Our average life expectancy has been rising steadily for many years. But it is important that we adopt healthy lifestyle habits to ensure that any extra years of life we may gain are enjoyable and disease-free.
Below are our top diet and lifestyle tips for staying healthy for older adults.
Eat an enjoyable and varied diet
As we age, our sense of taste and smell can change and this can affect our appetite and enjoyment of food. The body’s ability to absorb some nutrients also becomes less efficient with age, so it can be harder to get all the necessary nutrients for good health. It is important to eat a varied diet to ensure an adequate supply of all the essential vitamins and minerals. Make foods as appealing and palatable as possible so that eating remains pleasurable. Try adding herbs and spices to meals such as tarragon, cinnamon or turmeric and keep meals from becoming bland and uninteresting by varying colours and textures as much as possible.
Click here for a selection of recipe ideas.
Watch your weight and your waist size
Being underweight or overweight is bad for your health. Being underweight prevents your body from having the reserves to fight infections or illness. However, carrying around excess weight, particularly around the waist, will increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.
You are at increased risk if your waist circumference is:
Men - over 94cm/37 inches (substantially increased risk over 102cm/40 inches)
Women - over 80cm/31.5 inches (substantially increased risk over 88cm/34.5 inches)
The cut-offs are lower for Asian men – if you are an Asian man with a waist circumference of 90cm/35 inches or more you are at greater risk of heart disease and diabetes and should seek advice from a healthcare professional.
One reason why it’s easy to gain weight with age is that as we get older, our body composition changes. We lose muscle and gain fat tissue, which causes our energy needs to drop. This is because fat tissue requires less energy to maintain its functions compared to muscle. Many people also become less active as they age. If you're burning fewer calories and you haven't changed your diet, you're going to gain weight. Hormonal changes also influence body fat distribution so we become more likely to lay fat around the middle. So keep an eye on your weight as you get older – it’s easy for it to creep up gradually without noticing.
You can check whether your weight is within the healthy range by measuring your body mass index (your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared; a healthy body mass index is between 20 and 25).
- © British Nutrition Foundation 2013