Exercise and Eating for People over 50

Exercise and Eating for People over 50

    Exercise and Eating for People over 50

    While aging is inevitable, the symptoms are not necessarily insurmountable. If you take good care of yourself, the process of aging can be much more manageable than you might first think. These days, when it comes to aging, people are less inclined to adopt the fatalistic view of “what will be, will be.” They want instead to take charge of their destiny. To do so, however, it is important to understand the physical and functional changes that take place in the body with age, their implications, and any special needs arising from them. I have touched upon some of these points elsewhere, but I want to develop them further here. My over-50s class is among the most satisfying that I teach because of the changes I see in the participants, not just in terms of mobility and body shape, but in the broadening of attitudes in terms of what is possible as one grows older.

    Aging is not a disease. But life-long stress and hard work take their toll on the human body. Gradually, muscles and other soft tissues lose their strength. The heart becomes less efficient; as a result, cardiac output is reduced, and with it the amount of oxygen delivered to body cells. The lungs also weaken, adding to the problem. The energy available for activities diminishes. Muscle coordination declines because of a decrease in nerve cells. Lean body mass is reduced, causing the basal metabolic rate to fall. The digestive juices are reduced, and the smooth muscle declines in activity and strength. This, in turn, can interfere with the absorption of nutrients and cause constipation. The kidneys function less efficiently, bones and teeth become demineralized, and eyesight and hearing deteriorate.
    For women, aging brings a fundamental change—menopause. This loss of reproductive capacity and the cessation of menstruation, following the “emptying” of the ovaries, results from a decline in the reproductive hormone, estrogen. Symptoms associated with it include hot flashes, tingling sensations in fingers and toes, night sweats, mood swings and depression, a loss of bone mass and threat of osteoporosis, and an increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease. Some women fear they are unattractive and less feminine, a worry caused in part by socio-cultural attitudes to this phase in life.
    All this may seem daunting, but good eating habits and exercise can help stem the tide, prolonging an active lifestyle and improving the quality of life in general. Just as important, by offering a positive outlook at a time of profound change, these healthy habits can raise the spirits by providing benefits that we all agree are worth working for.

    Aerobics: Keep On Moving!

    Muscles are never completely lost; they atrophy mainly because they go unused. Insufficient exercise reduces the workload on the heart, causing the cardiac muscles, like any muscle in the body, to lose strength. As a result, the cardiac output declines, oxygen uptake falls, and the capacity of the lungs diminishes. But these conditions are not confined to the old; the young are similarly affected if they are sedentary, although the full impact may not come to light until later in a person’s life.You must not regard age, any age, as a barrier to exercise. Reaching 50 years of age, for example, does not mean that you have become old overnight. You have just added another year to your life. You have certainly not raised a barrier to activity or started on the fast track to a life of reminiscence from an armchair. It is vital to remain active. Make exercise part of your daily routine, even if it was not so before. Set aside time every day for brisk walks of not less than thirty minutes. Two or three times a week, attend low-impact aerobic or dance classes for the over-fifties. Take up t’ai chi or aqua aerobics.

    Pursuits like these will provide the cardiovascular stimulation vital to the health and strength of heart, lungs, and muscles. Regular attendance at exercise classes and routine daily activity will improve blood circulation and provide a healthy injection of endorphins that keep feelings of depression at bay. With the exception of aqua aerobics, which is not weight bearing, these activities will help maintain bone mass. These benefits are vital for women in the menopausal phase. Classes also offer another positive feature: They bring people in the same age group together, where the sharing of achievements and even problems can become an enriching experience.

    In pursuing aerobic exercise, care must be taken to build up to activities, especially if you are new to them. Unless you have regularly jogged before, it would be preferable to walk briskly. Reduce or avoid activities that jar the hips, knees, and ankles, such as jumping or similar bouncy movements. Keep joints mobile with a good warm-up before the activity and a thorough stretch afterward. It is more important to maintain the overall continuity, intensity, and rhythm of the movements using big muscle groups, such as the quadriceps and calves, to achieve an effective cardiovascular workout than it is to carry out vigorous moves.

    Strength, Endurance, and Stretching

    Maintaining muscle tone and strength requires devoting time specifically to strength-building exercises. Most aerobic classes incorporate some form of strength-building routines, but if you are not attending classes and your aerobic activities consist primarily of, say, walking, then set aside 15 to 20 minutes two or three times a week for strengthening muscles. Alternatively, 10 minutes daily might be a better option. It depends on your lifestyle.
    It is important to maintain the strength of all our muscles, but some muscles merit special consideration as you grow older. They include
    • the back muscles, specifically the erector spinae and the latissimus dorsi
    • the abdominal muscles
    • the pelvic floor
    • the quadriceps

    These muscles are especially important for folks over fifty, because their weakness often gives rise to common problems such as back pain, incontinence, and pain in the knees and pelvis/hip.

