Commentary: Why S’poreans need to boost their muscle well-being, as more and more become caregivers for their loved ones

As Singaporeans live longer, millennials and older adults are adjusting to a role reversal: becoming caregivers to their aging parents and family members.

The saying often 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, in turn providing quality care.

Although the mental and financial well-being of caregivers tends to be of great concern, cultivating physical well-being is just as important.

Personal strength is crucial in caregiving, and that includes keeping muscles strong. For caregivers whose daily responsibilities involve continuous energy and strength to constantly lift and transfer patients or loved ones, prioritizing muscle health can be an essential part of their care delivery.


Healthy muscles are important. Muscle strength is a key indicator of overall health and plays a vital role in strength, energy, immunity and bone health, which allows us to move, lift objects, pump blood through the body and even to help us breathe.

However, as some may experience muscle loss as they age, it is important to pay attention to our muscles and ensure that we maintain our strength as we age.

While we Singaporeans enjoy one of the longest lifespans in the world at around 83, the years gained may not be fully appreciated as more time is spent coping with health issues related to age, with musculoskeletal problems being among the most common.

Sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle mass and function, can begin as early as age 40, with up to 8% muscle loss each decade.

In Singapore, four out of five elderly people at risk of malnutrition have low muscle mass, as found in SHIELD (Strengthening Health In Elderly Through Nutrition) research that Abbott conducted in collaboration with Changi General Hospital and the SingHealth polyclinics.


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 needed to help preserve muscle mass. About 25-30 grams of protein per meal is recommended, including high-protein foods like chicken, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans, tofu, or dairy.

Adequate vitamin D intake can also help maintain and improve muscle function and strength. To increase vitamin D intake, spend time outdoors in the sun and add foods like oily fish, mushrooms, eggs, or foods fortified with vitamin D like orange juice and soy milk .

Meeting daily needs with adequate nutritional intake can help you stay strong longer and maintain your strength as you care for loved ones throughout the day. For older caregivers who don’t eat well, consuming specialized nutritional supplements can support their muscle health.

Oral nutritional supplements containing HMB (beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate), a naturally occurring compound, have been shown to be effective in preserving muscle mass in the elderly. HMB is naturally found in small amounts in some foods, but it is difficult to obtain amounts found to support muscle health through diet alone.

In the SHIELD study, older adults who consumed an oral nutritional supplement containing HMB were found to show clinical improvement in strength. They experienced a significant improvement in their nutritional status, physical function and health status.

To prevent weakening of muscle strength, caregivers should also engage in regular physical activity. An ideal exercise plan includes both aerobics, such as walking, bicycling, or swimming, and resistance training or strength training, such as lunges, squats, push-ups, and single-legged stances.

Simple daily activities like walking, climbing stairs, and lifting can also help keep muscles active. Next time you’re shopping at the supermarket, consider packing a grocery bag or basket instead of using a cart.


Pay attention to the condition of your muscles so you can act quickly to improve your strength.

How do you know if you are at risk for poor muscle health? A quick and effective way is to use the five-fold sit-to-stand test, which you can do at home to assess lower extremity functional strength, movement transitions, balance, and risk of falling.

To perform the test, cross your arms across your chest and move from sitting to standing, then back to sitting five times as fast as you can, using a timer to time yourself. assistance.

After taking the test, find out your muscle age using the muscle age calculator that matches the sit-stand test time to the average test time of biological age groups.

Someone in their 40s may have a muscle age in their 50s if they take longer than average to complete the test, and this could be due to poorer muscle health.

Busy people, especially caregivers who often need to provide round-the-clock care, may consider trying this simple assessment as an easy way to determine risk of muscle mass loss.


To provide quality care to others, don’t neglect your own health.

Good nutrition, along with regular exercise, can be beneficial for building and maintaining muscle strength, and allowing you to live a fuller, healthier life in the long run.

Take the first step today to check your muscle health and make improvements to your diet and exercise routines. When caring for your loved ones, keep in mind that this also includes you.

Prioritizing yourself is not a selfish act, especially when it comes to providing care.


Andrea B. Maier is Oon Chiew Seng Professor of Medicine and Co-Director of the Center for Healthy Longevity at the National University of Singapore

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