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Aging, Frailty and the Whey Back

Aging, Frailty and the Whey Back

Aging, Frailty and the Whey Back

There are two kinds of getting sick that we all face. One is illness. These are conditions often related to our genes and the effects on them by our diet, stress, exercise, and rest.  For example, you may have the genetic predisposition to diabetes or colon cancer. It doesn’t mean you’ll get those illnesses but your chances are higher because of your family’s genetics. 


The second kind of getting sick doesn’t depend on your genes.  It’s just going to happen like gravity. In fact it’s happening now.  It’s called frailty and the cause is lost muscle mass due to aging. Losing muscle mass is a gravity effect of aging. 


And if you’ve been lucky enough to have an older parent or grandparent, you most likely have seen what frailty looks like. Difficulty getting up from a chair, climbing stairs, taking a long walk. It’s often what makes older folks look like older folks.


But now I’d like to elevate this discussion to a practical understanding. What all this means is that getting older is the gravest threat to your freedom and independence that you will ever face. And mostly because your musculature is fading away. 


We lose 3-8% of our musculature per decade starting after age 30. But by 60, it accelerates like a hurricane and we’re down to just 50% or less of our younger selves. You don’t feel the sense of muscularity when you’re younger because it’s like the floor underneath you.  It’s just always there. But when it falls apart, you feel it and know it. 


And it’s even worse than the natural loss of muscle that happens day by day. When we get sick from something like Covid or the flu and we’re stuck in bed sick for a week, the muscle loss dramatically worsens. We lose a pound of muscle in the legs after just one week in bed. 


So the right way to see this is that it’s a break-the-glass moment, a 4 alarm fire in progress right now. What are we going to do about it?


We have to start building muscle, especially in the lower body. If your legs won’t carry you, you’ll have to start being carried. Let’s avoid that. 


The formula for building new muscle is adequate protein and resistance exercise. And you need both.

The formula for our protein needs is:

Your weight in Kg's.  X  1.6g  for grams of protein a day.


Weight: 130

Weight in Kg: 130 divided by 2.2 = 59

59 X 1.6 = 94g of protein a day. 


This is a baseline. The daily protein, in this example, should not be less than 94g.  It's OK if the actual protein is higher.

Dietary protein comes mostly from meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs. (yes it's in legumes but in smaller quantities and harder for the body to assimilate)

1 egg = 6g

1oz of meat, fish, poultry = 7 g

So almost every adult needs to supplement with protein. I use whey protein shakes because the amino acids in whey are particularly good for making muscle protein. 


The second part of the equation for building muscle is resistance exercise including all of the gym machines, free weights and exercise biking against resistance.

And as a practical matter, it's more important to build lower trunk muscles since what we're really trying to do when we avoid frailty is power activities of daily living, for example climbing stairs, getting up from a chair, taking a long walk with friends, etc.


Frailty is one of the most underreported stories of our time and avoiding frailty is a break-the-glass emergency.  Adequate protein and resistance exercise is the only solution. 


Richard Kowal

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