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Boosting physical strength as we age
Stuart Phillips: McMaster University, Ontario
A key pillar of human longevity is our ability to remain physically strong and active as we age. Frailty is an all-too-familiar downside of growing old. But there is much we can do to slow down and even reverse the process that leads to the weakening of our limbs.
In this episode of the Live Long and Master Aging (LLAMA) podcast, we delve into the latest clinical discoveries that could help us stay strong and vital for much longer. Prof. Stuart Phillips, director of the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence (PACE) at the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, explains how laboratory research into mitochondrial health is being applied to human physiology. Dr. Phillips is a member of the advisory board of Amazentis, the Swiss life science company, which has partnered with the LLAMA podcast to produce this episode.
This episode was produced in association with the Swiss life science company, Amazentis, which is pioneering cutting edge, clinically validated cellular nutrition, under its Timeline brand.
Published: October 6, 2020 – 3:21PM PT
Recorded: July 7, 2020
NOTES & QUOTES
- PACE – a community access exercise facility for special populations over the age of 55
- The impact a period of muscular disuse has on the body
- Why Covid has had such a marked effect on older people through inactivity
“Most clinicians would acknowledge that a bout of physical inactivity, bedrest or illness is a watershed moment for older people.”
- The classic image of the older, retired person and why the notion of aging being associated with a decline in our physical functions is being challenged.
- Pursuing a goal of aging as healthily as we can for as long as we can.
- Understanding the phenomenon of Sarcopenia
“I don’t think that in your lifetime or my lifetime, we’re going to see the magic, so-called, anti aging pill.
- The condition known as frailty.
- Ten thousand steps per day – why that number?
- Type II diabetes and psychical activity.
- Working with Amazentis to explore the benefits of Mitopure, a pure form urolithin A, in humans.
“I’ve been really impressed with the scientific trajectory that the company (Amazenitis) has taken …. it’s backed by a lot of good research.”
- Making the connection between research in laboratory animals and humans.”
“We’re actually eager to conduct some research with this compound because we think that the upside of it for aging people is tremendous.”
- Lifestyles that give meaning to life.
- The protein question – how much and what kind?
- The declining immune system with aging.
- Why is exercise king and nutrition queen?
“Being physically active is the forgiver of a lot of sins.”
- Is there a recipe for good exercise?
- Why do we run marathons?
- The power of walking
- Spreading the message of healthy aging through social media
“If you’re up for a walk seven days a week, my bet is that you’re in pretty darn good shape.”
The Live Long and Master Aging podcast shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.
Peter Bowes: Hello and welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity. This episode is brought to you in association with Amazentis, a Swiss life science company that’s pioneering, cutting edge, clinically validated cellular nutrition under its timeline brand. Now, a familiar sign of aging is frailty. Physical strength is important throughout our lives. But as we grow older, poor muscle health and all that goes with that is very often the beginning of the end, that slow, sometimes rapid decline that we all want to avoid. And there’s plenty of evidence that muscle weakness puts older people at risk of developing other health problems. Well, thankfully, there is much we can do to improve our chances of living a long and healthy life while nurturing our physical strength. Indeed, longevity is very closely linked to our functional ability as it is sometimes described. I’m joined from Canada by Professor Stewart Phillips, director of the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence or PACE at the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton in Ontario. Stu, it’s great to talk to you.
Stuart Phillips: It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you, Peter, thanks for having me on the show.
Peter Bowes: Tell me a little bit more about PACE. I’ve watched some of your videos online, it looks like a great place.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, PACE is it is a fantastic place, it’s a real pleasure to be affiliated with it. It’s a community access exercise facility that five, what we call special populations, enjoy the use of, so older people, which we define, and I’m always cautious to say this over the age of 55 and then people who are undergoing cardiac rehabilitation, we also treat cancer patients or people who have undergone treatment for cancer and then people with spinal cord injuries and people with multiple sclerosis as well. So five fairly vulnerable populations that have probably adaptive prescriptions for their physical activity for health.
Peter Bowes: I don’t think any of us should be shy about acknowledging being an older person, I’m over 55 and it feels great from where I’m sitting, so.
Stuart Phillips: I have I have one more year and I can join.
Peter Bowes: We need to have a positive attitude about that
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, exactly.
Peter Bowes: Before we delve into that a little deeper. One of the privileges of doing this podcast is actually getting to talk to people like you in different countries around the world. And the question I find myself asking everyone at the moment, living through the crazy difficult times, the pandemic with covid-19, it’s interesting to me just how different countries are responding and how those people like you working in this space are actually responding to the very difficult circumstances they imagine running something like PACE,there are all sorts of considerations that you’ve had to make in recent weeks in terms of bringing people back to that area where you can teach people where you can nurture people, what people can enjoy their physical exercise.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, you know, covid has had a huge impact on our university and probably I don’t think that we’re any different from anybody else. We’ve been out of the university since March the 9th. We closed down all of our research projects as of March 13th, and PACE closed around the same time. We’re very cautious in reopening and pace with the vulnerable populations, as you might imagine, is receiving a little bit of a slow or very cautious treatment to bring people back to what is essentially a large gym with mostly adopted physical activity equipment. So those those folks too, we’ve intiated some online classes and so we’ve got sort of face to face, instructors, physiotherapists, kinesiologists, giving an exercise prescription to a number of these folks. But nothing on this type of scale that we were doing before.
