Gabrielle Cocks Dietitian, September 2020

Nutrition, Muscles and Healthy Ageing

Our muscles help us move and are a protein reserve for the immune system.

When you are unwell and not eating much, the body will use your muscle protein stores to keep itself going.

Your muscles also assist the hormone insulin to help control blood glucose levels and protect against diabetes.

It is not always healthy for older people to lose weight.

People over 70 years old with a reduced calorie intake will have a proportionally higher muscle loss if they are doing little exercise or resistance training.

Muscle loss and a reduced lean body mass (sarcopenia) delays recovery from illness and wound repair.

Furthermore reduced muscle or lean body mass increases the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. To make matters worse a slight increase in blood glucose and ‘pre diabetes’ will often result in older people reducing their food intake. This can lead to further loss of lean body mass, reduced ability to move around and increased risk of falls.

So what is the main nutrition message, especially in times of COVID and home confinement?

  • Do not reduce protein intake
  • Include protein foods at each meal
  • Protein foods include: eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese, legumes (like lentils, soy beans), nuts, seeds, fish, chicken and lean red meat.
  • Maintain daily exercise and some resistance training such as body weight exercises or light hand weight exercises that you can do at home.

The main message is to avoid weight gain if you are overweight. The best way to do this is to avoid overly processed foods which provide ‘empty calories’ and no fibre e.g. biscuits, cakes, pastries, chocolate and lollies.

Processed foods which are of good nutritional benefit include oats, muesli, Weet Bix, Vita Weets, canned fish, frozen vegetables, frozen and canned fruit, baked beans, 4 bean mix, peanut butter, flavoured yoghurt, kefir, extra virgin olive oil, Milo and Sustagen.

Social isolation and boredom can reduce appetite so protein foods and physical activity are increasingly important.

Please remember it is physical, not social, distancing – keep in touch and help support our loved ones.