Inexpensive ways to maintain muscle health

We take many things for granted. Our health, our youth and our vitality until we lose these through injury or ageing. It is only natural but we must not let the good things come to pass in vain.

We see many advertisements and promotions about keeping our skin and complexion youthful and wrinkle-free. We buy into the idea and keep up the beauty regime.

What we forget is our muscle health even though we hear it often enough that we should exercise. Going to the gym may not be for many of us, but muscle health should be. There are quite a few ways to do it, and it doesn't have to be expensive at all.

We can go for 30-minute walks daily. Or we can be more conscious of our posture and be more careful of how we lift things in our daily routines. We can also start eating right.

I realised all these some years ago when I had to take care of my son, Omar, who as an infant, was diagnosed with, amongst several other things, spastic hemiplagia. And then again later when my late parents' health failed and they needed specific care and therapy. My mother went into a diabetic coma for several weeks and recovered. A few months later, my father, then 87, fell and broke his thighbone.

As part of their care plan, we had to do different therapies for the different groups of muscles. This has made me realise how muscles can deteriorate (atrophy) if they are not used. And getting them to work again takes effort and can be uncomfortable if not downright painful.

Amongst the things I learnt about muscles is that spastic muscles are always tight. But strangely enough, it is tight only when the person is awake. My son, Omar, looks "normal" with relaxed muscles and good muscle tone when he is asleep. We can move his limbs without pain or protest.

However, the moment he wakes up, his right side (the side affected by brain damage in the left lobe) takes on a spastic pose - right arm crooked, fingers bent and right leg turned. It is as though his spasticity goes to sleep when he sleeps and gets all tight and rather painful when he is awake.

We can only work out his limbs to a certain point. The rest of the time he has to wear splints to prevent further spasticity. Some muscle tension can be surgically corrected, as in Omar's case, but it is not always long-term.

In all these cases, doctors and therapists tell us that muscles can lose its tone within weeks and how when muscles aren't used enough, basic movements hurt. This was why we had to seek out physiotherapists to move my mother's limbs when she was in a coma. It was also to prevent other complications like bedsores.

It wasn't until my father became bedridden when he broke his thighbone that I realised the gravity of getting the patient mobile as fast as possible. His orthopaedic surgeon said that immobility caused muscle loss, even in healthy adults.

No matter how old you are, all muscles atrophy with extreme disuse. This is especially so for muscles that are severely limited in use such as in bedrest, limb suspension or complete immobilisation caused by injury.

I remember the urgency of getting my father on his feet again after his surgery. Five days after surgery, my father was standing and taking a few steps. We were elated! Unfortunately, he succumbed to a bout of flu.

For the elderly, flu is one of the major killers. In the case of my father, one thing led to another. He was not strong enough to fight the flu, and passed away seven weeks after the fall.

So for those who have no excuse not to take better care of themselves, here are some muscle facts. Even by just taking a break from workout can impact muscle function.

Flexibility and power can decrease substantially after just one week of inactivity and endurance can decline after just two weeks.

But the good news is that muscle memory actually makes it easier to regain strength than it is to build that muscle for the first time. So if you have been sick and away from your workout, you can climb back onto that proverbial horse and keep working out.

There's no easy way to prevent muscle loss in terms of mass and strength, but here are some tips to do it right:

Eat healthy food in the period immediately following a workout

Adapt a healthy lifestyle while still young. We can't control ageing but we can maintain our fitness level to stay strong and youthful

Build muscles to be as strong as possible because the fitter the muscle, the longer it takes to atrophy.