Nutrition for Healthy Aging
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 70% of the physical decline among older adults with chronic disease is associated with modifiable risk factors such as poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and smoking. In addition, nearly 90% of older adults have diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, or a combination of all three. Each of these conditions have nutrition-related components.
While healthy eating is essential in all stages of life, eating well is especially important for older adults. Wise food choices and a balanced diet are key elements to a healthy lifestyle and can both slow and improve the aging process.
Your body goes through changes as you age. First of all, the body's daily energy needs slowly decrease. Therefore, you likely need fewer calories a day than when you were younger. In addition, natural hormone changes make your body prone to depositing more body fat (usually around the mid-section) and less muscle. The following chart (also located at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/downloads/calreqtips.pdf) lists the approximate calorie levels that are appropriate for different age groups:
Especially for postmenopausal women, their bones lose mineral content as they age, because lower
|Estimation of Calorie Requirments|
- Milk and foods made with milk, such as cheese, yogurt, pudding, ice milk and ice cream
- Canned fish, such as sardines and salmon
- Soy milk
- Dark-green leafy vegetables
- Juices fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
The role of antioxidants is a particularly popular nutrition topic in the media these days; in particular, their role in cancer prevention, anti-aging, and heart health. Antioxidants, which are found mainly in fruits and vegetables, have been shown to help increase the body's immune function by decreasing the chronic inflammation and oxidative stress that are often part of the aging process. Visit the following link for more information about the benefits of antioxidants:
- NCHPAD Nutrition Spotlight: The Super Power of Antioxidants at Nutrition Spotlight: The Super Power of Antioxidants.
Heart disease is an all-too-common problem in our society, especially in the aging population. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that plays an especially important role in heart health. Research has shown that omega 3 fats decrease the risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, decrease triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and reduce the buildup of plaque on artery walls. The best sources of omega 3 fats are salmon, trout, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and walnut oil. It is important to include these foods on a regular basis.
In addition to the dietary implications listed above, the following are other components that have been shown to be associated with healthy aging:
What to Limit:
- Red meat
- High-fat dairy products
- Trans fat and processed foods in general
What to Increase:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains and legumes
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy products
While good nutrition is essential for a healthy lifestyle, exercise combined with a healthy diet is the most effective way to reduce the risk of age-related chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. In addition, regular exercise can help reduce the risk of falls by improving balance and coordination and also lead to an increased sense of well-being. If you are looking to become more physically active to improve your health, take the following into consideration:
- Find activities that you enjoy that can become a regular part of your routine. Physical activity doesn't have to be structured exercise in a fitness center. It can be as simple as walking/wheeling with your spouse or a friend or taking up a new sport like swimming or golf. Having an exercise buddy can make it more fun and encouraging.
- Be sure to talk to your physician about what level of activity is safe and appropriate for you.
- Finally, set specific activity goals. Remember to start slowly and build up to increasing levels of activity.
While aging is inevitable, with healthier eating and increased physical activity, the chronic conditions often associated with aging don't have to be.