Peter Bowes: And it does, doesn’t it highlight the what I sometimes describe as the collateral damage from covid-19, the fact that people haven’t been able to or it’s been more difficult to exercise in a gym setting as they traditionally might have done, and and also just to associate with others, perhaps other like minded people who they might have got together with as a group to to run to play tennis, to do whatever you do in terms of your chosen form of exercise. It does highlight the problems I think we’re going to have to face in the coming weeks and months because of that loss of freedom.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, you know, it’s an interesting point that you raise one of the things that my lab has been really interested in for the past, probably about five or six years has been the what we call disuse episode. And I think clinically most people would identify bedrest or rehospitalization as being the epitome of that or having a limb immobilized as a sort of local muscular disuse and the atrophy that goes along with that. But we see these periodic episodes of disuse or simply, if you like, convalescing from illness or doing what their people are supposed to be doing right now, which is essentially sheltering in place and avoiding contact with other people as being actually pivotal in an older person’s life because they deconditioned during these phases and, you know, a younger person, probably not that big a deal. They recover, they bounce back. But the older we get, it gets more difficult. And I think most clinicians would acknowledge that a bout of physical inactivity, bedrest or illness is is a watershed moment for older people. And so Covid and the social side of things, as you mentioned, are really big deals in older people’s lives. So this has had an impact on people beyond the physical activity side of things, but also from the social side of things for sure.
Peter Bowes: I’d like to talk in a little bit more depth about that issue, which I find very interesting about the deconditioning that happens when we when we stop exercising for a period of time. Before we do that, though, I like to give all my guests on this podcast an opportunity for purposes of full disclosure, just to talk about any affiliations that you may well have that are relevant to this conversation. And of course, this is a podcast that is being made in association with Amazentis which is a company that I know you work with as well.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, so I’m I’m privileged and very happy to be part of this scientific advisory board of Amazentis, Chris Rinsch, who’s the head CEO at Amazentis, called me, I’m not sure how long ago and now probably seven or eight years and invited me on board. And it’s been a company that’s it’s been an interesting journey and interesting trajectory. And I’d like to say it’s something that’s paid dividends because it’s finally beginning to move into my area, which is an interest in human physiology. So, yeah, it’s it’s a privilege to be associated with them and an honor to be here telling you something about what a great work they do is.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, I agree with that and we will talk about the the melding of the two areas of exercise and nutrition and diet, which essentially is what this company is doing and through your work as well, because all the different pillars, I suppose, are crucially important as we move forward and as we age. One thing I wanted to to start with was the I suppose the common idea of what an older person is like when you describe whether it’s a media image of an older person, someone who’s maybe just retired, or whether it’s just what you are brought up with. And that is the image of a slightly stooped person who is taking life a little easier, perhaps sitting down more, taking it easy. I think you could refer to the rocking chair, if you like. It’s that kind of image of what it’s like to be old and it’s essentially what we’re all brought up with to believe that that is how it’s going to be. Now, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that that’s not the way we would want it to be. Certainly, I don’t see myself as that kind of older person, that kind of lifestyle. But maybe you could encapsulate why that image is so way out from reality.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, I think if you would probably ask somebody about 30 or 40 years ago, they would have said that, yeah, the retirement age and, you know, getting older is associated with maybe doing a little bit less. And I think more recently, people have begun to challenge the notion that aging per se is associated with a decline in all of our physical functions and that we should do less and maybe not aspire to do maybe a little bit more. So people’s vision of how they age and creating their I call it their future self has probably changed drastically in the last I would say probably a three or four decades with the realization that, you know, you spent a lot of your life working. You hopefully accumulate some assets and some wealth, and you should be enjoying time when you don’t have to work anymore and maybe engaging in activities that you didn’t otherwise have time for. So, you know, our view is the obviously physical activity and mobility per se is important in that phase. And, you know, on your show, I know you’ve had guests that discuss the concept of healthspan. I’m interested in the lifespan. Of course. I think we all are. But I’m going to quote somebody from the Mayo Clinic named James Kirkland, who’s a prolific aging researcher and would say that nobody wants to live to be one hundred and twenty and feel one hundred and twenty. So we focus on mobility as a key part of aging and health span. And I think the major aspect of facilities like PACE is to try and preserve people’s health, most people’s vision of aging and is littered with increasing risks for certain chronic diseases. And it is rare, I’ll admit in our research that we do with older people to find people who are medication free and are not with, you know, one or two chronic health conditions. And so, you know, really physical activity, good nutrition is trying to combat and push back the age of that first chronic condition because we know the second comes closer and then number three comes closer to number two. And so not to age with morbidity and have premature mortality, but to age and as healthily as we can for as long as we can.
