As Singaporeans live longer, millennials and older people have to adjust to a role reversal: becoming caregivers for their elderly parents and family members.
Often the saying goes, “To take care of others, start by taking care of yourself.” This is especially true for those of us who have to juggle caring for elderly parents and loved ones with other responsibilities. Caregivers need to be advocates for their own health, to provide quality care in turn.
While the mental and financial health of caregivers tend to receive a lot of attention, developing physical wellness is just as important.
Personal strength is essential in caregiving, and this includes maintaining muscle tone. For caregivers whose daily responsibilities include constant energy and strength to constantly lift and transport patients or loved ones, prioritizing muscle health can be an essential part of their care.
What do muscles have to do with health?
Healthy muscles are important. Muscle strength is a key indicator of overall health and plays an essential role in strength, energy, immunity, and bone health that enables us to move, lift things, pump blood around the body, and even help us breathe.
However, since some may experience the muscle loss that comes with age, it is important to pay attention to our muscles and take care to maintain our strength as we age.
While we Singaporeans enjoy one of the longest lives globally at around 83 years, the years gained may not be enjoyed to the fullest as more time is spent dealing with age-related health issues, musculoskeletal issues being the most common.
Sarcopenia, or the age-related loss of muscle mass and function, can begin as early as 40 years old, with up to eight percent of muscle lost every decade onward.
In Singapore, four out of five elderly adults at risk of malnutrition have decreased muscle mass, as shown in the SHIELD (Promoting Health in Older People through Nutrition) research conducted by Abbott in collaboration with Changi General Hospital and Sing Health Clinics.
Make changes to stay strong
Age-related muscle loss can be prevented with the right intervention through what we eat and how we use our muscles.
Eating a balanced diet with protein-rich foods helps build muscle health. As we age, more dietary protein is necessary to help maintain muscle mass. About 25-30 grams of protein per serving is recommended, including foods rich in protein such as chicken, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans, tofu or dairy products.
Adequate vitamin D intake can also help maintain and improve muscle function and strength. To increase your vitamin D intake, spend time outdoors in the sun and add foods such as fatty fish, mushrooms, eggs, or foods fortified with vitamin D such as orange juice and soy milk.
Meeting daily requirements with an adequate amount of nutrients can help you stay strong for longer and maintain your strength when caring for your loved ones throughout the day. For older caregivers who are not eating well, taking specialized supplements can help promote the health of their muscles.
Oral dietary supplement with HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate), a natural compound that has been shown to be effective in maintaining muscle mass in the elderly. HMB is found naturally in small amounts in some foods, but it is difficult to obtain amounts that support muscle health solely through diet alone.
In the SHIELD study, older adults who took an oral supplement containing HMB clinically demonstrated an improvement in their strength. They experienced significant improvement in their nutritional status, physical function, and health outcomes.
To avoid poor muscle strength, caregivers should also get regular exercise. An ideal exercise plan includes both aerobic exercises, such as walking, cycling or swimming, and resistance or strength exercises such as lunges, squats, push-ups, and standing on one leg.
Simple daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and lifting objects can help keep muscles active. Next time you shop at the supermarket, consider carrying a bag or grocery basket instead of using a cart.
Check your muscles
Pay attention to the performance of your muscles, so you can take immediate action to improve your strength.
How do you know if you’re at risk for poor muscle health? A quick and effective method is to use the five-fold sit-stand test, which you can take at home to assess functional lower limb strength, transitional movements, balance, and risk of falls.
To do the test, fold your arms across your chest and go from a seated position to a standing position and back to sitting five times as fast as you can, using a timer to mark the time yourself. helps.
After you take the test, find out your muscle age using the Muscle Age Calculator that matches your sitting-to-stand test time with the average test time for biological age groups.
A person in their 40s may have a muscle age in their 50s if they take longer than average to complete the test, and this may be due to poor muscle health.
Busy individuals, especially caregivers who often require around-the-clock care, might consider trying this simple assessment as an easy way to determine their risk of losing muscle mass.
Be careful to provide care
To provide good care to others, do not neglect your health.
Good nutrition, along with regular exercise, can be helpful in building and maintaining muscle strength, and for you to live a fuller and healthier life in the long run.
Take the first step today to check your muscle health and make improvements to your diet and exercise regimen. When you care for your loved ones, keep in mind that this includes yourself as well.
Making yourself a priority is not a selfish act, especially when it comes to providing care.
About the author:
Andrea P. Meyer is Professor of Medicine Oon Chiew Seng and Co-Director of the Center for Health Longevity, National University of Singapore