Thriving as we age: The health benefits of milk
For whatever reason, reports in the media that discuss health in our older years are often geared towards managing health conditions. It is easy to think that as we age there is an inevitable decline in health and wellbeing, which does not appear to bode well for our future enjoyment of our older years. This is just not the case, and I think it’s important to shift the focus to lifestyle behaviours that research shows keep people thriving in older age.
Good nutrition, appropriate exercise and adequate sleep all play substantial roles in keeping us thriving in our later years and, with regards to nutrition, it’s important to maximise nutrients in the food choices we consume — particularly as appetite can diminish as we age.
The protein, calcium and vitamin D combo
A few weeks ago I described at length the importance of bone health in maintaining good physical and mental health in our older years. Protein is particularly important in this instance, however research shows that it is the combination of protein, calcium and vitamin D together that is best for maintaining and improving bone mineral density as we age.
As milk provides all three of these nutrients, regularly consuming it as part of an everyday diet is an easy way to ensure these needs are met. This also extends to the amount of muscle we are able to maintain. The more muscle we maintain as we age, the healthier we are. Sarcopenia is a condition that describes a loss of muscle tissue and strength that is often seen in older age groups.
Again, this is not an inevitable part of ageing and an adequate intake of protein and calories, combined with weight-bearing training, can prevent and even reverse the reduction in skeletal muscle. The combination of the two also helps to improve muscle function, balance and agility.
While it is actually a really good idea to do resistance basedtraining such as weight training or body weightexercises, this does not need to be based in the gym: it can be anything that is going to provide a load to thebody. Tai chi and yoga have been shown to improveco-ordination, balance and muscle strength, as have golf, racquet sports and hiking in the outdoors.
To maximise the strength and muscle gains, timing a snack in the hour after exercise is important, and 200ml of milk will provide up to 9g of protein, especially if choosing the no-added permeate milk that has recently hit our shelves. Not adding permeate means that the milk will have higher amounts of protein and calcium, clearly a nutritional boost for anyone consuming it.
Difficulty in falling asleep is something many people experience, particularly as we age. But, again, insomniais not an inevitable part of ageing. Sleep is essential for restoration and recuperation; a time for muscle tissue to be repaired, hormones to be replenished and memories to be consolidated (to name a few functions).
Research shows that time spent being active and the consumption of dairy are both positively associated with sleep as we age. One particular study found that participants who consumed more than one litre of milk per week were less likely to report difficulty in falling asleep compared to those who did not consume any milk.
An amino acid in milk, tryptophan, is involved in the production of melatonin, otherwise known as our sleep hormone.The researchers suggest this is the likely reason for the sleep-promoting benefits of milk, and this is going to be enhanced when consumed alongside other protein-rich food, such as this roast pork dish.