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Protein key to staying young at 50

A protein-rich diet comprising fish, meat and dairy products helps in replacing the muscles lost in women aged over 65.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 26, 2008 13:49 IST

Want to stay fit even as you age? Well, older women should eat plenty of protein as their bodies find it much harder than aged men to replace the muscles lost, says a new study.

A team of international researchers has found that a diet of protein-rich food like fish, meat and dairy products helps not only in slowing down the deterioration of but also in replacing the muscles lost in women aged over 65.

Moreover, differences in the way male and female bodies metabolise food means older women don't use protein as effectively to maintain muscle, according to the study published in the PLOS One medical journal.

"Nobody has ever discovered any mechanistic differences between men and women in muscle loss before. This is a significant finding for the maintenance of better health in old age," lead researcher Prof Michael Rennie said.

The researchers from University of Nottingham in Britain and the University of Washington in the United States studied 29 men and women aged 65 to 80 before reaching the conclusion.

Women over 65 ate protein-rich foods like meat and eggs and did resistance exercise. The team found that after the exercise like lifting weights, women did not build up muscle as their male counterparts did.

The researchers speculated that the inability of the female body to perform the same function as effectively was linked to the hormonal changes of the menopause. Oestrogen, which declines during this period, is known to help maintain bone mass and may play a role in the preservation of muscle.

Studies of younger men and women have found little difference in the way the body builds up muscle, suggesting the changes seen in this research do not kick in until the menopause.

From the age of 50 onwards, people lose up to 0.4 per cent of muscle mass every year. This can make them less mobile and at a higher risk of a life-threatening fall. Women are at particular risk as even by early middle-age, they tend to have more fat and less muscle than men of the same age.

"Many elderly people subsist on toast and biscuits. We know that women tend to have less muscle bulk than men as they enter old age so the advice to eat more protein is very sensible indeed," British Dietetic Association Spokesman Jackie Lowdon was quoted by the 'BBC News' portal as saying.

The male body, it appeared, was able to store protein in the muscle and use this to make them stronger.