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Seniors Who Eat Right Will Age Vibrantly!

Sadly, despite wishful thinking and even begging and praying, there’s no wand we can wave or magic potion we can take that will alter the aging process and the natural decline that comes with it. That said, all hope is not lost. There are several opportunities to slow down the impact of advancing age. One angle is to adjust your nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle choices. This might sound like an uncomfortable or inconvenient commitment, but when you realize the positive effects on your health, you’ll start to come around to the idea! A big part of improving and maintaining health is nutrition, as this really does go hand in hand with upping your exercise efforts. 



Table of Contents:

Nutrition, Aging and Musculoskeletal Health

Nutrition is not simply about eating. It’s about feeding the body in such a way that it gets all the nutrients it requires for proper functioning. Such nutrients include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water, which provide the energy and resources required to stay healthy and prevent disease. Some seniors miss the boat when it comes to nutrition, often putting it down to poor mental health, dental issues, digestive complications, and even social isolation. Nutrition is a cornerstone in preserving musculoskeletal health and is crucial for seniors facing age-related changes in muscle mass, strength, and bone density. The musculoskeletal system, consisting of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, changes over time, and proper nutrition is essential to mitigate changes and support the natural changes in the body. Nutrition impacts musculoskeletal health in various ways: 

 

1. Protein and Muscle Health. Muscles are hungry and their favorite food is protein! This means that if you want muscles that support you, you must give them what they want. Sadly, at the same time, the aging body experiences a muscle decline. As you age, muscle mass and function naturally decline, known as sarcopenia. Adequate protein intake becomes crucial in preventing or mitigating this loss. Essential amino acids from high-quality protein sources like meat, dairy, eggs, and plant-based proteins support muscle protein synthesis. Getting enough protein is essential as you age, as it helps preserve lean muscle mass, strength, and function. Resistance training, paired with enough protein can boost muscle mass and strength.

 

2. Calcium and Vitamin D for Bone Health. There is no such thing as good bone health without calcium and vitamin D. Calcium gives strength and structure to bones, while vitamin D helps the body better absorb calcium.  Think of calcium and vitamin D like best friends. Together, they play an important role in preventing bone loss, which is especially important for seniors who may experience age-related bone density decline. You can start loading the body with the right about of calcium and vitamin D by eating more dairy products, leafy green vegetables, fortified foods. Spending 20 or so minutes out in the sunshine each day can also boost your vitamin D levels. 

 

3. Magnesium and Phosphorus. Magnesium aids bone health by influencing bone mineral density. It works in concert with calcium to maintain proper bone structure. Magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables contribute to overall skeletal health. Phosphorus is a vital bone mineralization component and works with calcium. It’s found in various foods, including dairy products, meat, and nuts. Maintaining an appropriate balance of calcium and phosphorus is crucial for optimal bone health.

 

4. Vitamin K. Many people haven’t heard of vitamin K and that’s simply because it’s not in mainstream health media. That said, vitamin K helps in bone metabolism and mineralization. It regulates the synthesis of proteins like calcium in bone formation and helps synthesize some of the body’s phospholipids, an integral component for cell integrity. Green leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach, can help you get vitamin K. Including these foods in the diet supports bone health and can help strengthen your bones against fractures.

 

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts, flaxseeds, and fatty fish possess anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit musculoskeletal health. Chronic inflammation is associated with conditions like osteoarthritis, and adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can help alleviate symptoms and support joint health. Some studies have shown that seniors consuming enough Omega-3 fatty acids experience improved muscle mass and endurance enabling them to walk faster and be sturdier on their feet.

 



Cognitive Function

Your cognition, or cognitive function, is so closely connected to things like balance, you’d be surprised. Nutrition is a good way to ensure that your cognitive abilities are always supported. The brain is highly metabolic, and the nutrients obtained from the diet influence its structure, function, and overall health. Some nutrient must-haves include:

 

1. Antioxidants. Antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, and various phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables are crucial in protecting the brain from oxidative stress. Antioxidants protect against the oxidation process that can harm every cell, organ, and tissue in the body, including the brain. Oxidative stress, that comes from an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, can cause neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive decline. Nuts, citrus fruits, leafy greens, and berries are rich sources of antioxidants that contribute to mental health and it’s a good idea to add them to your diet.

 

2. B Vitamins. B vitamins, including B6, B9 (folate), and B12, are big players in neurological functions. Folate is involved in synthesizing neurotransmitters, while B12 is crucial for maintaining myelin, which is the protective covering of nerve fibers. If you lack these vitamins, it can increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive impairment, which can cause imbalance. You can get B vitamins from leafy greens, legumes, fortified cereals, and animal products.

 

3. Polyphenols. The good news is that you’ll find polyphenols in your favorite cup of tea or coffee! You’ll also find it in dark chocolate, and certain vegetables and fruits. Polyphenols have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and have been linked to improved cognitive function, reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and neuroprotective effects that contribute to overall brain health. When you’re getting enough polyphenols, you’re benefiting from improved learning, memory, and cognition.

