Embracing aging means acknowledging and embracing the changes of our bodies and perspectives on life. Aging can be a positive process, especially if you are armed with knowledge of what supports good health, and are open to discover new approaches and maybe even a few new habits. Here are four allies that can support you in your journey of healthy, positive aging:
As the body changes with age, nutritional needs also change. At the same time, older people tend to eat less so achieving the recommended daily intake of key nutrients can be challenging.
Eating a variety of whole foods is recommended, yet it is not always easy to have a balanced diet and studies show that older people can have inadequate intakes of various nutrients in their diet. Some elderly people are consuming less than the recommended daily amount of protein1, 2, and up to 92% have low levels of vitamin D blood concentration3. Other important nutrients have to be maintained in optimal amounts like vitamin B124, B65, E6 and C7, and minerals such as calcium8, selenium9 or zinc10.
Ensuring you get enough nutrients – through subtle dietary changes and/or use of supplements - can improve wellbeing.
Other tips for improved diet and nutrition:
- Keep track of your food consumption for a week to help assess your nutrient level intake; discuss it with your doctor or other health care professional
- Drink at least 2 liters of water daily. The European Food Safety Authority states that 2 liters of water/day contribute to the maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions; fluid intake is especially important for older adults wanting to maintain good activity levels and independence7.
- Plan meals ahead of time
- Make shopping an enjoyable social event; invite a friend to join you
- Prepare meals that are appealing to the senses
- Make mealtimes social. Enjoy the food and rapport while helping yourself and others stick to a healthy diet
- Consider high quality nutritional supplements if needed to help achieve the right nutrient levels
The impact of moderate physical activity of at least 30 minutes per day is invaluable to health and wellbeing at any age - contributing to lowered risk of illness, improved mood, greater independence and more social interaction compared to inactive people.
Older adults who do regular physical activity are more likely to rate their health as ‘excellent,’ further promoting positive mental wellbeing8.
Exercise does not need to be strenuous, just regular. Engage your family and friends. Enjoy regular physical activities such as swimming or gardening. Find additional motivation by checking with your local community or fitness center for specific programs for older adults. In particular look for activities that focus on:
- Aerobic exercise such as walking briskly, jogging or biking increases your heart rate – good for your heart, as well as blood pressure8
- Strength training – In addition to ensuring you get enough protein in your diet, weight training significantly supports healthy muscle mass and bone density which ultimately helps guards against frailty, falls, lack of mobility and lack of independence.
Flexibility and balance exercises (as found in yoga) – can help guard against stiff muscles, injuries and falls. Even simple acts such as standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or washing dishes can contribute to improved balance.
Weight management is key for good health at any age. Of course weight issues can be influenced by many factors - from genes and stress to lifestyle choices, including diet and physical activity levels. To age well, seek to manage the factors within your control such as eating a balanced diet focused on moderate portions, and enjoying at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Excess weight can get in the way of good mobility and a positive attitude.
Positive Attitude & Social Connection
Looking after mental health is important for everyone especially for those interested in healthy aging. Here are some tips that can help to boost wellbeing:
- Share time with loved ones even if it’s simple things like everyday meals
- Stay connected with family, friends and community whether it’s in-person, by phone, email or social media
- Keep moving - Physical activity promotes mental, physical and social wellbeing
- Get a good night’s sleep – it can help with recovery, lower stress and support greater energy and optimism.
To learn more, read Maintaining Mobility and the Importance of Protein for healthy aging.
1. Fulgoni VL 3rd. Current protein intake in America: Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004. Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87:1554S-1557S
2. Bauer J et al. Evidence-Based Recommendations for Optimal Dietary Protein Intake in Older People: A Position Paper From the PROT-AGE Study Group. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2013;14(8):542-559
3. Van der Wielen RP, et al. Serum vitamin D concentrations among elderly people in Europe. Lancet. 1995; 346(8969):207-10.
4. Oberlin BS, et al. Vitamin B12 deficiency in relation to functional disabilities. Nutrients.2013; 5(11):4462-75.
5. Kjeldby IK, et al. Vitamin B6 deficiency and diseases in elderly people--a study in nursing homes. BMC Geriatr. 2013: 8;13:13
6. Polito A, et al. Estimation of intake and status of vitamin A, vitamin E and folate in older European adults: the ZENITH. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005; 59 Suppl 2:S42-7
7. Fritz K and Elmadfa I. Quality of nutrition of elderly with different degrees of dependency: elderly living in private homes. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008; 52 Suppl 1:47-50.
8. International osteoporosis Foundation. Why seniors are more vulnerable to calcium and vitamin D deficiency. Available at: https://www.iofbonehealth.org/news/why-seniors-are-more-vulnerable-calcium-and-vitamin-d-deficiency
9. Alehagen U, et al. Relatively high mortality risk in elderly Swedish subjects with low selenium status. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016;70(1):91-96.
10. Prasad AS, et al. Zinc supplementation decreases incidence of infections in the elderly: effect of zinc on generation of cytokines and oxidative stress. Am J Clin Nutr, 2007; 85 (3): 837-844
11. EFSA Journal 2011; 9(4):2075. Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to water and maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions (ID 1102, 1209, 1294, 1331), maintenance of normal thermoregulation (ID 1208) and “basic requirement of all living things” (ID 1207) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061
12. Centres for Disease control and prevention CDC. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Older Adults. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/olderad.htm