Peter Bowes: And one of the key issues which you’ve alluded to is the loss of muscle, it’s not physical ability to do the walk, to do the hike or the run or whatever goal that you aim for. But it is a gradual loss of muscle strength that holds so many people back.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, so, I mean, this is the phenomenon of Sarcopenia, that name is now almost 40 years old and it really initially described the decline in muscle mass. And but it’s been sort of, I think, co-opted a little bit now and is associated with function as well. So it’s it’s not just a decline in mass, per se, which I think a lot of, again, clinicians who work in excuse would identify as being a very common outcome associated with things like covid and spending long, long periods of time in bed and under catabolic conditions. But this slow age related loss of muscle mass is something that is also associated with declines in muscle function. So, you know, if you took the checklists and said these are activities of daily living, can you get out of a chair? Can you get up and down a flight of stairs? And once you begin to say, you know, I have a problem with those or I absolutely can’t do those things, then that’s when you’re in full time institutionalized care. And people’s obviously quality of life declines quite rapidly then.
Peter Bowes: And there’s no drug that can treat this condition?
Stuart Phillips: No, people have tried, and I think people would continue to try. There are various classes of drugs that probably will find their use in select clinical populations. But I don’t think that in your lifetime or my lifetime, we’re going to see the the magic so-called anti aging pill that will allow us to keep our muscle mass and our muscle function into our eighth, ninth and tenth decade. So physical activity, good nutrition, or really all we have right now.
Peter Bowes: And as I mentioned earlier, one of the concerning things is the rate of of loss of muscle mass and your ability to do those activities after a period of bedrest or illness or just not doing that activity, just not doing that daily walk or not going to the gym. You can decline after a certain age very quickly, can’t you?
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, and I think that probably surprises a lot of people to know that we’ve done some work where after the age of probably I would say about 60 are our subjects were over age 60 that two weeks of simply taking a reduced number of daily steps. And, you know, everybody knows the 10000 daily step goal that we’re supposed to hit as a good sort of biomarker of obviously health and reducing risk for chronic diseases. And when people take around a thousand to 1500 steps per day, which doesn’t seem like a lot, and it really isn’t, but bear in mind that a hospitalized patient might take about seven hundred and fifty steps per day. I know having wearing a Fitbit that the current during the current covid conditions, I’m probably averaging a miserable number of about two thousand five hundred or three thousand steps if I don’t take it into my own hands and get out there and take the steps. So, you know, for these older folks taking that number of daily steps, we found that with only two weeks they became insulin resistant. They saw declines in their rates of making new muscle proteins and were beginning to approach a state of what we would call pre frailty. In other words, they would have a functional decline, that it would be not impossible to reverse. They’d have to do some rehabilitation to recover it. But without that, that they would be accelerating their rate of sarcopenia and their trajectory towards, you know, what we call a full-blown frailty, where people really do experience declines in mobility and lots of other health conditions as well.
Peter Bowes: And just a little aside, you mentioned the 10000 steps that we are supposed to aspire to and that a lot of us try to achieve or greater than that in a day. Is there any science behind the number of 10000?
Stuart Phillips: That’s a good question. No,I think the science behind ten thousand is sorely lacking. Ten thousand is a nice round number and I think if you trace its origin back, you can probably link it to a Japanese company that picked that number and associate it with one of the very early pedometer models that was that that they gave out. But no, you know, it could be 5000. It could be 8000. But we definitely know down around sort of three thousand or less that people began to run into problems. And if you think about a hospitalized patient has seven hundred and fifty steps, I challenge anybody to do all of their activities of daily living and get below a thousand steps. But that’s what people in hospital where the de facto treatment is bedrest. That’s what they do. But no, nothing scientific. About ten thousand. I could probably say that the physical activity guidelines at one hundred and fifty minutes per week, there is more science about but 10000 steps per day is seems a bit random.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, it’s a bit random, but it is, as you say, it’s a nice round figure and it is something decent. It’s probably four or five miles.
Stuart Phillips: Yes.
Peter Bowes: Think for most people it is for me. And it’s a nice sort of mental goal. And for me, it’s always the goal of trying to get 10001 to 12000,
Stuart Phillips: Yeah,exactly I think it’s a number that gets picked and it’s a good peg, you know.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, exactly, you’ve mentioned step reduction, which in a lot of your literature, you you abbreviate as S.R. and
Stuart Phillips: Mm hmm.
