Aging is a natural part of our lives and the passage of time will inevitably bring with it some physical changes such as greying and thinning hair, skin changes like more wrinkles and blemishes, decreased muscle mass and bone loss.
This passage of time also brings with it a higher likelihood that we will experience malnutrition, slowed cognitive function, weaker bones, and weakened immune system function. The process is quite unique to each of us and although genetics may play a role in our “aging” process the physical changes we experience are greatly influenced by our “life story”, the dietary and lifestyle choices that we make along the way.
Our personal view and outlook on the aging process also influences how we experience our “golden years”. Two people of the same chronological age can experience aging very differently; while one person remains healthy, mobile and active the other does not and it is how we live in both our younger years and our advanced years that greatly influences the outcome.
To help ensure that we remain healthy, mobile and active throughout the lifespan we have to make sure that we are doing those things in our younger years that will properly nourish and support our body throughout the aging journey. We also have to make sure that, once we do reach our advanced years, that we are doing those things that support our unique needs at that time.
In our younger years, it is important that we are incorporating the following strategies for improved nutritional and lifestyle habits to foster a healthier present and a healthier future.
Habits to Keep You Healthy
- Eat a nutrient dense diet; incorporate a wide variety of vegetables from a wide array of colours, some fruits, adequate complete proteins, adequate complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and high fibre food choices
- Drink lots of good quality fresh water; aim for at least 8/8oz glasses per day
- Start each day with the juice of half a lemon in water (cold or boiling), this will gently cleanse the digestive tract, the liver and the kidneys
- Avoid saturated fats such as margarine, shortening, trans fats, and overheated oils/fats; all of these lend to cell degeneration
- Avoid concentrated and refined sugars of all kinds; they weaken the immune system and they contribute to weight gain
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco
- Keep your bowels moving at least once a day, the intestines are capable of holding up to 65 pounds of waste! It takes water and fibre to keep the bowels moving
- Exercise regularly; stretch every morning and take part in some sort of aerobic activity three times per week… walk more and drive less
- Maintain a healthy weight by eating wholesome, good quality food, eating only when genuinely hungry and only as much as needed to satisfy your hunger
- Recognize when stress is becoming problematic and incorporate effective coping strategies (relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, exercise)
- Get adequate good quality sleep; sleeping gives our bodies a break and allows for rejuvenation and repair
- Think young; don’t let a number dictate how you feel or what you do
- Act young; do those things that you love and that make you smile and laugh
- Get to know your body and pay attention to symptoms – learn to recognize potential problems before they develop into more serious problems
- Take a good quality, whole foods multi-vitamin that contains B vitamins; Folic acid, B6, and B12 are all related to healthy cognitive function
It is never too late to start so even if you have never eaten healthy or “lived” healthy you can still make those positive changes today that will have a lasting positive effect on your health and wellness; your body is constantly renewing itself and almost every cell in your body is being continually regenerated.
In our advanced years, it is important that we are incorporating the following strategies that address and support the unique changes that commonly occur as we age.
Advanced Age And An Increased Risk Of Malnutrition And Related Deficiencies
As we age, we are more likely to become malnourished because we tend to eat less (food becomes less appetizing, our appetites get smaller, it is more difficult to prepare healthy meals) and we have diminished enzyme availability that is needed to properly break down foods, we tend to have less stomach acid to help with digestion and we also tend to absorb less of the nutrients from the foods we do eat. We are at an increased risk of becoming deficient in vital nutrients; common deficiencies include protein, fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium and Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12 and C. And quite often we are at an increased risk of dehydration from a lack of consuming water-dense food items and adequate amounts of water.
What We Can Do
- Plan out your healthy weekly meal plan and your grocery list, this will help to ensure that you remain on budget and that you are choosing good quality wholesome food items
- Seek the assistance of a family member or community program for grocery shopping and food preparation; having your meals prepared for the week will help to ensure that you are not missing meals or reaching for unhealthy quick and easy options
- Ensure that your food choices will best support proper digestion and absorption; avoid foods that you are intolerant or allergic to, avoid refined, processed and sugary “junk” food items and avoid unhealthy fats
- Choose live, natural and whole foods that are locally grown and in-season. Incorporate more vegetables, whole grains, and fiber into your routine. Choose healthy fats from lean meats like chicken and healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, flaxseed or hemp oil. Choose fresh fish like salmon, herring, cod, flounder, and mackerel.
- Support digestive weaknesses by taking a digestive enzyme supplement and a probiotic supplement
- Identify nutrient deficiencies and ensure that good quality supplementations are added to your routine as needed
Advanced Age And Reduced Speed In Completing Cognitive Tasks And Remembering Details
As we age we may notice changes with our memory and our speed of completing “thinking tasks” such as mathematics. Nutrition is so important for our brain health; our sending and receiving stations are built out of essential fats, phospholipids and amino acids (proteins), the message itself, the neurotransmitter (e.g. serotonin, dopamine), is usually made up of amino acids/protein and important vitamins and minerals are responsible for kick-starting the enzymes required to turn amino acids into neurotransmitters (the messages).
