Good nutrition helps in healing
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Q: I would like to tell your readers about the role healthy eating and physical activity play in recovering from an illness or injury. — H.P., Greenville
A: Holly Pittard is a Brody medical student who has an interest in physical medicine and rehabilitation as well as family medicine. For those of you who may have never met doctors who specialize in PMR, they are nerve, muscle, bone and brain experts who treat injury or illness nonsurgically to decrease pain and restore function. You can read more about PMR at www.aapmr.org. Here is what Holly wants you to know.
Whenever you go to doctors, they normally remind you to exercise and eat healthy. Both these behaviors help to improve your cholesterol, blood pressure, strength, mental health and physical well being overall. You’ve heard that exercise and healthy eating can help you live longer, but did you know that they also can help you recover quicker?
For example, if you broke a bone in your leg, you might ask how long will it take for you to heal or recover. The answer would depend on factors such as your age, your diet and your strength before you broke your leg. You can’t change your age, but you do have control over your diet and strength. The stronger and healthier you were before, then the faster your recovery might be.
While recovering from the broken leg, you would be limited in your mobility and limited in which muscles you could use. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons states that if an injury takes several weeks to heal, you are likely to lose muscle strength in the injured area. The muscles that you are not using as much will start to atrophy or wither.
A person with more strength in his leg to begin with will have more strength in his legs after the bone has healed. As a result, the person will be able to recover more quickly. It’s thought that having calcium and vitamin D in your diets will help to keep your bones healthy and strong to reduce the risk of fractures. But remember, having stronger muscles can also help reduce risk of injury.
If you want to improve your strength, you can go to the gym, but there are also plenty of ways to exercise outside the gym. Walking, jogging and swimming are always good options. If you are easily bored, you might change up your activity with dancing. For people who enjoy organized dancing, the Folk Arts Society of Greenville (www.fasgnc.org) holds contra dancing and salsa dancing once a month. No partner or experience are required to join in the fun.
You also can just put on some music at home and dance around your house or apartment. That counts as a workout! There also are home exercises you can do such as squats, push-ups, sit-ups or lunges. In case you aren’t sure how to do that, I found a great YouTube video for seated chair squats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QduOZS33reo or search YouTube for “Seated Exercises for Older Adults.” You also can do exercises in a therapy pool like the one at the Vidant Wellness Center.
Healthy eating can change the course of an injury — if you break a bone, have chronic back pain or experience a heart attack. Eating well is a great preventive measure, but if you do suffer an injury, it is just as important to maintain your nutrition. Healing requires more calories and protein. Bone health also requires calcium and vitamin D (dairy is a good source) and magnesium (in green vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes). Also needed are phosphorus (found in protein foods), potassium (found in fruits and vegetables), and vitamin A (found in fortified foods, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots and eggs).
Studies have shown that if patients need physical therapy they also need to pay attention to their nutrition. It might be important to have a session with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to assess dietary intake.
A study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine showed that patients with chronic pain have a higher prevalence of nutritional deficiencies. Poor nutrition is associated with less than optimal rehabilitation outcomes.
Eating healthier doesn’t mean you have to completely change your diet. You can start off with making small changes. If you really like chips, then you can still eat them. Just make sure you don’t binge; eat only one serving. Normally a serving of chips is about an ounce, which is about 15-20 chips, depending on the type. Another small change is using less salad dressing on your salad or less mayo on your sandwich. If you regularly eat fried food, then try cutting down on how often you eat it.
If you’re reducing the amount of unhealthy food you are eating, then you will increase the amount of healthy food you consume to get full. Snacking on some carrots, grapes, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables with fiber will help. You can eat grilled chicken instead of fried chicken, dried bananas instead of chips or turkey instead of a bologna sandwich. Not every healthy option will sound tasty to you, but try different things. As you find things you like, make sure to incorporate them into your everyday diet.
Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at email@example.com.