Keeping Fit after Fifty

I strongly believe that it is more important to be able to add life to your years than just striving to add years to our lives. And what better way to do so …than by arming ourselves with the arsenal of good nutrition.


Good nutrition remains critical throughout the life to get the necessary nutrients that keep us strong and enable us to fight diseases but attains utmost importance during the graying years, post fifty.


This article is in fact in response to Mr. Manoj Sanyal’s suggestion to write about the nutritional needs of elderly on the site. As promised, Sir, am writing this article as an attempt to provide valuable resource for people aged 50 and older, who wish to incorporate correct eating choices into their lives, and in turn enhance their quality of life.


Ideally, you’ve been practicing healthy eating habits throughout your life, but as the years pass and you turn fifty, your bodies witness a radical change. Most men experience lowered libido, reduced muscle strength, chronic fatigue, bloated abdomen and an onset of degenerative diseases like hypertension, diabetes and joint pains. Women, on the other hand, often begin having weight problems, appearance of wrinkles and age spots, undergo mild depression and post menopausal symptoms as they turn fifty. All these are signs of declining hormone levels and changing metabolism.


Understanding the physiological changes


As we age, our body composition changes with a decrease in lean tissue mass (as much as 25%) and an increase in body fat. Such changes can be accelerated because older adults utilize dietary protein less efficiently and may actually need a greater than recommended amount of high quality protein in their diet to maintain lean tissue mass. These changes in metabolism and physiology can be exaggerated due to complications from digestive difficulties, oral and dental problems, and medication-related eating and nutrient problems


In simpler terms, you lose lean body mass (muscle), your metabolic rate slows down and you burn calories more slowly. This means that you need nutrient-dense foods to provide vitamins and minerals without too many calories. But, exactly how much and what you should eat is perhaps the question on your mind?


The nutrients which acquire importance after fifty are calcium, fiber, iron, protein, and the vitamins A, C, D and Folacin and hence need to provide them through matural and supplemental sources. The key formula being –Reduce calories, select nutrient-dense foods, and enjoy smaller portions of foods high in fat, sugar and sodium


Follow these dietary guidelines to attain optimum health after fifty-


1. Take adequate fiber in the diet.

Adequate dietary fiber works to control constipation, and reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. High–fiber foods include whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.


2. Water– Adequate hydration is a chronic problem for many seniors. Decreased thirst sensation is common with aging and some medications affect the body’s ability to regulate fluid balance. Dehydration also worsens the symptoms of constipation. To combat these problems, it is suggested that seniors drink at least eight glasses of fluids a day. Keep in mind, though, that coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages don’t count toward this total fluid intake because they all act as diuretics, causing you to lose water.


3. Both calcium and vitamin D absorption decrease with age, this has adverse effects on bone health and increases the risk of fractures. The ability to absorb the amount of vitamin B12 needed for normal nerve function also decreases with age, making this another key nutrient in your diet. People aged 65 years and over should take a vitamin D supplement as well as regularly eating food sources (e.g. oily fish, cod liver oil and margarine).



4. It is important that older people continue to enjoy their food and that they keep active (e.g. walking, gardening, dancing, climbing stairs) in order to maintain a good appetite, maintain mobility and prevent obesity.



5. Switching from ordinary white bread to wheat bread with added fibre or multi grain bread helps to improve the fiber content; using less of cheese, butter and mayonnaise would decrease saturates intake, as would substituting skimmed milk for whole milk. Increasing the types and amounts of fruits and vegetables eaten will help to improve intakes of some micronutrients such as vitamin C and potassium as well as increasing dietary fibre intakes.


6.  Add soybean in your diet. Regular consumption of soybeans is known to benefit most aging diseases like Type II Diabetes, menopausal complains, prostrate gland enlargements in men, premenstrual syndrome, Osteoporosis etc. You can include Soya in your daily diet by switching to Soya milk or adding soy flour into wheat flour(1:1) to make chapattis or adding soy nuggets to vegetable preparations.



7. Have more nuts and seeds in the diet. Almonds, walnuts , flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidants and also provide us with heart friendly omega 3 fatty acids. Have 5-8 almonds, 2-3 walnuts every morning with a glass of warm water. Flax seeds can be ground into powders and added on the salads or made into salad dips and chutneys ( may add garlic , green chillies and black salt for taste).



8. For silvers with dental problems, switch to fruit and vegetable juices over whole fruits and cut salads, milk and curd over meats for proteins and cooked cereals such as porridge, puddings or rice instead of breads and chapattis.



9. Try to include oily fish such as pomfret, mackerel(bangda), salmon etc at least 2-3 times in a week , preferably in grilled, steamed or baked preparations. Fish are excellent to improve the good cholesterol and are also shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties ( beneficial for arthritis and other joint pains).


10.  For silvers with digestive problems, it is advisable to have buttermilk, vegetable stews, boiled potatoes and French beans ( in stead of gas inducing cabbage or spinach) and soft canned fruits. Avoid acid promoting foods such as red meat, eggs, saturated fats, fried foods, sugar, madia, bread, pasta, pastries, alcohol and caffeine. Vegetable oils should be avoided as too much Omega-6 type of fatty acids may trigger the inflammation. The best oil to use is olive oil, til oil or rice bran oil.




11. Loss of appetite is quite common among elders, so try to add flavor in the meal by adding herbs, colors or variety. Eat with family and friends, go out for social gatherings , indulge in any hobby of your choice, meditate or do yoga, and you would surely be able to enjoy the meal.



12. Foremost, try to be as active as possible. Go for regular walks, play a sport , indulge in gardening or cooking.



There is enough scientific evidence that good nutrition promotes vitality and independence whereas poor nutrition can prolong recovery from illness, increase the costs and incidence of hospitalization, and lead to poor quality of life. Good nutrition is, therefore, basic to the quality of life. And while the evidence of the value of nutritional balance is clear, the nutritional status of many older individuals lacks that balance and the problem is often complicated by a fear of foods and the diet related information that is thrust on them


Agreed, it might not be possible to reverse the clock and experience those active, energetic youthful days, but you can surely add life to your years by maintaining a positive outlook and paying attention to your eating habits and lifestyle choices.

Go and reclaim your life after fifty!  



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