Peter Bowes: This is a central part of your work of understanding what you mean by step reduction.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, so step reduction as a model, we would call it sort of the vernacular around our lab is to call it bed rest light. So again, the hallmark clinical model of deconditioning and muscle loss. And that is, you know, a true watershed moment for older people is hospitalization and then bedrest. I don’t think that any older person would be unfamiliar with the concept of having a knee replaced or a hip replaced, which are orthopedic procedures that a lot of older people undergo, and then the need for physical rehabilitation on the back end of that type of procedure. We think, however, that generic hospitalisations for surgeries or we actually conceived the model more a little bit around. If somebody went into hospital for flu every February in Canada, for example, and probably elsewhere in North America, is peak flu season. And of course, we’ve now entered a new phase where you can talk about deconditioning during peak covid season, if you like. The recovery from that is, you know, hopefully good and people exit the hospital. But the recognition of a need for rehabilitation in those situations is pretty poor. So we were trying to highlight with our reduced step model, which is not hospitalization, it doesn’t have an underlying pathology associated with it, but the simple act of taking less daily steps and less physical activity as being a state where people deconditioned and then have a hard time recovering and older people after we’ve taken that drastic reduction in their daily steps, even with two weeks resumption of their normal daily steps, do not fully recover that fully healthy state, if you like the pre step reductions state. So it obviously takes a lot longer to recover than it does to to induce the effect.
Peter Bowes: One of the side effects of not taking as much physical activity as perhaps we should, it isn’t necessarily linked to our ability to to go for a walk or to go for a run. There are many diseases that can result, as, again, I mentioned, collateral damage. It isn’t just focused on our ability to do stuff. There could be other diseases brewing that we’re not immediately aware of, but could ultimately be traced back to our lack of muscle mass muscle health and that lack of physical activity.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, I mean, I think that the one that probably most people could identify with is Type two diabetes. I mean, the deconditioning that is associated with all kinds of things and just normal sedentary lifestyle is obviously a contributing factor to the development of Type two diabetes. And key to that, then, is the organelle inside the cell and inside muscle cell, which Amazentis to us has been quite concerned with. And that’s the cellular mitochondria we know for. We’ve known for decades that periods of inactivity and deconditioning result in this, the mitochondria having impaired function. And I think, you know, layer that on top of poor diet and layered on top of the aging process. Per se, you begin to see all of these things essentially confluence together to create a situation where people are tremendous risk of developing Type two diabetes and then the associated complications with that.
Peter Bowes: Well, let’s delve into that. You mentioned Amazentis and their work with mitochondrial health. Where do you come in to that – the whole point of talking to you today is to try to join the dots between cellular biology, physical strength, exercise and nutrition, because they are all connected, aren’t they?
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, they they are, and it’s an interesting journey, as I mentioned, that Amazon has embarked on I mean, it grew out of essentially an innovation park in Lausanne and Switzerland associated. It’s a terrific area for nutritional science. The Nestlé Research Center is there and a lot of partnerships with the local universities. So the part that drew me to Amazentis was really the fact that they grounded their research in science. So they’ve spend a lot of time developing the models and developing the basis of evidence from all the way from worms up to mice. And then now they are conducting trials in humans. So I’ll admit that I’ve been patiently waiting because it’s we don’t do we don’t do worms. We don’t do mice. It’s all humans for for our lab. And,you know the evidence base that’s been built has been tremendously good. And I’ve been really impressed actually with the scientific trajectory that the company’s taken and the time they took before they went public and then have released the product that they have. And it’s backed by a lot of good research and really impressive that they’re targeting the molecular mechanisms first before they come at this with a different sort of concept, which is usually marketing driven. And then let’s try and find out the science. So the mitochondria is a cellular organelle is the powerhouse of the cell. Skeletal muscle is the locomotor organ of your entire body is packed with mitochondria. So, you know, when we draw that or the organ that is central to our research, that’s skeletal muscle. And so the interest in what the compound that Amazentis has isolated urolithin A and its function in mitochondria has been interesting for us to see. And we’re actually eager to conduct some research with this compound because we think that the upside of it is is actually for aging people is is tremendous.
Peter Bowes: Specifically, we’re talking about a pure a very pure form of urolithin A that they call Mitopure, and that’s the compound you’ll be experimenting with, because if it were left to us eating pomegranates, not all of us can actually benefit kind of simplifying it here. But the fact is, we can’t all benefit from eating a lot of fruits because our bodies work in different ways. So the exciting part of this to me is, is that there is a synthetic form of Urolithin A that we could all potentially benefit from.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, and I think, you know, a lot of the advances in these nutraceuticals or these naturally occurring compounds have been when you’ve got the isolated compound per se. And yet when you look at some of the epidemiology, maybe you could sort of trace and I use compounds like resveratrol, for example, as being a compound that’s found in relatively high abundance in red wine. And then people say, oh, well, look, this is part of the French red red wine paradox here. And then when you begin to do the calculations of how much resveratrol you would need, you’d have to drink a lot of wine. And similarly speaking, you’d have to drink a lot of pomegranate juice as the precursor to allow our gut microbiome to generate enough urolithin to achieve the benefits. But, you know, there’s something in people who eat a lot of this pomegranate naturally saying, well, look, they’ve got different levels that are a little bit higher than the most of us. But, you know, what Amazentis has done is purified the compound and then put it in a form that we can ingest that would allow urolithin A to reproducibly go up. And so it’s not dependent on our gut microbiome or ingesting a rather large amount of pomegranate juice. But they have done the experiments, interestingly enough, with the pomegranate juice. And you can see a little increase, but not as high as you would like to get it up to to have the therapeutic effects.
