Each year in the U.S., there are more than 35 million hospital stays, with an average length of stay of 4.5 days. Whether from a planned surgery to an unplanned sickness, recovering after a hospital visit can feel like it takes longer to feel like ourselves when we get older. The good news is new research sheds light on the best ways to bounce back stronger.
Here are science-backed answers to four common questions that will help you do just that.
1. Why is water critical for recovery?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of Americans don’t drink enough water on a daily basis. While dehydration is more common in the warmer months, it’s also something to think about when you’re off your feet or recovering.
Water helps keep your blood flowing, carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells and protects your joints. As your body recovers from an illness or injury, it sends water and nutrients to that location. If you’re not replenishing those fluids, the wound healing and cell repair processes take longer, ultimately hindering your recovery.
In addition to drinking water to stay hydrated, food choices can account for approximately 20 percent of your daily fluid intake. According to Pam Bede, RD, a dietitian with Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition, foods like melons, tomatoes and strawberries are naturally rich in water and electrolytes, both of which are critical to healthy nerve and muscle function as you recover.
2. What should I eat if I’m trying to get back on my feet?
According to a UK survey supported by Abbott and The Patient Association, three-quarters of people over age 65 who were recovering from a health event were not given any nutrition support while in the hospital or after discharge.
If you invest in good nutrition now, you can give your body a “nutritional reserve” if you have a health setback, while also helping it maintain and rebuild muscle mass. Abby Sauer, RD, MPH, a dietitian with Abbott, recommends nourishing your body on a consistent basis by eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Specifically, make sure you’re consuming:
3. How can I get my strength and energy back?
Your muscles are a critical source for strength and energy as you recover. When you’re sick or hospitalized, your body doesn’t get enough of the nutrients it needs to recover, which causes it to break down muscle tissue. This kind of muscle loss is associated with delayed recovery from illness, slowed wound healing and a poorer quality of life. Additionally, up to 50 percent of older adults have an advanced form of muscle loss, which can impact their overall health and recovery.
Fortunately, there’s something that can help: HMB. “HMB promotes muscle growth and function and tells your body to preserve existing muscle cells when it’s under stress,” Sauer said. “That’s why incorporating more HMB in your diet can help you cut down on muscle loss and regain your strength faster.”
HMB is naturally produced by your body when it breaks down leucine, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods. It can also be found in small amounts in avocado, citrus fruit, cauliflower and catfish. However, your body needs 3 grams of it each day – the equivalent of 6,000 avocados! That’s where oral nutritional supplements – which can also help maintain and rebuild muscle mass – come in handy.
“Our bodies produce less HMB as we age,” Sauer said. “That’s why consuming more of it through diet and supplements becomes even more important each year.”
4. What about exercise?
The last step to getting back on your feet? Just that! Light activities like resistance training, daily walks, stretching or yoga can be hugely beneficial, especially if you’re feeling fatigued after a procedure or sickness. Be sure to work with your physician to determine what’s best for you.
Keeping your whole body strong and healthy year-round means you can maintain your independence at any age, even if you’re recovering from an illness, injury or surgery. Remember, it’s never too late to live your best life – no matter what life brings you.