April 10, 2023

Keys to Aging Well: Eating Well and Being Physically Active

By Lois Fahey, RD, LD, CNSC and Shaunna Mara, Community Health Educator

Who doesn’t want to age well, maintain cognitive function, and be as active as possible, for as long as possible? What we eat and how physically active we are play a major role. We are in control of these things. Here are some general guidelines to move the needle towards better health (recognizing that individuals may have medical conditions that require a specific therapeutic diet).

Consume adequate protein (preferably LEAN protein).
Older adults need more protein per pound of body weight. This will help prevent “sarcopenia,” or loss of muscle that increases risk of falls and fractures. We also need adequate protein for wound healing and immune function. Healthy sources of protein include legumes, beans, seeds, nuts, fish, chicken, eggs, and fish.

Eat the Rainbow!
Increase your intake of colorful fruits and vegetables. Different colors provide your body with vitamins, minerals and naturally occurring “phytochemicals,” substances that may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. These substances may lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Aim for 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables a day. Try something new!

Avoid or limit alcohol.
This means 1 drink /day for females, 2 for males. The less, the better.

Stay hydrated.
Our sense of thirst decreases with age. Chronic dehydration, even mild, increases the risk of urinary tract infections, falls, constipation, and blood clots. Water aids in digestion and absorbing nutrients, getting rid of waste, and even cushions and lubricates our joints.

Move towards a plant-based diet.
Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds along with eating less animal and saturated fats may decrease the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and may slow or prevent cognitive decline. This way of eating is naturally low in sodium, high in fiber, and low in sugar. Think vegetarian chili, beans and rice, and lentil soup!

Get help.
Get help if you are food-insecure. Resources include SNAP benefits (food stamps), congregate meals at senior centers, Meals on Wheels, and local food pantries.

Physical activity.
Older adults need at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking or 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity activity such as hiking, jogging, or running.

Strength training.
Improve your strength by using machines, free weights, resistance bands, your own body, and even canned goods. Heavy resistance is required to build muscle and bone. Remember to exercise in a safe way and to your own ability.

Besides improving overall strength, your metabolism may burn fat more efficiently, decrease abdominal fat, improve heart function and lower blood sugar levels, just to name a few. Science supports these findings and many more.

The benefits of physical activity can be discovered at any age and in every body. Start slowly, find a friend, seek out knowledgeable fitness instructors, and always consult with your physician and ask for the fitness prescription which is a plan of activities designed for a specific purpose. In combination with cardio, balance and stretching, results are endless.

Lois Fahey, RD, LD, CNSC, is the staff nutritionist at Granite VNA. She loves meeting people where they are at, literally, and figuratively on their journey to better health. Shaunna Mara, is a Community Health Educator at Granite VNA. She has been educating older adults in strength training for more than 15 years.