 

4. Hydration. Adequate hydration is essential for cognitive function. Dehydration can impair concentration, attention, and memory. Seniors may be at an increased risk of dehydration, making proper fluid intake crucial for optimal cognitive performance. In short, if you’re dehydrated, any imbalance you feel will be exacerbated.

 

5. Whole Grains and Complex Carbohydrates. Whole grains and complex carbohydrates can provide a steady supply of glucose, the brain’s primary energy source. Maintaining stable blood glucose levels is essential for sustained cognitive function and focus. Sources of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat.



Sensory Systems

Aging affects sensory systems. This means it has an effect on your vision and hearing, for a start. Here’s how nutrition can influence these systems and, consequently, impact balance:

 

Vision. The eyes are a crucial sensory organ and can impact your balance. Nutrition plays a key role in maintaining optimal visual health. Nutrients that can improve and support healthy vision include:

 

1. Vitamin A: Essential for the health of the retina and the production of rhodopsin, a light-sensitive pigment in the eyes. Vitamin A-rich foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and liver.

 

2. Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Found in high concentrations in the retina, these antioxidants help protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Sources include leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and eggs.

 

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Support the structure and function of cell membranes in the eyes. Fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

 

4. Zinc: Important for maintaining your retina’s health and may help prevent AMD. Foods rich in zinc include oysters, beef, and fortified cereals.

 

Ensuring an adequate intake of these nutrients contributes to the prevention of age-related vision problems and supports overall eye health.

 

Proprioception (aka Spatial Awareness). Proprioception refers to the body’s ability to sense its position in space, and proper nutrition supports the health of nerves and receptors involved in this process. If you have health spatial awareness, you’re bound to be more stable on your feet. Nutrients that aid in this include:

 

1. Vitamin B12: Essential for nerve function and the maintenance of myelin, which insulates nerve fibers. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.

 

2. Vitamin D: Plays a role in nerve function and overall musculoskeletal health. Sunlight exposure and dietary sources like fatty fish and fortified dairy products contribute to vitamin D levels.

 

3. Magnesium: Involved in neuromuscular function and supports proper nerve signaling. Magnesium-rich foods include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and green vegetables.

 

Ensuring sufficient intake of these nutrients supports the health of nerves and proprioceptive feedback, contributing to better body awareness and balance.

 

Vestibular System (In the Ear). The vestibular system in the inner ear affects spatial orientation and balance. How to keep your inner ear in good health:

 

1. Hydration: Maintaining proper fluid balance is good for the function of the inner ear, which relies on fluid-filled structures. Dehydration can affect the vestibular system and contribute to dizziness or imbalance.

 

2. Cardiovascular Health: A well-balanced diet that supports cardiovascular health benefits the vestibular system. Regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet help maintain blood flow to the inner ear structures.

 

While specific nutrients directly targeting the vestibular system are limited, a holistic approach to overall health, including hydration and cardiovascular support, contributes to vestibular function.



Proper Lifestyle for Good Health

How you age can be influenced by your lifestyle, and by making changes, you can improve your balance and overall wellbeing. Some lifestyle changes recommended include: 

 

1. Maintaining a Healthy Weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for overall well-being and can impact balance and mobility in seniors. If you’re carrying extra weight, it will put strain on your joints, affect muscle strength, and increase the risk of falls. You can keep a healthy weight by eating right, making mindful healthy choices, and exercising regularly.

 

2. Reduce or Quit Smoking. You’ve seen all the marketing: smoking is bad for you – period! It has a negative impact on both the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. Reducing or quitting smoking is a significant step toward improving overall health and well-being, and it can positively impact various aspects of physical fitness, including balance. 

 

3. Moderate or Eliminate Alcohol. If you’ve ever had one too many drinks, you already know of the negative effect of alcohol on balance. Excessive alcohol consumption results in health problems in almost every part of the body and can have detrimental effects that impair balance and coordination. Chronic alcohol consumption may lead to a specific form of gait disturbance known as alcohol-induced gait ataxia. This condition is characterized by unsteady and uncoordinated walking, increasing the risk of falls. Chronic alcohol abuse can also lead to atrophy and lower extremity muscle weakness, compromising your ability to support body weight and maintain balance. It all sounds quite dire but don’t worry, you don’t have to give up your favorite tipple, just make sure that you’re moderating your intake.

 

4. Avoid Noise Pollution. If you’ve been exposed to excessive and disruptive noise, you’ve been a victim of noise pollution. Excessive exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss and affect your balance. Prolonged exposure can damage the inner ear and cause dysfunction. Being able to pick up on auditory spatial cues is important for balance and with hearing loss, this may be challenging or impossible. If you’re in noisy environments, consider ear protection or limit your exposure to these types of environments. 


Eat Right and Maintain a Proper Lifestyle

This is the key to achieving and sustaining good health. By incorporating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep, individuals can foster physical fitness and mental well-being. Prioritizing stress management, staying hydrated, and avoiding harmful habits contribute further to a holistic approach to health. Embracing a proper lifestyle not only enhances longevity but also fosters a resilient immune system and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Overall, making mindful choices in daily habits lays the foundation for a healthier and more fulfilling life.

 

 

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