Eat well to age well: tips for older adults

Eating well and moving more can help us feel younger, stay healthier longer, and prevent, or at least delay, health problems that often come with aging.

Choosing food wisely and getting regular physical activity can help us feel younger and stay healthier longer. Just those two things can go a long way toward maintaining independence and self-sufficiency, and helping us do the things that are important to us. Eating well and moving more can also prevent, or at least delay, health problems that often come with getting older.

As we get older, sometimes our health, our medications or our financial circumstances limit the food we can eat or when we can eat it. That makes it even more important to make wise choices of the most nutritious and affordable food.

One tip to remember is that protein is powerful! Protein provides energy for the body which helps us from becoming tired. It helps maintain healthy muscles, assists our body in fighting off illness and disease, keeps our immune system on track, and helps with tissue repair.

Getting enough protein is important no matter how young or old we are. Sometimes this is difficult as we age, because we may have difficulty chewing or digesting some foods that are protein-rich. Also, people with limited finances may avoid protein foods like meat, poultry and fish because of the cost.

Here’s how to get high-quality protein:

  • Choose lean poultry, meat, and fish. A small amount goes further when combined with rice, vegetables or other ingredients in a casserole or stir-fry.
  • Less expensive sources of protein include eggs, peanut butter and legumes (dried beans and peas).
  • Trouble chewing? Chop meat or poultry well. And have teeth or dentures checked.
  • Look to dairy products as a source of protein. When digesting milk is a problem, low-fat cheese, cottage cheese or yogurt are good choices
  • Use local programs designed for older adults and those with limited incomes. These include senior dining sites, use of commodities and/or food pantries, SNAP (Bridge) card, and other programs designed to make sure that people in our community get the nourishing food that they need.

Here are some other nutrition-wise tips to prevent or delay the problems that come with aging:

  • Choose some fiber-rich foods each day. Fiber aids digestion and helps prevent constipation. Women over age 50 should aim for 21 grams of fiber a day and men over age 50 should get 30 grams.
  • Try to get 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. This helps keep our muscles strong and flexible, increases stamina, and gives us energy. If poor balance is an issue, walking while holding onto a grocery cart can provide stability. So can walking in place while holding a chair or counter.
  • Adequate calcium is important for men as well as women. It keeps our bones strong and helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Both men and women should make 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day their goal. Great calcium sources include calcium-fortified juice, low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheeses.
  • Let’s not forget to drink fluids. Our sense of thirst lessens as we grow older and our bodies retain less water. We should try to get eight to twelve cups daily of any beverage. Plain water is great, but we can also include juice, milk, tea and coffee, soup and soft drinks in this total.

For more information on nutrition or other issues of interest to older adults or those living with chronic conditions, contact a Michigan State University Extension educator in your area.

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