As you age, good nutrition becomes essential to your quality of life. Poor health is not an inevitable consequence of aging. To maintain health over these years, it’s important to pay attention to the nutrition and physical activity patterns early and at all stages of aging.
Aging is a normal, gradual process of physical change over time. However, the inevitable consequences of aging are far more pronounced in some individuals than others. Although some health problems are an unavoidable aspect of aging, many more are preventable and can be influenced by eating a healthy diet. Nutrition is a major determinant of healthy, successful aging, which is defined as the ability to maintain a low risk of disease and related disabilities, good cognitive function and an active social life.
It is the physiological changes that occur with aging that affect nutrient needs. Gradual loss of lean body mass and reduced energy expenditure lower caloric needs. However, nutrient needs do not drop and in some cases increase. As a result, packing more nutrition into fewer calories becomes a challenge. All nutrients have benefits in aging but let’s look at some of the most important ones.
Because bone fractures are a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality in older people, achieving daily calcium needs is critical. As the body ages it does not absorb calcium as easily as it used to. Increased calcium excretion accompanies decreased absorption. Age associated loss of bone density increases risk for fractures and osteoporosis.
A recent meta-analysis concluded that adequate vitamin D intake is associated with lower death rates from all causes. Evidence also suggests that vitamin D, best known for its role in bone density, may have a function in preventing a
number of diseases.
Foods rich in dietary fiber may become increasingly important since constipation may effect up to 20% of the people over the age of 65. Additional factors may include side effects of medications and lack of appropriate hydration. Low fiber intake may also contribute to other gastrointestinal disease common among older adults, including diverticulosis.
The role of antioxidants in the aging process are worth mentioning. Zinc, along with the vitamins C and E, and the phytochemicals lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene from food sources, may prevent or slow the onset of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over age 55. Evidence suggests that low dietary intake of these nutrients may also increase cataract risk.
While early attention to healthy eating and physical activity patterns are most effective for prevention, the positive effect of a healthy lifestyle can be realized at any age. It is never too late!