Ageing research now seems to exist of two different disciplines: (1) slowing down / preventing ageing, and (2) improving quality of life of aged people. Sometimes, this leads to conflicting messages. For instance, to slow down ageing one can argue that lowering protein intake is an effective strategy, while this strategy would hamper the goals of discipline 2.

A challenging goal for the future of our research is to find ways to better connect these disciplines. If we succeed in this, we will be able to communicate strategies, or lifestyle advice, that support the goals of both disciplines.

Research description

I have investigated muscle in different groups of elderly people, with varying levels of physical functioning. I measured mitochondrial function, MRI-scan and electromyography.

Interesting findings so far

The most striking findings of my PhD project include: (1) a novel oral nutritional supplement improved mitochondrial functioning and gait speed in undernourished older adults, (2) intake levels of vitamin B6 and vegetable protein (and not animal protein) are associated with improved physical functioning in large samples of older adults, and (3) phase angle measurements are related to physical functioning in healthy, pre-frail and undernourished older adults. These results show that there are multiple ways to target muscle quality markers in older adults.

What makes ageing research interesting?

The heterogeneity of ageing, and the general acceptance of ageing.

Heterogeneity: What explains the difference between the 65-year-old, who is sitting in her chair the whole day, depressed and in bad physical shape and the 93-year-old, who is happy, still very active in his community, and climbing stairs two steps at the time?

General acceptance: Somehow, we tend to accept that there is a maximum to life span (~100 y) and healthspan (~80 y). I like to ask people how old they would like to be. I’m surprised by the answers I get, because it is usually around 80 years old. When we can get around this tendency to accept a certain maximum age, we can make the first step towards successful ageing.