Peter Bowes: And as you just mentioned just now, I think one of the exciting things is that you are all about people. You’re not working with nematode worms, you’re not working with fruit flies or mice or rats. And I think for a lot of people looking from the outside into science, that is crucially important that this element, this relatable element to what you’re doing with, with older people and communities who can benefit immediately from this kind of science, that we aren’t just talking about a laboratory scenario, that this is real life.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, it’s science is a difficult concept, I think, for people to understand a little bit when we when people do experiments and as you said, you know, C. elegans, worm to fruit fly to a mouse. And then some people and I’m I will admit to taking some liberties with sort of pushing the envelope when people say here it is in mice. And I’m like just says in mice. And so tell me how it relates to humans? And I think that that’s the really impressive part with the Amazon test, is that they have taken a very basic science route to develop the concepts. They’ve shown proof of what we call proof of concept science. They’ve built the molecular story and they’ve escalated up the sort of, if you like, species chain all the way to doing studies in humans. And that’s where the data that I’ve seen gets really impressive, to be honest with you. And, you know, I’ve been at McMaster now for 23 years. And I’ll be honest, I can probably count on one hand the number of things that have come across my desk where I’ve I’ve been scientifically surprised. And this is one of them where that story has really borne, you’ll pardon the pun, because of the pomegranate, but some true fruit. And so it’s exciting to see that and always, I think, fantastic when a company has taken their time to build the scientific story before going to the commercial route. So, yeah, kudos to Amazentis for for doing that for sure.
Peter Bowes: One thing that’s always, to some extent challenged me and my views are constantly changing, and that is how we balance the, you could describe them as the interventions that we apply to ourselves. Now, clearly, exercise is a big one, a good, healthy diet without going to the details of what that diet is, but a good, healthy diet. Well, let’s go into a little bit of detail. For me, it’s a mostly plant based diet and very, very little meat and a little bit of fish. That’s the kind of guy that I from the science believe is probably the best for me. I know others disagree with that, but it’s a balance between a healthy diet, a certain spirituality, a Zen-like lifestyle, to some extent, family, friends, nurturing that side of our existence. And also and this is the bit that I’ve struggled with sometimes, how many supplements to take. And the question has always been, if I’m getting everything else right, like the exercise and the diet and the Zen lifestyle, do I really need supplements? And that comes right to the point of this conversation, of course, about a supplement, a nutritional supplement that could potentially hugely benefit me. The question in my mind is, Will, where do I stop? Because there are so many choices.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, well, for starters, let me say that you’re the first three things you mentioned there. I give a talk where I talk about health and not say longevity as much, but healthspan. And I talk about healthspan being a three legged stool. And I say that physical activity, you know, in my world coming from a kinesiology department is obviously is king. Good nutrition. And the diet you described would certainly be part of the spectrum of diets that I say is associated with good health is, you know, if you want, that’s the queen. And then I don’t know where it fits in the royal court, but certainly social connections and a society that and we can use the sort of blue zone example as a society that doesn’t have ageism as part of its sort of structure, that values people as they get older. People still find purpose in life. They have some sort of social support, whether it’s their friends or their church or something that sort of gives meaning to their life, whatever that is. And then the supplements are sort of, I call them a fringe part of the nutritional equation. And I think that now we are beginning to hone in on one or two things that could probably if we had more of them in our diet, if you like, I call it sort of nutritional fine tuning of the profile that most of us would probably say, well, yeah, I’m not getting enough of that, or even if I’m doing this, I’m living in an environment with pollution. Or I’ve got something else. So I can’t live in a blue zone. So what else can I do to sort of maximize my chances from a nutritional standpoint? And that’s where the supplements kind of live when I describe them to people in terms of the overall vernacular. But, yeah, I mean, you can obsess about these things to the nth degree. And I think when you really peel back the the science, there’s probably a sort of a dirty half dozen that I would say, yeah, that’s that’s worth it. And then after that, I’d say, OK, you know, maybe in an ideal environment, but then something’s going to get us all at some point. So live the best life you can and live for as long and as healthy as you can, hopefully.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, I tend to see now that that supplement side as my nutritional insurance,
Stuart Phillips: Yeah,
Peter Bowes: That’s it just kind of fills the gaps.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, no, it’s it’s a good way to look at it. I like I said, I don’t think you can you can’t build your base with supplements and you can’t out supplement a bad diet if you like. But you could you can add to it for sure.
