Food As Medicine for Seniors: Good Nutrition Promotes Senior Health

A healthy diet delivers essential nutrients for optimal health and plays an essential role in improving the quality of life and independence of senior citizens. According to the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health, good nutrition may help seniors slow the onset of many diseases, manage the symptoms of chronic illness, lessen the impact of disease on lifestyle and boost longevity.

Hunger and malnutrition is a greater problem for Canada’s seniors than many may realize—and it is due to a wide variety of causes, not just financial constraints. According to a report by FoodBanks Canada seniors accounted for 5.5% of food bank clients in a typical month.

A well-balanced, heart-healthy diet—rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains—reduces plaque build-up in the arteries to deliver a free-flowing stream of oxygen to all parts of the body, including the brain.

A nutritious diet is especially important for seniors’ health. That is because a variety of factors puts older adults at greater risk of malnutrition, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. These factors include chronic disease, physical disability, isolation,limited income and medications that limit nutrient absorption.

As we age, our bones lose density, muscles lose flexibility, and joints become worn over time. Mobility can become limited and balance can be affected, making us more at risk for falling and fracturing bones. Seniors are especially prone to falling, and also to diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis, which can impose limitations in the most basic activities of life.

For older adults, there are particular benefits of healthy eating. They include increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, faster recuperation times and better management of chronic health problems. Eating well can also be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced.

Diet has a direct effect on senior blood pressure. Seniors need to reduce their salt intake, and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diets. Seniors who consume a diet high in sodium are more likely to experience high blood pressure, which increases risk for heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

Because more than sixty percent of the human body is made up of water, staying hydrated is important to keep our bodies functioning properly. Elderly adults are among the most at risk groups for dehydration, one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization after age 65. Because of the potentially serious consequences of this condition to seniors, as a caregiver it’s important to recognize the causes and symptoms of dehydration as well as how you can help your loved one stay properly hydrated.

We are all used to hearing the basics about maintaining a good diet: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, stay away from foods that contain too much saturated fat and/or salt, and eat whole grains whenever possible. But as we age, our nutrition requirements change. If senior adults want to continue the good eating habits they’ve already established, making some dietary adjustments can help them stay as healthy as possible as they reach 50-60 years of age and beyond.

With a little effort, you can slow the telltale signs of aging. Research and senior citizens who exercise and eat a good, balanced diet are proving this. Research at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., reaffirms the health benefits of exercise and found that it can even reverse the aging process.

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