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Back to Symposium 2008

The Impact of Diet on Muscle Mass with Age

Stuart M. Philips, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University

What chronic health conditions should we worry about most as we get older? Statistics indicate that our number one concern should be heart disease, followed closely by cancer and diabetes. The good news is that each of these carries with it a significant lifestyle component. That is, although these conditions may be part of your family history, certain risk factors are well within our control.

Besides the obvious quitting smoking, the two chief modifiable lifestyle factors are a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity. In my view, one of the main reasons why these two variables are so important is that they help maintain the size and health of your skeletal muscle. This is based on the fact that muscle acts as the body’s furnace and both physical activity and a good diet help maintain it. For example, since muscle is the largest site in the body for the storage and burning of blood glucose, keeping it in shape significantly reduces the chances of developing diabetes. Moreover, because muscle is also the principal contributor to the body’s basal metabolic rate, maintaining as much of it as possible as we age is a preventive measure against weight gain. There is now reliable evidence demonstrating that preserving muscle as much as possible throughout life also goes a long way in helping to decrease the incidence of mortality due to cancer and heart disease. My presentation explored different dietary and exercise strategies to help achieve good health as we age. Many of these strategies centre around the maintenance of our muscle mass.

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