Health + Wellness

The Importance of Nutrition in Dealing with Muscle Loss

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A recent survey by healthcare company Abbott found that one in two Singaporean women in their 50s had weaker hand grips than the average person in Taiwan.

The findings were similar to another 2016 study of elderly Singaporeans aged 60 to 89, published by Duke-NUS, which found that the mean hand grip strength (HGS) of Singaporean elderly is also lower than that of their western counterparts.

The possible reasons for this are wide-ranging, which may include socioeconomic differences between elderly across countries or differences in occupational history. Other specific elderly characteristics also had a significant influence on their HGS, such as height, weight, and even ethnicity.

Results from the National Nutrition Survey in 2010 may shed some light on why we are behind. In that study, only 61.2 per cent of adults meet the daily recommended intake of at least 2.5 servings of meat or other protein sources.

When does muscle loss happen?

Muscle loss begins in one’s 40s at the rate of up to 8% every decade. This figure increases to up to 15% per decade after 70, at which point, most adults would have naturally lost up to roughly 25% of their muscle mass. Due to the gradual nature of this process, many older adults are unaware of their decreasing strength and functionality.

What role does hand grip strength play?

dynamometerHand grip strength has been found to be a good indicator of overall muscle strength and health. They found also that it can be improved through diet and lifestyle. Hence, it is both an important marker of nutritional status and a useful single indicator of frailty, beyond age alone.

Low hand grip strength has been established to be a consistent predictor of adverse health events, such as falls, prolonged length of hospital stay and a higher risk of mortality, especially among the elderly.

So what is considered a good level of muscle strength for a given age?

There are certain indicators to gauge one’s strength, such as unintentional weight loss, feeling exhausted easily, experiencing body pain and cramps and slower walking speed.

The best way to assess your muscle strength is to be medically screened by a doctor. There are several ways to do so and testing for HGS and using a hand dynamometer is one of them. The table below reflects the average HGS of adults for each age range according to their gender.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 11.16.37 AM

So what’s the problem?

A key takeaway is that our appetite is not an indicator of whether or not we are getting enough to eat, and more importantly, getting the right amount of nutrition for healthy living. We may not realise that we’re not consuming enough protein as we age and this is especially true for the elderly. It is common to lose appetite for a variety of reasons, including medications that make people less hungry and illnesses that impede the consumption of regular food. In addition, lack of activity and exercise also contribute to weakening muscles.

So what can we do?

Adults can start by watching their diet and get proper nutrition to support overall health and muscle strength. Protein, in particular, is a key nutrient that supports maintenance of healthy muscles as people age.

However, as mentioned earlier, eating well may not be an option for some people, especially for those who with conditions that hinder them from being able to eat properly. For these situations, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends that you consider an Oral Nutritional Supplement (ONS) like Ensure (from Abbott), Fresubin, etc. as a convenient way to help boost their nutritional intake, as it has been found to improve muscle mass and hand grip strength when provided along with the correct dietary advice.

ONS are often scientifically formulated and can provide the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates and fibre) as well as the full range of micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) to help support daily nutritional needs – the infographic below is an example of what it provides; we use Ensure Life as an example because it is easily available at your local supermarkets like Fairprice.

Ensure infographic v3

If you have any difficulty in meeting the daily requirements for a healthy intake for one reason or another, nothing is more convenient than a drink that’s easily prepared on demand to set things right.

 

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