The study, carried out by Deakin University, Australia, found that elderly women improved muscle size and function by combining resistance training with a diet rich in lean red meat. It also showed that the red meat diet caused a 10% increase in a hormone central to muscle growth and a 16% reduction in a pro-inflammatory marker that has been linked to muscle loss and chronic diseases.
Deakin’s professor of exercise and ageing Robin Daly said: "Loss of muscle and cognitive function – ie memory, speech, ability to learn new information – are the two most common consequences of ageing and are linked to the decline in everyday functional abilities and increased falls risk, as well as the progression to other chronic diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
"Given the results of this study we believe that eating the recommended three to 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.
"It is no secret that we are living longer and that this is placing an increased burden on society in many ways, including the healthcare system. With the current scrutiny on our healthcare system’s ability to cope with ever increasing demand, it is more important than ever that we look at ways to maintain our physical and mental health for as long as possible."
As researchers believe meat could also be key to improved mental capacity, the study is being extended to assess its effect on brain and nervous system function.
Daly added: "We know from our study, and previous research, that protein stimulates the production of a hormone (serum IGF-1) central to muscle growth. This same hormone is also necessary for the growth and function of brain cells. It is therefore conceivable that lean red meat combined with strength training will not only have huge benefits on muscle function, but also improve cognitive performance and neural health."
The new study is called STEPS (Seniors, Thinking, Exercise and Protein Study), and the university is looking for people aged 65 years and over to take part.