What We Can Do
Ensure that our diet consists of the 4 essentials for our brain; glucose (in the form of good carbohydrates), good fats, amino acids (which are the break-down materials of protein) and various other important vitamins and minerals:
- Glucose: Eat more complex carbohydrates – whole grains, brown rice, vegetables, etc. – these are broken down more slowly and will provide your body with a more consistent source of energy, they will also help to stabilize your mood
- Good Fats: Ensure that you are choosing healthy fats in the way of olive oil, fatty fish, avocados, and nuts, our bodies need a constant supply of good fats in order for us to thrive, they are needed to support and protect our brain cells.
- Protein (amino acids): Proteins are the building blocks for tissue growth and repair, cells cannot be formed without protein in our diets; important amino acids for our brain include Tryptophan (mood enhancer), Tyrosine (for physical, mental performance) and GABA (helps to reduce anxiety)
- Important vitamins and minerals: B vitamins support the nervous system and are very helpful if you suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression; Vitamins B3, B9, and B12 are particularly important for our brain health. Calcium and Magnesium are both important for good brain health; magnesium helps boost brain function and calcium is a part of the electrical signals within our nervous system. Manganese is needed for normal brain and nerve function. Water is key; it is vital for good internal organ function and proper elimination, dehydration has such an impact on our entire system, including our brain.
Advanced Age And Weaker Bones And Increased Joint Pain
As we age we may notice changes in our bone health, women are particularly at risk because they are no longer producing as much estrogen which is needed in the absorption of calcium. Our posture isn’t quite what it was, we may be “creaky” and stiff and we may experience more joint pain.
What We Can Do
- Decrease your acidic load by removing caffeine, tobacco and carbonated drinks from your routine
- Effectively manage stress by enjoying the outdoors and the things you love doing
- Ensure that you are eating a whole foods diet with fresh, good quality food choices that will help to ensure that we are getting important nutrients for our bones including calcium, magnesium, Vitamin B, C, D, K, zinc, copper, and manganese, potassium and boron
- Ensuring an adequate intake of protein; protein deficiency = bone loss
- A diet rich in vegetables and an adequate amount of fruit (3 servings per day)
- Adequate safe, good quality drinking water (approximately 8-8 oz. glasses per day)
- Exercise regularly, especially beneficial is incorporating some weight bearing exercises into your routine
Advanced Age And A Weaker Immune System and Increased Infections/Illness
As we age we may notice that we are more susceptible to illness (colds, flu/infections)
What We Can Do
- Add Active Acidophilus Cultures: Found in many yogurts, promotes a strong digestive system. Avoid yogurt with sugar, as this cancels out the positive effects of the good bacterial culture.
- Add More garlic: It has antibiotic properties that can help prevent disease. Try to include at least one clove each day in your foods.
- Add More Sweet Potatoes – one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat. Just ¾ cup of baked sweet potato gives you 60% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C and more than 300% of your vitamin A. (Note: Yams contain no vitamin A)
- Add More Cashews and Pumpkin Seeds that are high in zinc which is necessary for immune function
- Add More Blueberries: They are full of cancer-fighting antioxidants, plus they are chock full of vitamins A, C, and E, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fibre with zero fat.
- Replace Coffee with Green Tea: They are full of antioxidants. Although tea contains caffeine, green tea has considerably less than coffee and black tea. Be sure to choose organic, as tea and coffee are two of the most highly pesticide-sprayed products available for human consumption. Drink 1 to 3 cups a day.
- Add More Broccoli: It is chock-full of the phytochemical sulforaphane, which makes headlines because of its potent anti-cancer properties. It’s also a rich source of beta-carotene (good for the eyes and immune system, among other things), fibre and vitamin C.
- Choose Healthy Fats in olive oil, fatty fish, avocados, and nuts help the immune system work optimally.
- Add More Water: It helps to flush out bad bugs, such as bacteria. To determine the amount your body needs. Take your weight in pounds, add a zero – and that’s how many millilitres your body needs. If you are active or sick you need more. (150lbs = 1500ml = 1.5 litres)
- Get Sufficient Exercise: It creates immune-enhancing chemicals and increases oxygen which helps fight antigens (invaders) more effectively.
- Practice Relaxation and Stress Reduction: A positive mental attitude makes a big difference in how the body fights disease. When adrenals weaken from stress, the immune system is the next to go.
- Get Enough Sleep: Sleep is the foundation of immunity. Those who get less than eight hours of restful sleep will have reduced immunity against disease.
- Incorporate Mind/Body/Spirit into Your Day: Meditation, prayer, yoga, positive thinking, or tai chi has a powerful role in promoting a positive outlook on life and overall wellness.
- Avoid Sugar: One teaspoon weakens the immune system for several hours.
- Wash Your Hands: Hand washing decreases your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. If your immune system is strong, it should be able to fight off the virus if it does enter your body, but washing your hands provides a bit of extra protection.
How we lived yesterday and how we choose to live today affects how well and how healthy we experience our advanced years of life. So whether you are in your 20’s or your 70’s it is never too late to foster overall health and wellness by incorporating a nutrient dense diet of good quality, fresh and local food items, adequate sleep, effective stress management and regular exercise into your daily routine.
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