Protein and muscle-building exercise could be the recipe for staying spritely in old age, according to a new study.
The protein and exercise combination may reduce the risk of falls and improve mental function, say Deakin University researchers.
A first phase of their study shows marked muscle-building benefits for women aged 60 to 90 who ate a diet high in lean red meat and did strength training.
Those on a high-protein meat diet achieved an 18 per cent greater increase in muscle strength than a control group who ate normally.
Both groups did the same type of strength training.
Now the researchers want to test the muscle and mental benefits with a more moderate diet of three to four servings of lean red meat a week combined with a strength-training program.
"If the results of our new study are as positive as we hope, this protein and exercise combination could provide the greatest benefits in terms of ensuring older adults can live independently and relatively disease and disability free into old age," says Deakin University Professor of Exercise and Ageing Robin Daly.
Loss of muscle, memory and the ability to learn new information are the most common consequences of ageing, he says.
These are linked to a decline in the ability to do everyday physical tasks as well as the progression to dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
"Given the results of this study we believe that eating the recommended three or four servings of lean red meat a week combined with a strength-training program could well be the key to keeping our body and mind in peak condition.
"We know from our study, and previous research, that protein stimulates the production of a hormone central to muscle growth.
"This same hormone is also necessary for the growth and function of brain cells."
The study, funded by Meat and Livestock Australia, is published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.