Health – Nutrition for healthy ageing
The population in England is expected to rise by 12% by 2041. The biggest increase will be in the number of people aged 70+ mainly due to an increase in life expectancy (ONS 2017).
Why might this be of concern? Whilst it’s great that people are living longer, we are also likely to see a rise in the chronic health conditions linked to old age, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer (Department of Health, 2012). Cases of dementia in particular, are expected to double in number in the next 30 years (Alzheimer’s Society 2014).
What action can we take? We can adopt healthy dietary and lifestyle habits to support both body and mind through the aging process and reduce the risk of developing chronic health conditions.
Nutrition habits for healthy ageing
“OK” I hear you say. “We hear you. But what does this actually mean?”. These are my tips.
Eat an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet
Cells in the body are thought to age faster in the presence of inflammation. Eat a diet rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and oily fish or seeds, and minimise your intake of sugar, vegetable oils and processed foods. This way of eating can help protect against many chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Eat a rainbow
Surprisingly only 27% of UK adults eat the recommended 5 fruit and vegetable a day (NDNS 2016). Aiming to eat a rainbow of colours can help you increase your intake.
Start by eating at least one fruit/veg from each of the following colours daily:
Purple e.g. aubergine, grapes, cabbage, olives, figs
Red e.g. pepper, tomatoes, pomegranate, radish, raspberries
Yellow e.g. pineapple, banana, sweetcorn, bell peppers
Orange e.g. orange, butternut squash, sweet potato, carrots
Green e.g. spinach, cabbage, cucumber, avocado, broccoli
Brown/white e.g. onion, mushroom, garlic, cauliflower, apple
Adding a fruit or vegetable to breakfast can help you get a head start, for example berries with porridge, tomatoes with eggs, or avocado & pumpkin seeds on toast.
Look after your bones
Eating foods rich in calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K supports good bone health. We get some vitamin D from eating oily fish and egg yolks, and some is synthesised from sun exposure. In the autumn and winter UK months however, the government advise supplementing 10mcg vitamin D3 a day. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and butter/cheese/meat from grass-fed animals. Calcium is found in dairy foods but also in salmon, canned fish, almonds and green leafy vegetables.
Feed your gut
A healthy gut (meaning a healthy balance of gut bacteria) is associated with reduced inflammation and anxiety, and improvements in skin and weight in some. A healthy gut also allows us to make better use of the nutrients we eat. Eating probiotic foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha, in addition to eating a wide and varied selection of fruits and vegetables can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
Nourish your brain
Our brain and sensory functions naturally decline with age and we become more at risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Research is in the early stages but eating certain ‘brain-healthy’ foods such as berries, wholegrains, green leafy vegetables and nuts have been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and AD. See more information on the MIND diet here.
Take time to prepare and cook and enjoy food
The anticipation of eating it encourages the release of digestive enzymes in the mouth and stomach which then help us digest our food more thoroughly. Eating mindfully (i.e. chewing properly and not eating on-the-go) also benefits the digestion and allows us to ‘hear’ when the body signals it is full.
Lifestyle habits for healthy ageing
In addition, here are some lifestyle habits that could help.
As we age our muscle and skeletal mass decrease. Remaining physically active and undertaking regular strength exercises benefits both bone strength and muscle mass. See government advice on exercise for adults here.
Sleep is an often-overlooked factor in health. Regular poor sleep increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and shortens life expectancy (NHS 2015)!
Getting good quality and adequate amounts of sleep is associated with better mental health and immune function. See the Sleep Council website for healthy sleep tips.
Manage your stress and find time to relax.
Chronic stress can lead to inflammation in the body, a lowered immune response and accelerated ageing. Practicing mindfulness or meditation have been found to be particularly beneficial for reducing chronic stress. Apps such as headspace or Insight timer can be useful starting aids for meditation. Further tips on managing stress and mindfulness can be found here.
I’ve recently started taking a vitamin D supplement, thanks to Helen’s sound advice. Trying to ‘eat a rainbow’ can also be a fun way of eating a more balanced and varied diet.
For additional food suggestions, checkout my article on how the food we eat today can affect us tomorrow.
Thank you for reading. For more interesting articles, visit my blog at www.agelifebalance.com to learn more.