By Lisa Turner
The right combo of science-backed supplements, foods and lifestyle habits build break-resistant bones, keep joints supple and strong, maintain muscles, supercharge stamina and help you stay lively for years to come. What to eat, what to take and how to live:
- Put out the fire. Vigorous exercise triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals that provoke pain and soreness, interfere with post-workout recovery. Curcumin, the primary active constituent in turmeric root, offsets inflammatory chemicals produced during intense workouts; research shows curcumin supplements lessen inflammation, reduce joint pain, protect against muscle damage and speed recovery. In some studies, curcumin was as effective as NSAIDs in easing stiffness and pain. Look for products with black pepper extract, shown to significantly improve absorption.
- Prioritize protein. Lean, clean protein is crucial for building muscles, minimizing age-related declines in mass and strength. But as we age, the body's ability to synthesize protein decreases, impacting muscles and bones, and disrupting overall function. Research suggests older adults who ate the least protein had more difficulty walking, climbing stairs and executing everyday activities. Red meat, high in saturated fat, can exacerbate inflammation; emphasize fish, lean meat and plant proteins like beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds—also linked with less inflammation.
- Maximize workouts. The primary B vitamins are responsible for a wide variety of physiological operations, including cellular energy production, nervous system function, red blood cell formation and the synthesis of neurotransmitters. They're also crucial for brain health, blunting inflammation that contributes to cognitive decline, enhancing DNA repair and slowing brain shrinkage. But as we age, compromised gut actions and drugs like acid reflux medications interfere with their absorption, depleting blood levels—linked with fatigue, impaired concentration and alertness, diminished physical and mental stamina, and mood alterations. Research shows supplementing with B vitamins improves brain function, encourages positive mood and lowers the risk of cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer's. Other studies suggest correcting deficiencies can fight fatigue, boost mental clarity and alertness.
- Snooze. Deep, restful sleep promotes the release of hormones known to enhance muscle growth and repair, and too-little shut eye impedes recovery, fuels inflammation and exacerbates joint pain. Research shows a lack of slumber also interferes with the body's ability to convert protein to muscles, and even one night of sleep deprivation feeds inflammation. Shoot for seven or eight hours; up that number after prolonged or strenuous training. If you struggle to snooze, try melatonin; studies also point to its anti-aging benefits.
- Endure. As we age, stamina and endurance may suffer. Studies show beets boost levels of nitric oxide (NO), a compound that dilates blood vessels, enhances blood flow and improves cardio-respiratory performance. Other research suggests beet juice strengthens muscle contraction, increases power and lessens fatigue. Eat more beets, make your own beet juice (add ginger for its anti-inflammatory actions), or look for beetroot powder, drink mixes or capsules.
- Tame Pain. Joint and muscle stiffness and pain put a damper on fitness routines, and ongoing inflammation hampers repair and recovery. Boswellia serrata is a potent analgesic with inflammation-taming effects; in studies, Boswellia supplements significantly eased joint pain, relieved sore muscles and improved mobility. Other research suggests combining Boswellia and curcumin is even more effective for speeding post-workout recovery.
- Strengthen your skeleton. Calcium is crucial for strong, healthy bones, but it's not the only nutrient you need. Magnesium, vitamins C, D and K, and other vitamins and minerals play a supportive role, protecting against bone loss and maintaining density. And studies link higher protein intake with increased intestinal absorption of calcium and improved bone density. Strengthen your skeleton: dairy is a concentrated source of calcium, vitamin D and protein, and plant foods like collard greens, broccoli, white beans and sesame seeds are rich in calcium, plus magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin K and other supportive nutrients.
- Zap Stress. Tension and anxiety fuel inflammation, impede muscle growth and repair, worsen joint pain and impact restful sleep. Tame your tension with mindfulness meditation; studies show a daily regimen reduces stress, encourages deep breathing (important for respiratory health), minimizes inflammation and promotes restful sleep. Establish a regular routine that incorporates breathing practices or use a guided meditation app like Headspace or Insight Timer.
- Fight Fatigue. Sustain stamina as you age with BCAAs—a combination of three essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) shown to enhance energy and lessen fatigue. Other research suggests BCAAs promote lean muscle growth, minimize breakdown of muscle tissue, protect against damage and speed post-exercise recovery. Look for BCAA powders or drink mixes and fuel up before you work out; add beet juice for extra endurance.
- Recover. After fitness routines, replenish with foods to support your body's ability to recover and repair. Excellent options: hummus is rich in protein plus resistant starch, shown to dampen inflammation. Cherries are packed with antioxidants that ease inflammation, reduce pain and heal damage. Pomegranate juice contains antioxidants and other nutrients, linked with faster recovery, less soreness and pain. Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium; it's depleted during exercise, and low levels trigger muscle weakness and cramps, sap stamina.
- Build your bones, guard your heart. A calcium supplement can fill in dietary gaps—but research suggests some may promote plaque buildup in arteries and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, heart attacks and stroke. Get most of your calcium from food and choose well-formulated supplements with an array of bone-supportive nutrients. Be sure they include vitamin D to encourage calcium absorption and vitamin K—shown to integrate calcium into bones, prevent it from being deposited in soft tissues, like the kidneys or arteries.
Is a chef, nutritionist, researcher and book author with more than 25 years of experience in the field of food, health and nutrition. After earning her master's degree in journalism, she worked for the Los Angeles Times and other leading dailies and weeklies. She is the author of five books on health and nutrition. She is also a second-degree black belt and instructor in Ninjutsu martial arts, and is developing a national program to train young women in self-protection. You can reach Lisa at: inspiredeating.com or follow her on Facebook @inspiredeatingnutrition or Instagram: @inspiredeating