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Biological and psychosocial issues



Seniors are young at heart


Healthy eating and regular physical activity are keys to good health at any age. They may lower your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. They may even help ward off depression and keep your mind sharp as you age. This brochure offers tips and tools to help people aged 65 and over eat healthfully and be physically active. Talk to your health care provider for more specific advice if you have health problems or concerns. Remember, it is never too late to make healthy changes in your life.

Healthy eating

A healthy eating plan for older adults includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods.

Tips for Healthy Eating

To help you stay on track with your healthy eating plan, follow these tips:
Do not skip meals. Skipping meals may cause your metabolism to slow down or lead you to eat more high-calorie, high-fat foods at your next meal or snack.
Select high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, vegetables, and fruits. They may help keep you regular and lower your risk for chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Choose lean beef, turkey breast, fish, or chicken with the skin removed to lower the amount of fat and calories in your meals. As you age, your body needs fewer calories, especially if you are not very active.
Have three servings of vitamin D-fortified low-fat/fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese every day. Milk products are high in calcium and vitamin D and help keep your bones strong as you age. If you have trouble digesting or do not like milk products, try reduced-lactose milk products, or soy-based beverages, or tofu. You can also talk to your health care provider about taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
Choose foods fortified with vitamin B12. Many adults over the age of 50 have difficulty absorbing adequate amounts of this vitamin. Therefore, they should get this nutrient through fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, or from a dietary supplement. Talk with your health care provider to ensure that you are consuming enough vitamin B12.
Keep nutrient-rich snacks like dried apricots, whole-wheat crackers, peanut butter, low-fat cheese, and low-sodium soup on hand. Eat only small amounts of such foods as dried apricots and peanut butter because they are high in calories. Limit how often you have high-fat and high-sugar snacks like cake, candy, chips, and soda.
Drink plenty of water or water-based fluids. You may notice that you feel less thirsty as you get older, but your body still needs water to stay healthy. Examples of water-based fluids are caffeine-free tea and coffee, soup, and low-fat or skim milk.

Planning and Preparing the Meals

It is easier to eat well when you plan for your meals and make them enjoyable. Try these tips:
  • Cook ahead and freeze portions to have healthy and easy meals on hand for days when you do not feel like cooking.
  • Keep frozen or canned vegetables, beans, and fruits on hand for quick and healthy additions to meals. Rinse canned vegetables and beans under cold running water to lower their salt content. If fruit is canned in 100-percent fruit juice, drain the juice to avoid added calories.
  • Try new recipes or different herbs and spices to spark your interest in food. Set the table with a nice cloth and even a flower in a vase to make mealtime special.
  • Eat regularly with someone whose company you enjoy.
Check with your health care provider.

If you have a problem eating well, such as difficulty chewing or not wanting to eat, talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian. They can give you specific advice on following a healthy eating plan that addresses these barriers to healthful eating. Check with your dentist about caring for your teeth or dentures and your gums.
The death of a loved one or moving from your home of many years may affect your desire to eat. Talk to your health care provider if events in your life are keeping you from eating well. Sometimes talking to a friend or family member can help.
Many medications may alter the taste of food. If you have difficulty eating because many foods taste bad, speak with your health care provider about other options and medications.
Ask your health care provider if you should take a daily multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. No pills have been proven to “stop aging” or “improve your memory.” Taking a “one-a-day” type, however, may help you meet the nutrient needs of your body every day.

Healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight may reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. It may also help you move better and stay mentally sharp. If you are underweight, overweight, or obese, you are at risk for certain health problems. Ask your health care provider about a healthy weight for you. If you start to gain or lose weight and do not know why, your health care provider can tell you if this change is healthy for you.

Health Risks of Being Underweight
  • poor memory
  • decreased immunity
  • osteoporosis (bone loss)
  • decreased muscle strength
  • hypothermia (lowered body temperature)
  • constipation
If you are underweight, you may not be getting enough nutrients. Talk to your health care provider about the best way to gain weight and meet your nutritional needs.

Health Risks of Being Overweight or Obese
  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high blood cholesterol
  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • some types of cancer
  • gallbladder disease
If you already have one or more of these conditions, ask your health care provider if a modest weight loss (5 to 10 percent of your body weight) could help you feel better or need less medicine.
If you need to lose weight, make sure that you reduce your total calories, but do not reduce your nutrient intake. Do not try to lose weight unless your health care provider tells you to.

Tips for Safe Physical Activity

Physical activity is good for your health at every age. If you have never been active, starting regular physical activity now may improve your strength, endurance, and flexibility. Being active can help you live on your own for a longer time and lower your chance of getting type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and colon cancer.
Whatever activity you choose, follow the safety tips below:
  • Ask your health care provider about ways you can safely increase the amount of physical activity you do now.
  • Take time to warm up, cool down, and stretch.
  • Start slowly and build up to more intense activity.
  • Stop the activity if you experience pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • When you are active outdoors, wear lightweight clothes in the summer and layers of clothing in the winter.
  • Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for sun protection.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are right for your activity.
Getting Active

To get started, pick an activity you enjoy. Begin with small, specific goals. Slowly increase the length of time and the number of days you are active.
You may benefit most from a combination of aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility activities. Build up to 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity cardiovascular or aerobic activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Try to incorporate balance and flexibility activities into your daily workout as well. Work toward doing strength exercises on 2 or 3 days a week.
Aerobic activities use your large muscle groups and increase your heart rate. They may cause you to breathe harder. You should be able to speak several words in a row while doing aerobic activities, but should not be able to carry on an entire conversation. Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include:
  • walking briskly
  • water aerobics
  • tennis
  • housework or gardening
  • active play with children or grandchildren
  • dancing
Strengthening activities require your muscles to use force against a resistance, such as gravity, weights, or exercise bands. Examples of strength training activities include:
  • lifting weights
  • household or garden tasks that make you lift or dig
  • pushing a lawn mower
Balance activities typically focus on the muscles of your abdomen, lower back, hips, and legs. They require you to control your body as you move through space to avoid falls. Examples of balance activities include:
  • walking heel to toe in a straight line
  • standing on one foot
  • standing up from a chair and sitting down again without using your hands
  • Tai Chi
  • rising up and down on your toes while standing and holding onto a stable chair or countertop
Flexibility activities help increase the length of your muscles and improve your range of motion. Examples of flexibility exercises include:
  • stretching
  • yoga
  • Pilates
Weight-bearing activities require your bones and muscles to work against gravity. They include any activities in which your feet and legs are bearing your total body weight. Examples of weight-bearing activities include:
  • walking
  • tennis
  • climbing stairs
Tips 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. Milk products are high in calcium and vitamin D and help keep your bones strong as you age. Or take a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
  • Drink plenty of water or water-based fluids. You may notice that you feel less thirsty as you get older, but your body still needs the same amount of water to stay healthy.
  • Ask your health care provider about ways you can safely increase the amount of physical activity you do now.
  • Fit physical activity into your everyday life. For example, take short walks throughout your day. You do not have to have a formal physical activity program to improve your health and stay active.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Stay connected with family, friends, and your community.


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