Cutting Calories by This Much Could Slow Aging

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Senior woman flexing her muscle
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Modestly reducing how many calories you consume each day might boost your muscle strength and help you live longer, according to recent research.

Cutting back on calories without depriving the body of necessary vitamins and minerals — a practice known as calorie restriction — is associated with changes in the body that may slow the progression of age-related disease, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) study.

The findings were published in the scientific journal Aging Cell.

Researchers arrived at these conclusions after looking at data, including muscle biopsy findings, from a prior NIH-supported study called Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE).

Other studies have found a link between moderate calorie restriction and improved health in lab animals. The researchers behind the new study wanted to know if the same benefits apply to humans who cut back on calories.

They found that over a two-year period, CALERIE participants who reduced their calorie intake by 12% activated most of the biological pathways that are key to healthy aging. (Biological pathways are ways that cells in the human body send signals to other cells, a process that sometimes can result in essentially turning certain genes on or off.)

On average, these participants lost 20 pounds over the first year and then maintained their weight over the second year.

In addition, the new study found that while calorie restriction reduced muscle mass, it did not trigger a loss of muscle strength. That suggests that calorie restriction actually boosts the amount of force each unit of muscle mass generates, a concept known as muscle specific force.

In a summary of the study findings, Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, a study co-author and scientific director at the NIH, says:

“A 12% reduction in calorie intake is very modest. This kind of small reduction in calorie intake is doable and may make a big difference in your health.”

The researchers said they confirmed that calorie restriction impacts the same biological pathways in humans as it does in mice and primates. In one example of this, restricting calories essentially stifles inflammatory genes, which leads to less inflammation.

In the summary, Ferrucci says:

“Since inflammation and aging are strongly coupled, calorie restriction represents a powerful approach to preventing the pro-inflammatory state that is developed by many older people.”

For more on how to age gracefully and healthfully, check out “The Overlooked Habits of Happy Aging.”

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