A balancing act

 

Good nutrition plays a key role in reducing the risk of injury by helping strengthen your bones.

You’ve heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’? In this case, it means that if you’re not eating a well-balanced diet, you certainly won’t be as physically well-balanced, which can lead to a fall.

Even the simplest stumble can often result in serious injury, which can then lead to hospital time, multiple appointments and potentially longer term issues. It’s important for the health of ageing Australians to be aware of the significance of nutrition status as a risk factor for falls; yet many people don’t know of the direct correlation that nutrition plays in reducing falls risk and aiding recovery.

The link between exercise, increased strength and balance is more well known. Sometimes, however, while you might think you are eating ‘well’ your diet may not be providing the nutrition required. Poor nutrition (often referred to as malnutrition) can lead to reduced muscular strength and decreased mobility. This is where healthy eating coupled with a balanced diet comes into play. You shouldn’t have one without the other.

If the word ‘malnutrition’ conjures up a picture of a thin and slight person, you are not alone in these thoughts. While this can be the case, many people with malnutrition aren’t even aware they have it, until they have a fall, or become ill, and only then it may be picked up by a health professional.

Malnutrition is a physical condition resulting from either: a) an inadequate diet or b) a physical inability to absorb or metabolise nutrients. Think about your diet; is it adequate? Do you get enough of the nutrients your body requires?

 

Your changing diet + nutritional requirements

As we age, our metabolism slows and our appetite decreases. The way we process food also changes, as do our daily nutritional needs. Unfortunately, our taste buds don’t always get this message.

Generally speaking, the number of calories we require in our older years decreases, usually due to a reduction in the amount we exercise, while our nutrient needs tend to stay the same or increase. This means that if dietary changes are made to accommodate these changing needs, we should stay healthier, longer.

Both men and women lose bone mass. However, women lose more calcium from their bones in the five to ten years around the age of menopause. While a diet high in calcium cannot reverse age related bone loss, it can slow down the process.

A balanced diet giving you the daily nutrients required is the best way to combat malnutrition, and to stay healthy. Seeking advice from an accredited dietitian is a great way to find out if you are in fact meeting your daily nutritional requirements.

 

The role vitamin D + calcium play

It is also important to understand the role that vitamin D and calcium play in reducing your risk of falling.

 - Vitamin D helps improve muscle function and coupled with calcium, helps minimise bone loss
 - Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium into our bones
 - Good sources of calcium include dairy foods: cheese, milk, yoghurt and custard, fortified soy products and bony fish (such as sardines)
 - Vitamin D can be found in some food sources including eggs, margarine and oily fish
 - The best source of vitamin D is actually the sun. Try not to spend more than 10 minutes a day and cover up with a hat and sunscreen.

Other vitamins associated with aiding a person’s mobility are Vitamins A, B12, C, E and folic acid. Deficiency in these vitamins can cause vision loss which can lead to confusion, poor balance and disorientation… which, in turn, all increase the risk of a fall.

 

So what can you do with your diet to help reduce the risk of falls?

Ensure you have a well-balanced diet by:

 - Including adequate energy (calorie) and protein intake which is important to promote strength, mobility, balance and cognitive function
 - Introducing variety in your diet; eg. whole grain foods, fruit, vegetables and dairy
 - Ensuring you are getting enough vitamin D to help improve muscle function; the best source of vitamin D is actually the sun
 - Including calcium to help minimise bone loss.

Staying hydrated by:

 - Starting the day with a glass of water
 - Drinking water with every meal, and in between meals.

Remaining active by:

 - Ensuring you maintain a stable weight as this promotes a reduction in falls risk
 - Regular exercise can help with muscular strength and balance
 - Incidental exercise is a great way to ensure you are moving (take the stairs, not the elevator, walk a few laps inside the shopping centre).

If you are concerned about your nutrition, it is recommended you consult an accredited practising dietitian. Some companies, including Mobile Rehab, even have dietitians to visit you in your home.

 

Article written by Mobile Rehab and originally published in Chapter magazine.

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