize strength as we age? Fortunately, the answer is the same for the aging individual as it is for the athlete: strength training and consuming adequate high-quality protein.