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Healthy ageing: Nutrition and falls – is there any connection?

Q I live alone and had a fall a couple of months ago on returning home from being in hospital for a week. I still have problems with my balance and I’m frightened I might fall again. Is there is anything I can eat to help stop me falling?

A You’re not alone in your concerns. About a third of older people have a fall every year.

With age, the amount and strength of muscle we have reduces. By the age of 50, males and females can have up to a 50 per cent decrease in muscle strength. If we’re inactive, for example after a 10-day period of bed rest in hospital, we can lose up to 10 per cent of the muscle in our legs. This loss of muscle amount and strength, when experienced in ageing, is called “sarcopenia” and is associated with an increased risk of falls and fractures.

When you’re well, regular exercise will help increase your muscle strength and balance and is a good way to prevent falls.

What you eat can also affect your muscles. Try this:

  • Have protein at each meal to improve your muscle mass. Have an egg for breakfast and a serving of animal or plant-based protein (the size of your palm) at lunch and evening meals.
  • Enjoy milk drinks or dairy-based snacks – such as cheese sandwiches, a milkshake or pottle of yoghurt – between meals to get extra protein. You’ll also get extra calcium, which may help decrease your risk of breaking a bone if you do fall.
  • Aim to spend some time out in the sun each day (about 20 minutes) with your face and arms uncovered, so that you can make some vitamin D, which will also help prevent broken bones. (Do this before 10am or after 4pm in spring and summer, to be sun smart.)
  • If you’re having problems with your balance ask your doctor for a Falls Assessment and they can refer you to a local Community Strength and Balance Exercise Class, if required.

Resources

To locate Strength and Balance classes go to livestronger.org.nz

For more information on falls prevention for older people go to acc.co.nz and search under the Preventing Injury tab.

First published: Jul 2019

Article sources and references

  • Australia New Zealand Society of Geriatric Medicine. Exercise Guidelines for Older Adults, anzsgm.org Accessed May 2019
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25471747
  • Maeir A. 2019. Nutrition and Sarcopenia. Presentation at Nutrition and Aging Symposium, Massey University, Auckland, 16 April 2019



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