We are cautiously emerging from lockdown. And now it seems like the time to take stock of our health again. I was fortunate to have access to a treadmill (it had not seen the light of day for a long time) so managed to maintain my cardiovascular fitness (pretty much).
But I found it hard to motivate myself to perform a resisted exercise; I am sure I have suffered from muscle loss. So for me, the priority now is to regain muscle strength. Apart from the obvious – training – what else can I do? New research from the journal Mechanisms of Ageing and Development has highlighted the influence of nutrition on muscle strength in older people. We know that protein is an essential component in building muscle (and that more than half of older people in the UK do not consume enough protein) but this research tells us more about the impact of what we eat and how that differs according to gender.
The authors considered the diets of over 68,000 people (over-60s) and compared this with tests of muscle strength as determined by handgrip strength. In both men and women, there was a negative association between carbohydrate intake and muscle strength: the more carbohydrate consumed the weaker the handgrip. In men and women consumption of retinol (from dairy products, salmon, eggs, beef liver, and cod liver oil) and magnesium (avocados, seed, legumes, and whole grains) was associated with better performance on the handgrip test. Among women, there were positive associations between strength and the consumption of red meat, oily fish, fruits and vegetables, vitamins C, B12, E, and iron. Cereal, bread, cheese, poultry, and processed meat were not associated with strength in women. Men showed a slightly different profile, with stronger performance seen among those who ate poultry and oily fish. Bread and processed meat were negatively associated with muscle strength in both men and women. So, it appears that the importance of nutrients and food items may differ according to our gender.
As for me, I am going to reduce my carbohydrate load and up my protein, vegetables, and oily fish intake for a while, and get back to the gym when I am allowed. Practicing social distancing, of course! You may be interested in watching a little video of strength and stretching exercises I made during the lockdown. They are suitable for people of all ages and adapted for people with chronic illnesses: https://youtu.be/2s9kN8UEZqk
Rachel Garrod (Ph.D. Physiotherapist) specialises in physiotherapy for older people with chronic respiratory disease and other chronic illnesses.
Tel. (+34) 699 501 190