Healthy Eating and Lifestyle
While it is important for people of all ages to stay healthy, it is especially important for senior citizens to maintain healthy eating habits as well as to stay active which is important in the prevention of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. By practicing healthier living practices, senior citizens can maintain a healthy weight, avoid depression, and stay mentally sharp. Those participating in caring for the elderly should be aware of these healthy living practices and work to both encourage and facilitate them.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a healthy diet includes many different types of food that are rich in nutrients. They have outlined specifically what this eating plan entails at the website.. Because this eating plan is designed specifically for senior citizens, it focuses on the types of foods that are important for preventing common ailments of older Americans like obesity and serious chronic illnesses.
Healthy Eating 101:
By following some of the tips listed, senior citizens can start a healthier lifestyle today:
- Don't skip meals. It is important to eat regularly in order to maintain normal metabolism and not become tempted to eat higher fat foods when food is consumed.
- Eat a diet that is high in fiber. By eating foods like whole-grain breads, beans, vegetables, and fruits, you can lower your susceptibility to diabetes and heart disease.
- Senior citizens especially should begin to adjust their diet to one that includes less calories and fat because the body will need less as it ages.
- Calcium and Vitamin D are very important for nutrition and keeping bones strong. You can get this by either getting in at least three servings of dairy every day, or substituting these with soy-based beverages and proteins.
- Senior citizens will have a harder time absorbing adequate amounts of the B12 vitamin. For this reason, it is important to eat cereals fortified with this nutrient or taking vitamin B12 supplements with meals.
- Snack the smart way. Senior citizens will want to limit the amount of unhealthy snacking they do which involves foods high in calories and sugars. Instead, keep small portions of dried fruit, peanut butter, or crackers at hand to keep the appetite under control while remaining healthy.
- Drink plenty of water. Although senior citizens often feel less thirsty then they used to, it is important to stay hydrated by either drinking water or water-based beverages like tea, coffee, soup, and skim milk.
Planning and Preparing Meals
Sometimes people find it hard to eat healthily because eating is often a social event which involves many people with different eating preferences and goals. While it is important to be able to enjoy a meal with family and friends, it is also important to maintain your own eating integrity by making sure everyone is on board with your personal healthy eating goals. Friends and family, as well as those providing elder care should facilitate healthy eating, not detour from it.
The following tips address ways that senior citizens can maintain the healthy eating habits without sacrificing the social aspect of sharing a meal with others or learning to adjust to a lifestyle that involves eating with less people on a day-to-day basis.
- Grocery shopping with others. This can be a fun and smart way to control the cost and quantity of food that you consume. If you don't live with many people, this is a good way to split large-quantity items like potatoes and eggs which you may not be ableto use before expiration.
- A time saving a smart way to eat healthy is cooking large quantities of food ahead of time and portioning for heating on later dates.
- A quick way to prepare meals for yourself or for guests involves keeping frozen or canned fruits and vegetables on hand. Draining and/or rinsing canned foods is a good way to lower sodium or calories in foods that are kept in high sugar or high salt fluids.
- Eating or preparing a meal shouldn't always be a chore. Trying new recipes or eating outside can be a fun new twist on a meal with someone special.
- Try to eat with people you enjoy to be around.
- Some senior citizens have difficulty preparing meals, which is why it is important to become informed about home health care agencies or eldercare facilities that can aid in providing meals. The Eldercare Locator number is 1-800-677-1116.
Loss of Appetite or Desire to Eat
There are various reasons for why some senior citizens may not eat as well as they should or lose the desire to eat completely.
If you find that it is difficult to eat well, then it is best to speak with a healthcare provider or someone involved in your elder care about what can be done to help you eat better.
Some senior citizens are unable to eat well due to issues involving the condition of their teeth or issues with dentures. Checking with a dentist about physical pain that occurs when eating or other issues can help with these issues that lead to poorer eating habits.
When senior citizens lose family and friends or become depressed about events in their life, they may lose the desire to eat. In these instances, it is of the utmost importance that these individuals seek help from people they trust like their family, friends, church community, or those assisting with their elder care that will happily help them in finding ways to continue a healthy lifestyle and eating plan.
Some senior citizens complain that the flavor of foods change when they begin to take certain medications. While it is best to consult with a physician about issues surrounding medication, people can also take vitamin supplements with food that will help them stay healthy.
If you have someone who assists with your in home care, ask them to be vigilant about helping you eat healthy. Have them remind you to eat, and ask them to lend you a hand in preparing meals that are good for you.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for being able to function in day-to-day life as well as stay mentally sharp. Senior citizens often lose or gain weigh as they age. If you are unsure about what weight you should maintain, consult your physician.