Peter Bowes: Now, just talking about diet and especially diet as it applies to older people, and I gave you a little summary there of my kind of diet, which involves virtually no red meat, some fish and a lot of fruits and vegetables. And one issue, of course, as you get older is your protein intake. And generally my understanding and my reading of the science and again, as I apply to myself, is that I can survive on a relatively low protein diet still in my late 50s. But there may well come a point that it would be sensible to up that protein at some point as I move into that area of my life, that frailty could become an issue.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, I think there are two aspects of a protein as it applies to aging, and you sort of referred to this, I don’t know where you want to call it a seesaw point or a tipping point that probably prior to a certain point in your life, protein, not a big deal if you’re getting the micronutrients that you talked about from the types of foods that you talked about. And, you know, a lot of my work is is related around protein for sure that you’re good. And I think the biggest driver and most people would probably agree with me on this, that of your muscle and muscle function is definitely still physical activity at some point in our lives. We’re not really sure where that is. But let’s say 60 as a as a tipping point, see-saw point, it makes more sense to get a little bit more protein in your diet because you’re losing muscle mass. And as one of the substrates and key drivers of retention of muscle protein is is a key building block. But again, you can’t do it without being physically active. One of the aspects of protein, as we get a little bit older as well, and I’m not sure whether this is more food related or just protein persay is the support of our immune system. And that’s something I’ve wondered a little bit about as people get older, because we obviously know that immune system function declines with aging as whether more protein is a good idea from supporting that system. So, again, a lot of the evidence is generated from experimental animal models. And I have to take a bit of a leap of faith to be able to say that this is something that’s going to work in humans, which I think it’s a, you know, a big step up. But it’s certainly, at least from my perspective, makes sense to consume more protein as you get older, probably after around age 60.
Peter Bowes: And I’m just curious, do you have yourself a preferred source of protein?
Stuart Phillips: I would probably say that the majority of my protein, if I were to look at it from a dietary basis, comes from dairy.
Peter Bowes: Oh, it’s interesting, I didn’t expect you to say that either.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, you know, I sort of I straddle a line where I talk about, you know, higher protein intakes. I don’t think that the recommended dietary allowance would be sufficient, particularly for older people. But from a nutrient dense protein source, I think that dairy probably tops the list. I eat meat. I don’t eat a lot of meat. I eat fish as well. I eat chicken. I don’t I’m certainly not on this sort of all the way to the other side carnivore type scale. But I would certainly be the first to admit that plant based sources of protein are a good source of protein as well. I always like to push the nutritional people only hypothesis and say that, you know, people say you can’t run a bad diet. And I said, well, I don’t think you can know out nutrition, inactivity either. So you have to be physically active. And I do tend to use Jack LaLane’s quote to say that physical activity is king and or exercise is king and nutrition is queen. When you put them together, you’ve got a kingdom. But I don’t think you can do it all with nutrition. So I like to say as well that being physically active is the forgiver of a lot of sins. So even if you’ve got a a not great diet.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, I know that’s it’s a great way to put it, and of course, it all and talking about nutrition and the array of different kinds of protein sources that you just talked about, it does illustrate how we are all uniquely different in terms of how we respond to these foods.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, and I think that that’s probably one of the greatest breakthroughs or probably the last sort of five to 10 years is the realisation in nutrition, nutritional science of nutragenomics and the individualisation of probably a lot of people’s dietary patterns that at some point I think we’re going to see I don’t know when, but at some point you’re going to see people saying, you know what, you need more based on this type of nutritional or this type of genomic or transcriptomic blueprint, if you like.
Peter Bowes: So if exercise is king, how would you prescribe exercise again, we’re all different, we all have our preferred regimes in terms of what we do every day. But is there a recipe for good exercise?
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I think that my colleague at McMaster, his name is Marty Gibala, he’s a high intensity interval guy and he’s made a convert out of me. And in another, it’s almost seems like another era of my life. I actually ran marathons. I can’t imagine looking at myself now that I actually did that. But, you know, that was the thing at the time of the group of people I was associated with. And that was actually a form of sort of socialization, if you like. I don’t think people need to run marathons. I think people need to keep their aerobic peak, their their sort of top end gear, if you like, as high as possible. And Dr. Gibala has convinced me that that only takes a few sort of spikes in our exercise intensity, high intensity work per week. But at the same time, we have to retain our strength. And I think particularly as people get older, they need to be mindful of the strength it takes to do activities of daily living. And so while I don’t specifically subscribe to practice getting in and out of a chair, I’m not sure that that’s the right way to do it. I do subscribe to prescription of strength training. So at some point you’re going to need to be concerned about how strong you are, because I think that begins to play a much bigger factor as people get older to accomplish the things they want to do in daily life. And probably, I think the concept in textbooks of aerobic people are over here and resistance people are over here is grossly oversimplified. And in terms of the health benefits, the either activity sort of gives a person they’re probably much, much closer together than they are further apart. Aerobic exercise, top end VO2 peak aerobic power, if you want to call it that strength, exclusive to this domain. But health benefit wise, you can put a pretty big circle around both and say that, you know, optimizing both would be the best prescription.
