Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of a healthy life for seniors. Participating in regular exercise and adhering to a healthy diet can have a noticeable impact in general well-being.
Conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, depression, and some cancers can be prevented or more easily treated in seniors with good diet, exercise, and other lifestyle modifications.
Important life style modifications other than diet and exercise to promote senior health include:
- Moderate alcohol use, not more than one drink per day
- Smoking cessation
- Sun protection and skin moisturizers
- Routine dental care with brushing, flossing, and regular dentist visits
- Regular primary care doctor visits and review of medication list, side effects, and drug interactions
- Involvement in health care decisions and development of advance directives
- Health care screening, preventive measures, and vaccinations (immunizations)
- Eye doctor and foot doctor visits for individuals with diabetes
- Adequate sleep and good sleep hygiene
- Social activities and vacations
- Some seniors do well because they still enjoy work or volunteering
Diet for Seniors
The benefits of a healthy diet in promoting well-being cannot be over-emphasized. Heart and lung diseases, vascular (blood vessel) disease, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood cholesterol, strokes, memory deficit, osteoporosis, variety of cancers, skin diseases, and visual problems are known to be impacted by the type of diet we consume.
Most tissues in the human body are made up of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. A balanced and healthy diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fiber is essential in providing these important elements. Vitamins and mineral supplements and adequate fluid intake are also considered critical by many physicians. Reduced dietary portions of meat, eggs, and dairy products should be considered.
The size of food portion is also as important as the quality of food. Intake of calories from food should roughly match the body’s metabolic needs. Daily caloric goals of between 1500 and 2000 are generally recommended in most adults. Being aware of the amount of calories consumed on a daily basis can help achieve these goals and prevent over and under eating.
Avoiding foods with empty calories are also essential. These are foods with high calories and limited nutritional values. Sodas, chips, cookies, donuts, and alcohol are some examples of commonly consumed foods with empty calories.
Other specific dietary guidelines pertaining to particular conditions may be recommended. For example, limited carbohydrate intake for people with diabetes, or low salt intake for people with heart disease is commonly advised.
Exercise for Seniors
Regular physical activity and exercise are known to control or even prevent a variety of health conditions in the elderly. The benefits of exercise in seniors impact heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, certain cancers, depression, and stroke.
More specifically, regular exercise is shown to be beneficial in:
- Maintaining weight and burning excess calories
- Improving the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol
- Building up physical endurance
- Optimizing health of the heart, lung, vascular system, bones, and muscles delivering oxygen and nutrients to tissues
- Reducing falls and injuries
- Enhancing mood and sleep quality
Adequate exercise for seniors may consist of a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise which increases the heart rate to about 75% of maximum predicted heart rate, performed 3-5 times per week. A person’s maximum heart rate is roughly calculated by subtracting age from the number 220. For example, the target hear rate for exercise for a 65-year-old should be no more than 132 beats per minute. When first starting exercise, begin with a lower target rate, such as 78 beats per minute, and work your way up over the first few weeks.
These goals can be achieved by such safe and basic exercises as, walking, swimming, and using exercise machines. Balance exercises, flexibility exercises, and resistance exercises (weight lifting) can also be helpful.
If symptoms of chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, fainting, or dizziness occur during or after any exercise, it is important to stop and notify your treating physician promptly.