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Join a study to stay healthy as you age


Zoe Satherley
17 May 2010
Healthy ageing is a critically important national priority. But what exactly keeps older people healthy? That is the question researchers at Southern Cross University are studying.

Researchers Dr Rosanne Coutts and Dr Sonya Brownie, from the School of Health and Human Sciences, are looking for men and women aged 60 and over to participate in focus groups to help them gain an understanding of the various views that older people have about nutrition, physical activity and ageing.

They hope their study will assist worldwide efforts to better understand how communities can make ‘healthy choices easy choices’ in relation to nutrition and physical activity for older people.

“The National Strategy for an Ageing Australia recognises the importance of nutrition and physical activity as two key determinants of healthy ageing,” said Dr Brownie.

“Our project seeks to identify the factors that either help to support, or stand in the way of, older people eating well and being physically active.

“Improvements in health care, living standards, social support systems and nutritional status have resulted in more Australians living to an old age,” Dr Coutts said.

“Together, these changes have extended human life expectancy and led to the realisation that achieving longevity in today’s world is an attainable goal for an increasing number of people.

“Promoting the concept of healthy ageing has arisen from an aspiration to match improvements in life expectancy with quality of life for the older person.

“What we know is that older people who are encouraged and supported to attain and maintain a high level of physical activity, and good social and mental function, experience a reduction in the incidence and impact of preventable disease, which delays the onset of age-related conditions.

“It is estimated that approximately half the decline in function that occurs with ageing is the result of a decline in skeletal muscle (accelerated by physical inactivity and disuse of muscle) rather than illness.

“Lean body mass (muscle) declines progressively throughout adult life and is associated with a reduction in performance, loss of strength, decreased protein reserves, increased disability, and increased risk of falls and injury.

“So through our study, we are trying to determine the factors that make it easier or harder for older people to include more physical activity in their daily routine.”

Dr Brownie said that it was never too late to implement healthy lifestyle behaviour. “Even changes made later in life can improve health and life chances,” she said.

“Another factor to consider in achieving healthy ageing is good nutrition. Older people are more vulnerable to inadequate nutrition than younger adults and have a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies.

“Malnutrition is a common problem in the older population. It can arise from a variety of factors, such as age-related changes in smell and taste, concurrent medical illness, and isolation. Malnutrition has serious adverse consequences, including poorer overall health, impaired immune function and disability.

“Poor nutritional status is associated with increased demands on health services, lengthier hospital stays and is recognised as an important predictor of morbidity and mortality.

“So again, our study is looking at the factors that make it easier or harder to eat a well balanced nutrient-rich diet.”

The focus groups for the study will be held from June 1-17 at the Lismore campus, on Tuesday mornings from 10am to 11.30am and Thursday afternoons from 1.30pm to3pm.

If you would like to participate or need more information, call Dr Brownie on 6620 3948 between 10am-4pm Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, or email on

Photo: Dr Rosanne Coutts (left) and Dr Sonya Brownie who are looking for participants for their healthy ageing study.