Peter Bowes: And for someone who just hates the idea of a gym, hates the idea of that, you know, that fast aerobic exercise you might get by doing ropes or kettlebells or whatever it is that you can do at a gym and would prefer simply to go for a long walk every day. That’s pretty much all you need, isn’t it, to maintain a good, vigorous get out of breath for maybe 10 minutes or so and then pace yourself on the way home. If you did that 30 to 40 minutes, seven days a week, you’d be doing pretty well.
Stuart Phillips: If you did that, I think you’d be in great shape, to be honest with you. I gain the high intensity part of things, doesn’t need to be an all out sprint on a bike or a 100 meter repeat, a 400 repeat on a track for sure. We’ve actually got some work that hopefully people will be seeing in publication soon, showing that in some cardiac rehabilitation patients even taking a flight of stairs fairly rapidly up a flight of stairs, one or two or three times a week is sufficient to be able to get these people in pretty good shape. So I think we’re beginning to sort of hone in on just how small these versions of high intensity training can be and how practical you can make them. So if there’s a hill, try and walk a little faster up the hill. If there are stairs, try sending them at a fast but comfortable pace and obviously not break neck. And these are the types of things that just sort of accelerate the top end. But if you’re up for a walk seven days a week, my bet is that you’re in pretty darn good shape.
Peter Bowes: Just going back to what you said about marathons, you said you’d run a few I ran a few marathons, five in all, one in London, four in Los Angeles a couple of decades ago. And my mind, my brain tells me I would love to run a marathon again. It probably wouldn’t be a very good idea and I probably won’t be running any more marathons. But and as you said, and I totally agree with you, we don’t need to run marathons to stay healthy or or in good shape. But the question is why perhaps when we’re younger, do we feel as if we want to run marathons? And what do you think we get out of it?
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, it’s a great question, you know, I often have thought about this from the perspective of we had a session at a conference that I attended that I spoke in. And I’ll sort of use the analogy here is that I think a lot of people are familiar with the Cooper Longitudinal Aerobic study. And this is Ken Cooper’s clinic where we derive a lot of the data for the benefits of aerobic exercise. And Ken Cooper, for a lot of years, he really talked about, you know, weight lifting and muscle. You know, that was just weight that you had to carry around when you ran, when you ran long distances. And the marathon is always stood out as a sort of a real milestone distance for a lot of people. As you know, I wish I could do anything. I could run a marathon. And I kind of joked with people to say that, you know, if Ken Cooper were a weightlifter as opposed to a runner, we’d know a lot more about weightlifting than we would about running because it would be the Cooper Longitudinal Weightlifting Study. So. But, you know, so I think our fascination with aerobic exercise and our our willingness to say this is a this is a pinnacle of health, if we can do this has been a little bit around weight control for sure. But the distance of the marathon has been one of these sort of, I think, laudable, you know, almost unachievable goals. And yet it’s probably within the reach of a lot more people than we than we realize. In other words, if you’re willing to put the time in and I hate to see this, but torture yourself because I found it a little bit of torture and I will I will never do one again, I can guarantee you that most people could do it. And if completion of the marathon is really the goal, you know, if that’s you know, if it takes you five, six hours, then then so be it. But I don’t know what it is around marathons. They’ve become an event now that is beyond just grueling running. So people you mentioned London costumes, water stops, crowds, lots of appreciation and charitable causes that go along with that. And so it’s personal as well as, if you like, outside organizations. But the fascination with running twenty six point two miles, I suppose, is holds something in people’s minds as opposed to saying getting under a bar bench press in your own body weight.
Peter Bowes: Yeah,
Stuart Phillips: I can see the fascination of both personally.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, I think you did it very nicely, and I think it is in big part the social side of it, and of course marathons have evolved into Spartan races and obstacle course races,
Stuart Phillips: Yeah.
Peter Bowes: Which are are huge these days or maybe not so much these days. Sadly, we are just beginning to start again, I think Spartan races. But it’s been quite challenging to take part in these mass participant events. But I think certainly for me, I mean, running twenty six point two miles by yourself doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but running with 25000 other people and the adrenaline that goes with that in the sense of achievement at the end, I can see why I did it and why lots of other people continue to want to do it.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah.
Peter Bowes: So let me ask you and I know you’ve listen to one or two of these podcasts before with the guests. A favorite question of mine is generally in terms of your psyche, as you think about your longevity, your healthspan, what you aspire to be like in 20 or 30 years time, and the kind of life you want to be living, and especially as it applies to your work and what you’ve learned through your your work in exercise. Is there something that you apply to yourself on a daily basis that you think will help achieve that great healthspan?