Health Risks Associated with Being Underweight
- poor memory
- compromised immunity
- osteoporosis (weak bones)
- decreases strength
- hypothermia (lowered body temperature)
Health Risks Associated with Being Overweight
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
- stroke (lack of oxygen transported to the brain)
- some cancers
- gallbladder disease
Because healthy weights will differ for everyone, it is important to verify with a physician whether it is healthy for you personally to lose or gain weight.
Participating in regular healthy amounts of physical activity can not only make you feel better, but it can make you less prone to diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. Staying active can be difficult for senior citizens, still it is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
The following are some tips for maintaining a lifestyle that incorporates physical activity:
- Know what amount of physical activity is appropriate for you. Everyone has different levels of activity that is safe for them, and while remaining active is important, always consult a health care provider about what is right for your lifestyle.
- Take time to warm up, cool down, or take breaks when participating in a session of increased physical activity.
- Take it slow. Always start slowly and build up to more intense levels of physical activities.
- If you experience any pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath during exercise, stop the activity immediately.
- Drink water.
- Dress appropriately if you decide to exercise outdoors. Wear warmer clothes during the winter and wear lighter clothes during the summer while applying sunscreen or wearing sunglasses.
- Wear the correct shoes for the activities that you participate in.
Types of Activity
Aerobic activities include activities that increase the heart rate and work the larger muscle groups. You may be able to speak a few words, but would not be able to carry on an entire conversation due to breathing patterns. Some examples of aerobics include:
- brisk walking
- water aerobics
- house work
- active play with children or pets
Begin incorporating small periods of this activity into your schedule during the week while slowly increasing the duration and frequency as time progresses. It is also important to incorporate different types of exercise that focus on balance and flexibility. Becoming used to a lifestyle with regular patterns of aerobic activity can reduce the effects of aging, control weight, lower risk of heart disease, improve flexibility, increase mood and energy, and expand social networks by meeting new people while doing various activities.
Strengthening activities involve the use of muscle groups against resistant forces like when lifting weights or doing yard work that involves lifting, digging, or pushing a lawn mower. This type of activity can keep muscles strong, reduce the need for a cane, reduce risk of bone injury, and help maintain a healthy weight.
Balance activities focus on muscles in specific areas of the body that encourage control as you move through space, reducing the likelihood of falls. This kind of activity could include walking heel to toe, standing on one foot, getting out of a sitting position without the use of the hands, and standing on the tip of your toes. Balance activities can help you stay steady on your feet and reduce the risk of fall and subsequent injury.
Flexibility activities increase the length of the muscles and can include stretching, yoga, and popular exercise programs like pilates. These activities can maintain the felxibility of joints, prevent stiffness, prevent injuries, and lower stress levels in general.
Weight-bearing activities require the muscles to work against gravity where the arms or legs bear the weight of the body. Activities like walking, tennis, and climbing stairs can build and maintain bone mass or reduce the risk of bone fractures.
Some activities incorporate multiple types of strengthening addressed above. What is important is that senior citizens find an enjoyable and do-able activity that will help them incorporate as many benefits as possible which will have far-reaching benefits to their health.
It's Easy to Stay Healthy
A common misconception is that it takes an excessive amount of time and extra energy to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
However, by just taking short walks for ten minutes a time or cleaning the house regularly can be practical ways to incorporate different physical activities into your daily schedule. And remember, staying healthy as a senior citizen will have increasing benefits as you continue to age.
Staying Motivated to Take Care of Yourself
Just because we age doesn't mean that we are any less stressed by occurrences in life that may make us feel bad about ourselves or decrease our motivation to be good to ourselves. If anything, many of the challenges senior citizens face add stress. Losing loved ones and friends or having trouble being independent with the added stressed of disease and functioning due to aging can cause depression or lifestyle changes that contribute to bad health.
Here are some important tips for being good to yourself when you may not feel motivated due to circumstances out of your control:
- Get plenty of sleep
- Stay connected with family and friends
- Join clubs or other social groups that you enjoy
- Spend time with people that you enjoy
- Volunteer at organizations in your community
- Work a part-time job that isn't too stressful or demanding
- Watch a funny movie or find a way to laugh
- Take up a hobby that you enjoy
Most importantly, senior citizens should remember that it is relatively easy and worth-while to maintain a healthy lifestyle as they age.
Be sure to keep family, friends, and those involved in your elder care informed of your goals as they can help assist you. And remembering to eat healthy meals regularly, getting in physical activity, getting enough sleep, and being good to yourself are critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
David Crumrine at the Caring SpaceWe are an organization that connects caregivers and care seekers, providing an easy and affordable resource for families seeking care for friends/loved ones and caregivers seeking employment.