Living a healthy lifestyle is always important, but as we age, the choices we make can lead to longevity. While genetics play a role, older adults can take steps to encourage healthy aging. It’s best to establish healthy habits from a young age, but it’s never too late to start.
Healthy Aging Month reminds all of us, but especially older adults, to be aware of the nutrition and lifestyle choices that contribute to overall well-being. This includes physical and mental health, nurturing the body with healthy food and maintaining a healthy and active social life.
Begin With a Healthy Diet
Healthy eating is a big contributor to overall wellness. It’s best to check with a healthcare provider prior to making any diet or lifestyle changes, but general guidelines include:
Appropriate portion sizes––Portion control helps keep weight in check, which may mean less risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Balanced nutrition––The USDA has specific dietary and physical recommendations for older adults. Learn more about Eat Smart, Live Strong for senior diet and healthy aging information.
More fruits and vegetables––The five-a-day recommendation holds true when it comes to healthy aging. Moreover, the USDA recommends eating at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day (again, within physician’s recommendations for personal health).
Fiber––Eating fiber-rich foods such as broccoli, nuts, oats, beans and whole grains can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and keep the digestive system functioning properly, which may contribute to healthy aging. So according to a study in the Journal of Gerontology, older adults who ate fiber-rich diets were 80 percent more likely to live healthier and longer than those who didn’t.
Good hydration––Six to eight glasses of water is a general rule of thumb. Medications or health conditions may affect water intake.
What Foods Should Older Adults Avoid?
Metabolism slows as we get older, meaning adults don’t need to consume as many calories, especially if physical activity level has decreased. Dietary restrictions due to medical conditions may also come into play. The importance of healthy eating, however, remains constant, as well as avoiding foods that don’t agree with your body’s constitution. Here are some foods older adults should avoid or minimize:
Junk food––Older adults are often busy or simply not up to the task of cooking. Fast foods may seem appealing when you can’t or don’t want to cook, but the empty calories, high sodium and high fat content usually found in these foods can cause more problems than solutions.
Caffeine––Too much caffeine can interrupt sleep and increase heart rate. Be conscious of caffeine found in beverages beyond coffee, such as tea, soda and energy drinks.
Grapefruit––This otherwise healthy fruit may interact with some medications. Older adults should check with a doctor or pharmacist regarding current prescriptions.
Alcohol––While enjoying the occasional alcoholic beverage is acceptable for some people, it’s contraindicated for many older adults who have chronic illness or take certain medications.
Processed foods––This typically means avoiding high-sodium, sugar-laden, overly processed foods with preservatives, chemicals and food dyes. Processed foods can also be high in sodium, which can be problematic for older adults.
Does that mean no packaged foods? No way. There are plenty of healthy snacks that can be pre-packed or even purchased from a healthy vending machine. Snack foods high in fiber that contribute to healthy aging include dried fruit, air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers, low-fat granola bars and oatmeal. All of these options and many more can be found in your local healthy vending machine at work, in community centers, car dealerships, medical facilities, hotels and more, making it a convenient option over fast food.
More Tips for Healthy Aging
Get regular check-ups––Your own physician knows you best, so it’s important to schedule yearly physicals and see your doctor regularly to monitor chronic conditions, acute health concerns, family history and risk factors and prescribed medications.
Maintain a positive quality of life––Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Forget the number on the calendar and create a lifestyle that suits your interests and abilities. Don’t forget to schedule social time when you can, whether that’s with your spouse, family, friends or other social groups. A positive mindset can keep you on the road to healthy aging.