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, look, I think full disclosure is that I’m married to another exercise physiologist, so she’s a cardiovascular exercise physiologist. So you sort of have the heart and lung person and I’m the muscle person. So she’s constantly cajoling me and trying to get me to do more aerobic work. And I’m constantly trying to get her to do a little bit more weightlifting. But, you know, yeah, our vision of of aging, I’m a few years ahead of her, is is definitely to be as physically active as possible. I think one of the biggest joys that both of us have in our life has been obviously our kids and then the ability to travel with our kids. So we have we spent a sabbatical in California with their children when they were young, and then we spent a sabbatical living in the UK for a year. And, you know, those have been from our family and that standpoint have been absolutely fantastic experiences. And, you know, I’d hope that we could begin to to do those with with some grandchildren at some point as well. So I think it’s you learn things when you travel and see other places that you just can’t teach in a classroom or learn from reading or watching a movie. And, you know, the key to being able to do those things is still to be as physically able to do with them as you can. It’s tough to do a walking tour around Rome or Paris if you can’t walk more than half a kilometre as an example. So, yeah, it’s it’s about being as physically active and as well as we possibly can. As we grow older, I apply the nutrition side of things, a little bit of learning, and hopefully we can figure out the social connectivity that we need as we get a little bit older as well.
Peter Bowes: And regular listeners to these podcasts will probably know what I’m going to say next, and that is that you highlighted what the vast majority of people highlight, and that is the element of children and grandchildren in your life as you grow older. And I think it comes into this apart from just enjoying the moment and being physically able to enjoy the moment. It’s also part of sharing the wisdom and perhaps sharing the fruits of your lifetime and what you’ve managed to learn. And hopefully you can pass on not just to children, but as an educator to others as well.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, you know, look, I mean, my career, I’ve been really blessed be with having colleagues that have been fantastic supports and have allowed me to do a lot of things. But the thing I take the greatest pride in at this point is, is the folks that I’ve been able to work with, students, master students, PhD students, postdoctoral fellows who continue to push me, they’re always younger than me now. So they push me and a lot of directions. And it’s their continued career success that I take a lot of pleasure in. So it’s almost that they’re my extended family and now they’re married, they have kids. And, you know, so it’s it’s fantastic to see that sort of, as you say, passed down of wisdom. I think there’s a little bit of wisdom I’ve passed down, but they’ve obviously been able to transcend some of the things I’ve been able to teach them as well.
Peter Bowes: Actually, talking of doing that, you’re very active in social media, and I suppose that is a key forum for you in terms of sharing that wisdom.
Stuart Phillips: Yeah, I take a lot of I’ll call it friendly abuse from my colleagues who are my age or older at the time I spend on social media, but I got on it, you know, probably about a decade ago as sort of a, you know, all let’s just see what this is about. And it wasn’t very goal directed, but it has become goal directed. And I do think that, you know, in Canada, we are we’re a public education system that is supported by taxpayer dollars, you know, so then indirectly, I’m essentially a civil servant. My salary comes from taxpayers money. And I think there’s a bit of a duty to to try and translate science, to allow people to see what it is that I do. And certainly I do think that a lot of the growth in understanding has now it’s gone beyond the so-called ivory tower. And there’s plenty of people oh, I’ve I’ve come into contact with on social media that have have changed the way I think about things, change the stories I tell about the science that that it is that we do. And it forced me to change a little bit about my approach in terms of translating the science we do. So, yes, it’s it’s been a bit of an epiphany, but but a good one, I think. And I think it’s who knows where it’s going to be ten years from now. But it’s it’s been amazing to see the proliferation of just general people’s knowledge and getting into areas that I would have thought would be the exclusive domain only 10 or 20 years ago of of a university environment, for example.
Peter Bowes: I agree with you and there are many evils, I think, associated with social media these days, but many positives as well and I think are using it in exactly the right way. Your Twitter handle is MacKinProf and if you break that down, I can see how you got that.
Stuart Phillips: Yes, yes, MacKinprof so McMaster, kinesiology professor.
Peter Bowes: Vega, Stu, it’s been really excellent talking to you. Very interesting indeed. Thank you so much.
Stuart Phillips: It’s been my pleasure, Peter. Thanks for having me on the show.
Peter Bowes: My pleasure. And if you’d like to find out more about Stu’s work, I’ll put the details into the show notes for this episode at our website, Live Long and Master Aging LLAMA podcast LLAMA being the acronym that we use for Live Long and Master Aging LLAMA podcast dot com. This episode of the podcast was brought to you in association with Amazentis, a Swiss life science company is pioneering cutting edge, clinically validated cellular nutrition under its timeline brand. And if you enjoy what we do, you can rate and review us at Apple podcasts, you can follow us in social media. Our handle is LLAMApodcast direct message me at Peter Bowes. Many thanks for listening.