5 Top Tips for Healthy Ageing

As all of our bodily functions are based on chemistry, we’ve got to make sure to supply the chemicals (= nutrients) to make this work throughout our lives. However, as we age, our requirements change for a variety of reasons, for example our ability to produce some hormones decreases, we naturally lose muscle, and produce less stomach acid than we did before. All of these and other changes have an impact on your nutritional requirements.

 

ageing elderly senior nutrition

1. Stay hydrated

Thirst (and appetite) often decrease as we get older, so we are less likely to reach for a drink. Yet, our requirement for proper hydration hasn’t changed at all. The body needs water for proper digestion (e. g. stomach acid production, to promote elimination via both bowels and kidneys, keeping the bowels moving), water protects the brain and keeps it cushioned, it keeps our joints and skin supple.

The best way to check whether you are well hydrated is the colour of your urine. It should look more like lemonade rather than apple juice. Note that it can be distorted if you are taking a supplement containing vitamin B2 (riboflavin) as it will give urine an almost neon yellow tinge. This is nothing to worry about, just be aware.

If you are not thirsty, set yourself a schedule to drink anyway. You could fill a bottle (not plastics!) with water two or three times – depending on its size – per day and put it and a glass in a prominent spot where you will see it and be reminded to drink. Water or herbal teas are the best source of fluids, but fresh fruit and vegetables with a high water content count, too, so do soups. Steer clear of cola – regardless of whether it is sweetened sugar or artificial sweeteners, either come with their own downsides –, because the phosphoric acid in it is thought to impact on bone density.  

2. Get your Vitamin B12 levels checked

Although we don’t need a lot of B12 (cobalamin), we do need it. It is an important vitamin for the mind, and deficiency can contribute to memory loss and subclinical depression. If you find that you are having memory problems and experience pins and needles in your hands and feet, ask your doctor to assess your B12 status.

Vitamin B12 is contained in animal foods only. Vegetarians can get it from eggs and cheese, but vegans will have to supplement or consume products that have been fortified with B12. However, it’s not just about what we consume, it’s about what we absorb: B12 requires calcium and a substance called ‘intrinsic factor’, which it needs to bind to before it gets absorbed. The production of intrinsic factor requires adequate levels of stomach acid, but stomach acid production declines with age. Moreover, the usage of antacid medication increases with age, lowering stomach acid levels even further. Many other drugs, e. g. anti-ulcer medication, metformin, and statins also affect B12 levels. If you need to take these drugs and have low B12, ask your doctor for support in keeping your vitamin B12 up.

3. Don’t fight your stomach acid

As we age, so does our digestive system and as a result of that, stomach acid production slows down. Stomach acid forms part of the immune system, destroying bugs we accidentally take in via the mouth. It is required to digest protein and trigger the production of digestive enzymes further down the digestive tract and of course, as mentioned above, for the absorption of certain nutrients. Apart from vitamin B12, stomach acid is needed for mineral absorption: calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc etc. Unfortunately, acid reflux or heartburn are very common among older people and many take antacid medication to deal with the problem. However, acid reflux is rarely caused by too much stomach acid, but more commonly too little and antacids are just going to make the problem worse and promote malabsorption. For more on acid reflux, stomach acid and antacid drugs, click here:

4. Move your body

If you are not exercising regularly, start now. It is never too late. You're not expected to run a marathon, but you must move. The decline of our muscle mass begins as early as our thirties, but exercise helps slow down this process. We don’t just need muscle to stay mobile, it also has a metabolic function and protects us from diabetes, heart disease and metabolic and hormonal decline, it supports brain function and keeps us young for longer. Weight bearing exercise - such as walking, climbing stairs, dancing or weight lifting – not only increases muscle mass, but also bone density. Stronger bones and muscle both help prevent hip fractures.

5. Eat well

It’s not just thirst, but appetite, too, that declines with age. It is crucial, therefore, that every time they eat older people nourish their bodies with the most nutritious foods they can get and afford: lots and lots of fresh vegetables, some of them raw, two servings of low-sugar fruit per day, good quality, unprocessed meat or fish (think steak, chicken breast or fish fillets rather than sausages, chicken nuggets or fish fingers), eggs, nuts or nut butters, seeds, and small amounts of wholegrains. Cakes, biscuits, puddings, and ready meals may temporarily fill the stomach, but do not provide any useful nutrients (but lots of detrimental compounds). Make sure to eat as many different foods as possible. A varied diet covering all the colours of the rainbow gives you a wide range of vital nutrients and diversity is key for healthy gut bacteria. 

Sometimes chewing fibrous vegetables or meat can be a problem. Soups or green smoothies are a great way of benefiting from all of the goodness of fruit and vegetables, including their fibre, without having to chew them. If you struggle to chew meat, have protein from fish, eggs, tofu or yoghurt or consider adding some extra protein via a good quality protein powder. Protein is required for ‘repair and maintenance’, muscle building, and enzyme production.

What you do not need is sugar. Sugar increases insulin levels, and both sugar itself and insulin are pro-inflammatory, fuelling pain and disease. For more on sugar, click here.