In honor of National Senior Health & Fitness Month, below are some great tips for staying healthy at any age. We are not medical professionals so it is always best to see your personal physician regarding any changes to your lifestyle.
Healthy eating and regular physical activity are your keys to good health at any age. They may lower your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. They may even help you ward off depression and maintain orthopedic health (related to bones and muscles).
Why is keeping a healthy weight important?
As you age, you may notice changes in your body’s makeup. You may lose muscle mass, which may increase frailty. You may also burn fewer calories, especially if you are not very physically active. To prevent weight gain, you may need to eat fewer calories than you did when you were younger. This means you have fewer calories to help you get the nutrients your body needs for energy. So, you need to eat foods that are high in nutrients or are “nutrient dense.”
Keeping a healthy weight is crucial, but what is healthy varies from person to person. Ask your health care provider about what a healthy weight is for you.
Among older people, being underweight is of concern and may be related to not having enough to eat, not eating enough foods that are nutrient dense, or having an illness or disease.
Being overweight or obese is also of concern as extra weight may increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and bone issues. Eating wisely and being physically active to preserve muscle and bone may help you maintain strength and a healthy weight as you age.
What is a healthy weight for me?
Two standard measures for seeing if you are at a healthy weight are these:
The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of weight in relation to height. While a BMI score of 18.5 to 24.9 usually indicates a healthy weight for adults, the BMI is limited in how well it gauges body fat in older people or those who have lost muscle.
Measuring around your waist may tell you if you carry extra fat. A waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men indicates increased risk for a number of health problems.
Check with your health care provider if you have concerns about your weight.
What kinds of foods do I need to eat as I age?
When you get older, your body begins to need fewer calories, but you need just as many nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods pack a lot of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs into a small amount of calories.
Older adults, along with other Americans, are advised to "eat from the rainbow" of foods rich in nutrients, like these:
fruits and vegetables (choose a range of types with vibrant colors)
whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice
fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or soy or rice milk that is fortified with vitamin D and calcium
seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs
beans, nuts, and seeds
Some foods have many calories but offer few nutrients. Older adults should eat less of these foods:
sugar-sweetened drinks and desserts that have added sugars
foods with butter, shortening, or other fats that are solid at room temperature
white bread, rice, and pasta made from refined grains
How can I learn more about healthy eating for older adults?
Adults over the age of 50 have different dietary needs from those of younger adults. Based on Federal Government dietary guidelines, What’s On Your Plate? Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging provides healthy eating information for older adults. The guide includes tips on nutrients, food groups, and grocery shopping, as well as healthy sample menus.
Control portion sizes
A portion is the amount of one food you eat in one sitting. Many people eat more than they need, especially when eating out or getting takeout. Try these tips:
Avoid eating in front of the TV, computer, or other screen. You may not notice how much you are eating if you are distracted.
Read the Nutrition Facts label found on food and drink packages to see how many calories and how much fat are in a single serving size of an item.
Eating healthy meals can be easier when you plan ahead and make them enjoyable. Try these tips for more ideas:
Cook ahead and freeze portions for days when you don't want to cook.
Keep frozen or canned vegetables, beans, and fruits on hand for quick and healthy meal add-ons. Rinse canned foods to remove extra salt. Drain juice and syrup from canned fruit to remove extra sugar.
Eat often with someone you enjoy. If you can't cook for yourself, search for local programs that deliver meals.
Ask your health care provider about healthy eating plans. You may want to check with your health care provider or dentist if:
you find chewing difficult, don't want to eat, or have trouble with your dentures.
you feel that life events such as the death of a loved one or moving from your home are keeping you from eating well.
you think your medicines may be making your food taste bad or affecting your appetite.
you think you should take a daily vitamin like iron or vitamin C.
Physical activity is good for your health at every age. If you have never been active, starting regular physical activity now may improve your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Being active may help you live on your own for a longer time and keep you healthy.
Being active can be hard if your mobility is limited or if you have serious health problems. But, you can find activities to meet your needs. Slowly raising your arms or legs, for example, may help you when done on a regular, repeated basis.
Healthy older adults should do four types of activities regularly: aerobic (or endurance) exercise and activities to strengthen muscles, improve balance, and increase flexibility. For any new physical activity, if you have not been active, start slowly and work up to your goal. Many activities give you more than just one benefit! Water aerobics with weights gives you strengthening and aerobic benefits. Yoga combines balance, flexibility, and strengthening. Choose what you like to do—some physical activity is better than none.
How can I become more physically active?
Pick an activity you enjoy and start with small, specific goals, such as "I will take three 10-minute walks this week." Slowly increase the total amount of time and number of days you are active.
If you live in an assisted living or retirement facility, ask if the fitness center offers a free health checkup and fitness program.
Start a walking group with one or more friends where you live or through your place of worship.
Remember to follow these safety tips:
Ask your health care provider about ways you can safely increase the amount of physical activity you do now.
Take time to warm up and cool down.
Start slowly and build up to more intense activity.
Wear a sturdy pair of shoes.
Stop if you have pain, become dizzy, or feel short of breath.
Ask your health care provider about being active
Healthy older adults generally do not need to check with a health care provider before becoming physically active. However, health care providers may be able to recommend types of exercise that are best for you and ways to progress at a safe and steady pace.
If you have a health issue or problem, you should talk with your health care provider to find out if there are any limits on what you can do. Your provider can help you plan for the types and amounts of exercise that are healthy for you.
How can I start or maintain an exercise program that works for me?
You can start slowly and increase your goals as you build your strength over time. For example, you can do many arm and leg exercises without weights to get started. As you progress, you can add hand-held weights, like soup cans, to improve your strength.
There are several local gyms, fitness centers, and senior centers that offer all levels of exercise classes and workouts for older adults.
Being Good to Yourself
Due to loss of loved ones, health problems, trouble paying bills, or other reasons, many older adults may feel lonely, sad, low, or stressed. You may not feel like doing anything, not eat enough, or overeat. Being good to yourself may help you improve your “get up and go,” eating habits, and health.
Here are some ideas for being good to yourself:
Get enough sleep.
Stay in touch with family and friends to keep your spirits up.
Join a walking group or other social group.
Surround yourself with people you enjoy.
Remember, it's never too late to improve your eating plan, be more physically active, and be good to yourself for a healthier life.
Lifespan Tip Sheet for Older Adults
Eat breakfast every day.
Select high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, vegetables, and fruits.
Have three servings of vitamin D-fortified low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese every day to help keep your bones strong as you age.
Drink plenty of water or water-based fluids.
Ask your health care provider about ways you can safely increase your physical activity.
Fit physical activity into your everyday life. Take short walks throughout your day
Stay connected with family, friends, and your community
We are not medical professionals. Please consult you primary care physician for what is best for your personal health and wellness. If you need help finding a physician that is right for you in the Middle Tennessee area, please contact Saint Thomas Medical Partners/Ascension.
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A portion of this content is provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.