The importance of eating healthy is something we are taught throughout our life. It is no surprise that it becomes especially important as you age. This is because aging is linked to a variety of physical changes in the human body. Some of these changes can make you prone to nutrient deficiencies, while others can affect your senses and quality of life.
One challenge of aging is a reduced need for calories. This creates a nutritional dilemma. Older adults need to get just as much, if not more, of some nutrients, all while eating fewer calories. Eating a variety of whole foods and taking a supplement can help you meet your nutrient needs.
Your daily calorie need depends on height, weight, muscle mass, activity level and several other factors. Older adults often need fewer calories to maintain their weight, since they tend to move and exercise less and carry less muscle. If you continue to eat the same number of calories per day as you did when you were younger, you could easily gain extra fat. However, even though older adults need fewer calories, they need just as high or even higher levels of some nutrients, compared to younger people. This makes it very important for older people to eat a variety of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats. These healthy choices can help you fight nutrient deficiencies, without expanding your waistline.
Another challenge for the aging body is increased muscle loss and strength. This is known as sarcopenia. It is a major cause of weakness, fractures and poor health among the elderly. Eating more protein could help your body maintain muscle. In fact, research shows that combining a protein-rich diet with resistance exercise seems to be the most effective way to fight sarcopenia.
A third issue people may experience as they age is a reduction in their body’s ability to recognize thirst. This could make you prone to dehydration. Water makes up about 60% of your body and it is important to stay hydrated at any age, since your body constantly loses water, mainly through sweat and urine. Your body detects thirst through receptors found in the brain and throughout the body. As you age, these receptors may become less sensitive to water changes, making it harder for them to detect thirst. Additionally, your kidneys help your body conserve water, but they tend to lose function as you age. Long-term dehydration can reduce the fluid in your cells, reducing your ability to absorb medicine, worsening medical conditions and increasing fatigue. That’s why it’s important to make a conscious effort to drink enough water daily.
The good news is that you can fight the physical effects of an aging body. Do this by making a conscious effort to stay on top of your water and food intake, eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods and consider taking a supplement. All these actions can help you fight deficiencies and stay healthy as you get older.
Nita Hughes, Program Director, Bloomington Eden Prairie Meals on Wheels
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA meets five times a year to exchange information and problem solve in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org.