With all that’s known today about healthy aging, there’s never been a healthier time to be a part of the “50+ generation.” Wellness and health after 50 depends, in part, on you and your everyday choices.
When it comes to aging, everyone is different. However, risks for some health conditions go up with age. Additionally, a number of internal and external physical changes are more common as you get older.
- Decreased muscle mass and strength ...affecting stamina, ease of movement and the ability to lift heavy things.
- Altered body composition ... gradual replacement of muscle with body fat increasing the risk for diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and arthritis.
- Bone loss ... making bones less dense and more likely to break, especially among individuals who are not physically active.
- Slower metabolism ... slowing the rate at which the body uses energy (calories) and increasing risk for overweight or obesity.
- Higher blood cholesterol/triglyceride levels and blood pressure ... resulting in greater risk for heart disease and stroke.
- Higher blood sugar levels ... increasing risk for diabetes.
The good news is that by eating smart, achieving a healthy weight and staying physically active, you can help delay and reduce risk of problems associated with health after 50.
Good Nutrition: As Important as Ever
Part of healthy aging is healthy eating. Smart eating is about choosing a variety of nutrient-rich foods and beverages in the right amounts for your needs. That means plenty of fruits and vegetables, recommended amounts of low fat or fat free milk and dairy products, enough protein-rich foods [lean meat, poultry, fish, dry beans (legumes), nuts] and grain products, including at least 3 servings of whole grain foods each day. It’s also important to drink recommended amounts of water. For specific amounts within the food groups and a food pattern that’s right for your calorie needs, check www.ChooseMyPlate.gov.
After age 50 some nutrients need special attention.
- Protein ... Eating enough protein while staying within your calorie needs helps retain muscle mass. Good sources: lean meat and poultry; fish; dry beans (legumes) or nuts; eggs; fat free or low fat milk, yogurt or cheese.
- Add small amounts of protein-rich foods to casseroles, soups and stews.
- Snack on low fat yogurt, a small handful of nuts or a scoop of cottage cheese.
- Fiber ... Fiber helps keep an aging intestinal tract regular, promotes healthy weight and can help reduce diabetes and heart disease risks. Good sources: whole grain foods, vegetables, fruit, dry beans (legumes) and nuts.
- Try whole grain toast or cereal.
- Give soup a fiber boost by adding veggies, beans (legumes), whole grain pasta, brown rice or whole grain barley.
- Calcium ... Besides keeping bones strong, calcium helps with blood pressure control and may reduce risk for some cancers. Good sources: low fat milk, yogurt and cheese; calcium-fortified juice and soymilk.
- Turn morning coffee into latte and afternoon tea into chai by adding warm low fat milk or fortified soymilk.
- Make a low fat dip with yogurt and herbs or spices for veggies, fruit or whole grain crackers.
- Vitamin D ... Beyond promoting bone health, it is being studied for its possible role in helping lower some other health risks, too. Good sources: salmon and tuna; vitamin D-fortified milk, cheese, juice and soymilk (check the Nutrition Facts label for vitamin D amounts).
- Make a fruit smoothie fortified with a vitamin D milk.
- Feature salmon or tuna in one or two meals weekly.
- Folate ... Low dietary intake is linked to anemia and high homocysteine levels (a risk factor for heart disease), and potentially to age-related hearing loss. Good sources: leafy green vegetables, some fruits, legumes and folate-fortified grain foods.
- Mix beans into leafy greens for a nutritious salad.
- Drink orange juice with breakfast.
- Vitamin B12 ... Not getting enough is linked to anemia and memory loss. Because animal-based foods provide the best sources, vegetarians need to pay special attention to this important nutrient. Good sources: Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low fat dairy foods, vitamin B12-fortified cereals.
- Choose breakfast cereal that’s vitamin B12-fortified. Top it with low fat milk or yogurt.
- Enjoy a tuna, salmon or chicken salad sandwich.
- Potassium ... Potassium helps balance sodium’s effects on blood pressure. Good sources: many fruits and vegetables, dairy foods, dry beans, meat, nuts.
- Snack on a banana or enjoy a cold glass of low fat milk.
- Flavor cooked veggies with dried fruit, fruit juice or tomato puree, rather than salt.
Balance Your Life, Balance Your Calories
For every aspect of life and healthy aging, balance is important. That’s especially true for the calories you take in, and the calories your body burns.
- To eat the right amount of calories to meet your nutrient needs without overdoing it...
- Eat sensible mealtime portions ... eat slowly and savor the flavor, until you’re satisfied, but not stuffed.
- Choose mostly nutrient-rich foods. Go easy on food and drinks with added sugars.
- To burn more energy and get health benefits from active living...
- Fit 150 minutes of moderate activity (such as walking) into your week; include muscle-strengthening activities at least twice weekly. Ten minutes at a time is fine. Regular exercise preserves bone and muscle strength; promotes healthy weight, heart health, normal blood sugar and blood pressure levels and more.
- Choose many different activities ... for strength, flexibility and endurance and for improving balance, coordination and mobility. Take a brisk walk. Garden without power tools. Walk the golf course. Go dancing. Lift weights.
Fluids Matter: Drink Wisely!
Dehydration can be an issue for older adults. So...
- Get enough fluids: ~9 to 12 cups daily. While this may seem like a lot, remember that, in addition to water, other beverages and foods count toward the total. For most people, drinking water at regular intervals and eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits is a good plan for staying hydrated. Physical activity, particularly in hot weather, can increase your fluid needs.
- Make your beverage choices matter. Water is best; low fat milk and 100% juice also deliver nutrients. Unsweetened tea (hot or iced), black coffee and sugar free beverages supply fluids with few calories and plenty of flavor. Go easy on sugary drinks that provide extra calories.
As you can see, you can be “well” aged at 50 and beyond by making smart food choices and staying physically active now. Whatever your age, it’s always a good time to start or keep up the good work!
This delicious Healthy Living recipe features delicious chicken and the option to pair with your favorite vegetables. Crispy Baked Pesto Chicken.