By Cathy Withiel
Helen Malins had no idea when she volunteered to take part in groundbreaking research that it would end up almost saving her life and allow her to resume her passion for travelling.
The feisty 80-year-old, who normally exercises three times a week at the AgeWell centre’s seniors gym in Hawthorn, took part in 2019 in the Your Muscles Matter study, conducted by Professor Alan Hayes and Victoria University researchers, and supported by Uniting AgeWell.
As part of the study into muscle mass and strength, the retired teacher had bone density scans and assessments and followed a regimen of resistance and other exercises, as well as adhering to a protein-rich diet.
Those exercises proved more than useful when Helen visited a friend in South Australia over Christmas 2019.
Helen’s visit, which involved a bit of rest and relaxation after a hectic year featuring a cruise to Noumea, visiting the Galapagos Islands and sailing up the Amazon River, had an unfortunate ending when she fell and fractured a disc in her back.
“And I know if I hadn’t been as strong as I was through taking part in the research, I would have broken my hip for sure,” she says.
The 2019 study investigated the incidence of sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength due to ageing, to find out how best to combat and treat this disease, which affects mobility, increases the risk of falls and fractures and often affects independence.
Recruitment was done in the first half of 2019, with regular participants from Forest Hill, Hawthorn, Noble Park and Oakleigh AgeWell centres signing up.
Participants were asked to work through their individual exercise programs, under the supervision of Uniting AgeWell’s exercise physiologists and physiotherapists.
Researchers also evaluated their food intake, quality of life, sarcopenia risk and physical ability including strength, balance and mobility.
Helen discovered she had weak bone density in her wrists and hands.
She followed the exercise routines, which she loved, as she hates walking “unless it’s to visit shops, restaurants and the pub”.
Although she is not a red meat fan, Helen likes chicken, fish and cheese and she increased her protein intake.
And she believes all of this meant that when she had the tumble in 2019, she was in the best shape possible not to injure her hips.
“I participated in the research to help others, and it ended up helping me too,” Helen says.
Now she is planning to go back to exercise classes so that she’s “fighting fit” for her next travel adventure.
The only problem now facing the Hawthorn resident is to decide which country to visit next when international travel opens up.
She’s holidayed extensively around the world, including Russia and Africa, and is running out of new horizons to explore.
“I rent out a room in my home in Hawthorn to a student and I have no ties,” she says.
“Nothing is holding me back and I am raring to go.”