We’ve all heard someone explain…typically referring to that paunch around our middle…that their “metabolism has slowed” from what it was when they were younger. There are changes that accompany everyone’s journey from teens to middle years and beyond, but our metabolic rates aren’t a big part of the change. In fact, the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of humans doesn’t change much from our early years in the mid-20s to as old as our 40s and 50s. Metabolic change really begins to trend slower about age 60 when the cellular metabolic rate begins to trend down about .07 percent a year…it will take about 14 years for the metabolic rate to decline by one percent.
But what changes? Well, the human body is constantly at work breaking down muscle as well as building it up, but an older body requires a higher threshold of protein consumption to kick the muscle-building apparatus into gear. This happens at the same time that older adults’ appetites may be waning. The “younger you” could build muscle from a breakfast that included a couple eggs…about 12 grams of protein, but if you are 60 or older your body needs a bigger signal to turn on the muscle-building machinery. In fact, it takes about 25 grams of protein to get things in motion. And breakfast is the best time of day to kick the machinery into motion…for the whole day.
The consequence if one doesn’t give the body’s machinery the right protein cues is a consistent decline in muscle mass, as much as 3 to 8 percent decline per decade. The cycle continues also to create more fat instead of muscle if we don’t hit the protein manufacturing threshold. And other ill effects can kick in. Because muscle cells burn more energy than fat cells, a shortage of muscle cells leaves more sugar in the stream which both build more fat and overloads the pancreas as it tries to process the sugar. And you know the rest of that cycle – it’s called type 2 diabetes if carried too far.
Talk to your older loved ones about getting more acquainted with where their protein is coming from and in what quantities. A useful bar to set would be about 25 to 30 grams of protein consumed at every meal every day, but especially breakfast. Compliment the protein with colorful fruits and vegetables which will add inflammation-fighting to their diets. Top all this off with fiber, not dessert. The best sources of fiber are in the legume and related families of food. The rest is strength training. I recall a human-interest news story from some time ago in which a WWII vet was talking about his secret – 20 push-ups a day and 10,000 steps. He continued to be in great shape, and a great role model for all who wish to live well in order to age well.
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.