Nourished bodies, active minds: Keys to healthy aging
Men and women in the U.S. are living longer and enjoying active lifestyles well into their 80’s and 90’s. Numerous studies have confirmed that eating nutritious foods, drinking plenty of water, getting an adequate amount of sleep and staying physically active can make a remarkable difference in the quality of life for older adults.
“The advantages of improved nutrition and fitness are benefits you are never too old to enjoy,” said Brenda Bustillos, a registered dietician and doctoral candidate at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health.
By consuming nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and engaging in activities that keep you moving, you can feel an immediate difference in your energy levels, strength and general disposition. In fact, as we age the food and activity choices we make become even more essential to our health.
Bustillos emphasizes that healthful foods are not instant cures to health problems but when consumed over time, can support good health throughout the lifespan. You should eat a variety of foods that can help you get the nutrients your body needs as you age. Place yourself on a path to healthy aging with these key recommendations.
Focus on more nutrients and fewer calories.
Older adults need to make every calorie count said Bustillos. Key nutrients for aging include protein, B-vitamins, vitamin D and calcium. For a healthy eating plan, begin with these recommendations from the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015:
- Eat fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Eat more dark green vegetables, such as leafy greens and broccoli, and orange-colored vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Vary your protein choices with more fish, beans, nuts and eggs.
- Eat at least one serving (approximately 3 ounces) of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day.
- Consume three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy (milk, yogurt or cheese) each day. Select dairy products that are fortified with vitamin D to help keep your bones healthy.
- Choose healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
- Switch from preparing food using solid fats, such as butter, lard and shortening, to using canola or olive oils.
Maintenance of mental acuity is an important concern for many aging adults.
Engaging in mental activities, such as crossword puzzles, cardboard games and reading, can improve brain performance as we age. In addition, studies show foods that may contribute to better brain function, memory and mental alertness include the following:
- Vegetables – cruciferous (broccoli and cauliflower) and dark leafy (spinach, romaine lettuce, greens)
- Berries – raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries
- Fish – salmon, tuna
- Nuts – walnuts, almonds
If you live on a limited income and have trouble buying enough nutrient-rich foods to meet all your nutritional needs, explore the options for senior meal sites, meals-on-wheels or supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP) in your community.
Your golden years are certainly not the time for drastic weight loss or extreme diets You should aim to eat better while eating less — quality, not quantity. As you age, aim for a stable weight.
“If you feel you need to lose a few pounds, speak with your health provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist about the best plan for you,” Bustillos said. “Your goal should be to lose a little unwanted fat while maintaining strong muscles and bones.”
Stay physically active.
Set a goal to be physically active at least 30 minutes every day. You can split your physical activity into 10-minute sessions throughout the day if a 30-minute block of time is difficult to achieve. If you are not currently active, begin with a few minutes of activity, such as walking, and gradually increase this time as you become stronger. As always, check with your health care provider before starting a new physical activity program.
For more information on nutrition for healthy aging, contact a local registered dietitian or go to eatright.org.
Story by Major Brenda D. Bustillos, a registered dietician and doctoral candidate at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health.