Health Advice



Nutrition News: Building Muscle Later in Life

Charlyn Fargo on

The older we get, the more we should focus on muscle mass and not just the number on the scale. In her later years, I watched my mom shrink from a weight of 175 to 120. With her weight loss came difficulty in walking and balance, a result of losing muscle along with all that weight.

A research study in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases looked at the relationship between muscle and fat tissue in older adults (65 and over) and the connection to all-cause mortality. They found that the more muscle older adults had, the lower the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality. And older adults with the highest amount of fat mass didn't have a significantly greater risk.

The key is focusing on maintaining and improving muscle mass instead of focusing on reducing fat mass -- or the number on the scale.

A similar study on the impact of body composition changes on risk of all-cause mortality in older adults, published in Clinical Nutrition, found that muscle loss was related to an increased risk of death of older adults.

In addition, research has found that body mass index guidelines are different for older adults. Rather than having a body mass index of less than 25 (18.5 to 25 is considered normal), older adults may need to have a slightly higher BMI -- 27 to 30 -- to reduce mortality. In the study "BMI and all-cause mortality in older adults: a meta-analysis" that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that even at a BMI of 33, there wasn't an increase in all-cause mortality. However, a BMI of 20 or below showed a 28% increase in rates of mortality.

Weight loss in the elderly can be a concern, especially if someone is not getting adequate protein and resistance training to preserve muscle with weight loss. Researchers have found an association between eating protein throughout the day and higher muscle mass in adults. Most of us -- whatever our age -- tend to get our protein in our evening meal and less at breakfast or lunch.


The bottom line is the first line of defense for older adults staying healthy is keeping their muscle mass -- taking a walk or swimming or lifting a few weights. Overall health is more important than a low BMI. Eating protein at every meal and resistance training are key to staying healthy as we age.

Q and A

Q: What are sprouted foods and are they healthier than other foods?

A: Any food that starts out as a seed will sprout before it becomes a plant. Sprouts are a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals. Sprouts don't actually contain more vitamins and minerals than their fully-grown forms, but they are more available to our bodies during digestion. That's true with grains like wheat that are sprouted and cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli or cabbage. It's best to let professionals do the sprouting as the conditions for growing sprouts are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Raw sprouts should be washed well before eating. Sprouted grain can be used in bread that is baked.


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