Men and women are living longer, enjoying energetic and active lifestyles well into their 80s and 90s. Study after study confirms eating well and being active can make a dramatic difference in the quality of life for older adults.
We are never too old to enjoy the benefits of improved nutrition and fitness. With nutrient-rich foods and activities with friends, an immediate difference in your strength, energy levels and enjoyment of life can be felt. In fact, as we get older, our food and activity choices become even more important to our health and well-being.
As adults age, they need fewer total calories, but more nutrients, especially protein, B-vitamins and calcium. In terms of nutrition, focus on quality not quantity. Food choices, for every food group, need to be power-packed with more nutrients per calorie. For both optimal physical and mental health, older adults need to make every calorie count. For a healthy eating plan, choose foods from all the MyPlate food groups.
Retired people on limited or fixed incomes may have trouble buying enough nutrient-rich foods to meet all their nutritional needs. Explore options for senior meal sites, meals-on-wheels or supplemental nutrition assistance programs in the community.
The golden years are not the time for extreme diets or drastic weight loss. The goal should be to eat better while eating less. Fad diets such as: low carbohydrate, low fat might eliminate entire food groups, which can lead to serious nutrient gaps. Rapid weight loss often leads to a loss of lean body mass, which is exactly the opposite of what older adults need for good health. Some elderly adults are still fixating on the scale when they should be trying to build muscle and shed fat. If fat is replaced with muscle, there may not be any weight loss, but overall health may be improved.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), a healthy body weight range for adults is a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. Subsequent studies suggest that older adults with a BMI in the overweight range (25 to 29.9) were at similar or lower risk of all-cause mortality than those in the normal-weight range. Risk rose with thinner BMIs; those with a BMI of 20.0 to 20.9 were 19% more likely to die than those between 23.0 and 23.9. Conversely, those at lower mortality risk had BMIs of 24.0 to 30.9—a range including the high end of healthy, all those considered overweight, and the beginning of obesity. The very lowest risk fell between 27.0 and 27.9, the middle of the overweight category. Remember as muscle mass is built, the BMI may go up which is okay if you are healthier and at less risk for chronic diseases.
Stable weight as we age is important. If you want to lose a few pounds, talk to your health provider or a registered dietitian to discuss the best plan. The right balance of foods and activities could help with losing a little fat, while maintaining strong muscles and bones.