Over the past 70 years Australians have made huge strides in our awareness of health and wellbeing issues. Today, older people have health and wellbeing knowledge and opportunities that simply weren’t available to our parents and grandparents. It’s up to us to take advantage of these advancements to stay well as we age.
Throughout this year, as COTA Victoria celebrates turning 70, we’re speak to leaders in health, and wellbeing. To start, we speak with Ngaire Hobbins, author, dietician and specialist in ageing and brain health.
Fearless eating good for body and brain
By the time we’re 70, we’re used to receiving lifestyle advice. Eating is an area where the advice is often confusing and unhelpful – with so many complex and contradictory rules, it can feel as though you need a doctorate in quantum physics to safely make breakfast.
That’s why it was such a pleasure to chat with Ngaire Hobbins. Not only is she a popular author and presenter, a leading specialist in nutrition for older people and an expert on ageing and brain health. She’s also a passionate advocate for changing attitudes about how and what older people should eat. Ngaire’s latest book, Brain Body Food, shows how to help our bodies meet the challenge of ageing. Ngaire’s message is that what you eat and do from now on can help you age well, stay independent and live the life you had hoped for.
‘I started working exclusively with older adults 20 years ago. People are still unaware that nutrition needs beyond your mid 60s are not the same as when you were younger. That mistake – and others – often results in physical and cognitive decline that could have been avoided,’ Ngaire says.
What are these common mistakes? Eating less. Dieting. Avoiding the gym because muscle-building is just for young gym-junkies. Ngaire says the science is clear. Once you’re in your late 60s or older, dieting should be avoided. That’s because losing weight when you’re older means losing muscle – which creates future problems.
The older you get, the more important muscle becomes. Body muscle supports our immune system to fight infection and illness. It helps older people repair wounds, recover from illness and avoid hospitalisation.
Despite our age, we’re still running adult-sized bodies, and need more nutrients, rather than less. Protein is important. ‘People over 70 are thought to need at least 20% more protein than in younger years,’ Ngaire says. ‘Put a good protein food at the centre of every meal and you won’t have to struggle to keep up the supply,’ she says. Eating protein-rich foods and exercising to retain muscle health is both simple and enjoyable. It has the added benefit of assisting cognitive health. ‘Everything that applies to your muscles also hold true for your brain. Keep it active and feed it properly,’ Ngaire says.
What about older people in aged care or living on their own? ‘Nutritional care of the elderly is generally poorly managed, under-recognised and under-treated,’ Ngaire says. Her comments are confirmed by the findings of the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care and other studies. Ngaire has been involved in advising aged care homes on nutrition and also in malnutrition screening of older people living in their own homes. ‘There is slow improvement across the aged care sector. Also, in assisting people living alone.
‘The key message is that whether in aged care facilities or the broader community, nutrition quality and quantity is fundamental for the quality of life of older people. We need to invest more in educating them and their families. The diet you have in your early 60s will be a key influence over the quality of your later life,’ Ngaire says.