Maintaining healthy bones, muscles and joints is crucial for the elderly writes Liew Yen Lee
BY 2030, Malaysia is set to become an ageing nation. There will be three times more people aged 65 and above when 2040 rolls around. This group will make up 14.5 per cent of the nation compared with five per cent in 2010.
Yet a grey future is not a grim one.
A healthy lifestyle and proper dietary intake will help the ageing population enjoy quality life, and even contribute to nation-building.
A prime example is 94-year-old Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
As the nation's most famous senior citizen, who came out of retirement to run the country, he once said: "I would advise people not to rest when they grow old because if you rest, you will soon be weak and incapable, and may become senile. Be active after you reach retirement age."
To stay active during the golden years requires a healthy body with good mobility.
Having good mobility enables us to carry out our activities with ease and enjoy life with our loved ones.
Mobility is supported by flexibility, strength and balance.
For example, flexibility enables us to bend over to pick up an item. Strength is needed to carry groceries. Balance is important to prevent falls or enable us to walk on uneven ground without stumbling.
Mobility is supported by bones, joints and muscles, which deteriorate as we age. Think of our mobility as a car. Our bones, joints and muscles are keys to unlock and start the car. Our body is supported by 206 bones, more than 230 joints and 600 muscles to support the strength and agility to stay active.
Our bones may start to deteriorate from as early as our 30s. Our cartilages (the 'cushions' between joints) may experience significant changes in our 40s.
Our muscles become weaker when we age and lose muscle mass and strength. All these changes affect our mobility, making us feel challenged in our movements, such as climbing stairs or bending over to pick something up from the floor.
KEEP BONES HEALTHY
Maintaining healthy bones, joints and muscles thus becomes a crucial mission for us if we want good mobility and to add quality years to our lives as we age.
Staying physically active can be achieved by carrying out moderately-intensive physical activities at least 30 minutes per day (for five to six days a week). These include brisk walking, swimming or aerobic activities, split in bouts of 10 minutes.
For two to three times a week, we can also improve the flexibility, strength and endurance of our muscles with activities, such as stretching, push-ups and weight lifting.
It helps to be active in small ways as frequently as possible, such as doing housework or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
We need to watch our diet. The Health Ministry recommends the Malaysia Healthy Plate as a guide for proportion of food groups — the "quarter, quarter, half" guide — in our meal planning.
Using a 10-inch plate as a guide, the food group that provides energy such as rice, noodles, or grains (preferably wholegrain cereals) occupy a quarter; protein foods like meat, fish and beans occupy another quarter; while the rest (half) of the plate consists of vegetables and fruits.
It is encouraged that the meal be complemented with milk.
Drinking a glass of milk will supply the body with calcium, a mineral essential for healthy bones and teeth.
We get a good dose of protein too, which helps build and maintain muscles. Some milk products have added vitamin D that help with calcium absorption.
Studies have shown that supplementing a diet with milk that has added calcium, vitamin D and other important bone nutrients (magnesium, zinc) may slow down bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Research has found that frequent milk consumption may be linked to a reduced progression of osteoarthritis in the knee.
Taking proactive steps ensures we stay healthy, agile and mobile as we age to enjoy a quality life.
*The writer is a senior nutritionist with Fonterra Brands Malaysia.
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