This is key to strength and function in older women

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In a new study, researchers examined the impact of a high-protein weight loss diet and exercise on women between the ages of 65 and 80.

They found that on their own, exercise and eating higher protein diets could help people lose weight and increase strength.

But combining both strategies doesn’t necessarily magnify their effects.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Georgia.

Overweight and obese women and women in general are at a higher risk than men for physical disability with advancing age.

In the study, the team divided women between the ages of 65 and 80 into three groups: 1) high-protein diet with exercise, 2) high-protein diet without exercise or 3) conventional protein diet with exercise.

Participants in the high-protein diet groups were instructed to consume at least one serving or 3 ounces of cooked lean beef per day, as well as other lean meats, eggs, protein bars, whole foods and more.

Those in the exercise groups completed a multicomponent program that included cardiorespiratory (aerobic) training, strength training for all major muscle groups and balance and functional exercises three times a week on nonconsecutive days during each week for six months.

When the results came in, changes in weight and fat mass did not differ among the groups. But despite losing weight, muscle strength increased in the exercise groups.

The team says obesity negatively affects lower extremity physical function (LEPF) in older adults.

It’s also a key determinant—along with cognition—in whether these individuals can function on their own and lead independent lives.

In the United States, 70% of women over 65 years old are considered overweight or obese.

Scientists are more worried about LEPF because when individuals can’t move their body weight anymore for basic activities such as walking, climbing stairs and more, that’s when they lose their independence.

While researchers expected participants in the higher protein diet with exercise group to gain the greatest benefits among the three groups, the higher protein diet did not alter the beneficial effects of weight loss combined with exercise on body composition change, muscle strength or LEPF, further highlighting the importance of exercise.

In addition, the non-exercise group—despite eating a higher protein diet—actually experienced reductions in strength and little improvements in LEPF compared with the exercise groups.

This study suggests that if older women are trying to lose weight, they really need to incorporate exercise into their weight loss program, especially strength training to preserve muscle mass and strength.

One researcher of the study is Ellen Evans.

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