Since the lifestyle choices we make from a young age can affect how we age, it’s important to start eating well, exercising, and taking care of our bodies early on. Here are a few things to think about as you strive to keep your body and mind healthy.
Keeping Strong Bones
Osteoporosis, a weakening of the bone tissue, occurs more frequently in older people. You can help prevent it by doing safe exercise and eating adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, greens, beans, fish, and fortified cereals. Sunshine is one of the best sources of Vitamin D, but it can be more difficult for older adults to make, absorb, and use vitamin D. If you don’t think you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D from your diet and from sunshine, talk to your doctor about whether a supplement may be right for you.
Keeping Strong Muscles
Just like strong bones, our muscles are kept healthy through staying active. It’s best to participate in a mixture of strength training, cardiovascular, and flexibility-type exercise. Muscles can’t be built or maintained without exercise, but getting enough protein in your diet is essential, as well. Most people need 2-3 servings (about 3 ounces each) of high-protein foods throughout the day, but there is some evidence that older adults may need even more. Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, dairy, and nuts are good sources of protein. It’s a good idea to eat a balanced meal or snack containing a serving of high-protein foods after exercising to encourage muscle-building.
Keeping a Strong Immune System
With older age generally comes greater susceptibility to illnesses. Deficiencies that stem from not eating enough nutritious foods can play a role in weakening the immune system. It’s also important to take preventive measures such as getting the flu vaccine every year. Quitting smoking, getting plenty of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a balanced diet with plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables will help keep your immune system strong.
Keeping a Strong Mind
While there is currently no way of preventing dementia, we can take steps to keep our brains as healthy as possible as we age. B-vitamins are essential in brain health, and it can be more difficult for older adults to meet their needs. Animal protein and fortified cereals are good sources of vitamin B12. Whole grains, eggs, nuts, and seeds are good sources of thiamine. Fortified cereals, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and beans are good sources of folic acid.
Many things about our bodies change as we get older, but the basic tenets of good nutrition—variety, moderation, and balance—still apply. Healthy eating, good hydration, an active lifestyle, and a good attitude can make a big difference in successful aging.
For more information about good nutrition for healthy aging, get in touch with a registered dietitian at your local VA.
About the Author: Erica Golden is a long-term care clinical dietitian working with Veterans in the Bonham VA Community Living Center in North Texas. She is passionate about helping people eat well and improve their relationships with food to live healthier, happier lives.