    Back Problems

    The causes of back pain are as diverse as the people you consult. Everyone has a different explanation, ranging from strained ligaments to psychological stress. The treatments offered are just as diverse. One thing is clear: Physical-fitness programs can both reduce back pain and create a sense of well-being. They tackle the problem from both sides—the physical and emotional. Personally, I have little doubt that most back problems can be traced to poor posture and incorrect body alignment.
    Long hours spent sitting at a desk or working while looking down create future problems for the body’s framework. Other contributing factors which add to pressure on the back are the increased weight and greater girth often associated with age and caused by the reduction in basal metabolic rate and lean body mass. When abdominal muscles are strong, they help support the stress borne by the back. A strong transverse abdominus, for example, acts like a corset to keep the body aligned. When it is weak, the lower back has to support the weight of the body, creating great stress in the lumbar region.
    The back has yet another constraint. When we stand, the entire weight of the body bears down on the spinal column, compressing the intervertebral discs that lie between the vertebrae. In the morning, the spinal column is longer and a person is taller than in the evening, because lying down to rest reduces the pressure on the intervertebral discs, allowing them to return to their normal thickness.
    As muscles shorten and tighten with age, this problem of compression worsens and can become permanent. The cause of this is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, or the loss of protein matrix tissue from bone, is a natural part of aging that results in a loss of bone density in the skeleton. The back rounds and the head thrusts forward, giving rise to the stereotypical bent frame of the elderly. Problems such as these do not arise overnight. They can affect the young as well, but the elderly have inevitably spent considerably more time subject to poor body alignment and gravitational pull than a 20-year-old.
    To tackle the problem and provide relief for the spinal column, it is important to improve body posture, strengthen the abdominal muscles, mobilize the back, and stretch the back muscles. The exercises below are designed especially to meet the specific problems associated with aging, but they can also be used by younger people who want to improve abdominal-muscle control but wish to have some support for their back while exercising.

    Strengthening Abdominal Muscles

    The abdominal exercises suggested here involve techniques that, as far as I know, are not used elsewhere. From experience with my classes, these exercises work really well. You might like to use music with the routine to make it more interesting. Choose music with a regular but slow tempo. I have repeated the sequence for getting into correct body alignment in each exercise to stress its importance and also for easy reference. Regard it as a blueprint that, once mastered, you should not need to refer to again. My hope is that eventually you will automatically position your body correctly before starting the workout.

    Scaling the Wall (Abdominal Muscles)

    Lie in front of a wall and place both feet, hip distance apart, flat against it. Make sure that the knees are aligned above the hips and the thighs are vertical to the floor. You should be comfortable in this position.
    Place the palms by the side of the head, ensuring that both shoulders remain on the floor. This averts the tendency to attempt to reach forward or to press the palms down on the floor, which would pass the stress to the hands rather than working the abdominal muscles.
    Take a deep breath and exhale, contracting the navel toward the spine; the lower back moves toward the floor, and the lower abdomen deflates and tightens, tilting the pubic bone up slightly. The bottom comes slightly off the floor, and the feet push harder against the wall. If this is uncomfortable because the small of the back remains off the floor, place a towel folded flat under this area.

    Hold and then release.

    Repeat the above six to eight times to start with; in subsequent sessions, increase the number of repeats. Vary the contractions; breathe out and contract and then contract again more deeply, breathing out fully in the process, followed by release and then even further release to the original position, breathing in as you do so.
    Exhale to come out of the position, and, if you can, bring your knees toward the chest. Return to even breathing.
    Hold the knees against the chest to stretch out the lower back and release the tension in the abdominal muscles.
    These floor exercises might not suit those who suffer from dizziness and/or have difficulties getting down on the floor. If that is the case, perform the exercises standing up: Inhale and exhale, sending the navel toward the spine and allowing the lower abdominal muscles to contract and flatten. Do a “pelvic-floor tilt,” tilting the pubis up slightly. Release and return the pelvis to its normal position. Repeat as many times as is comfortable.
    The floor version of the exercise can be done without the wall, but using the wall is safer and more effective for those with weaker muscles because it provides support and helps keep the focus on the abdominal muscles. The exercise is also a good starter for those unacquainted with the transverse abdominal muscles. To progress even further, the next stage is to “walk up the wall,” contracting the lower abdominal muscles with each step. The technique is not as complicated as it sounds, but it does require practice.

    Wall Walk
    (Lower Abdominal Muscles)

    Lie in front of a wall and place both feet, hip distance apart, flat against it. Make sure that the knees are aligned above the hips and the thighs are perpendicular to the floor. This time, make sure that the lower leg, from the knee to the foot, is parallel to the floor. You should be comfortable in this position (see photograph accompanying preceding exercise).
    Place the palms by the side of the head, keeping your shoulders on the floor.
    Take a deep breath and exhale, contracting the navel toward the spine; the lower back moves toward the floor and the lower abdomen deflates, tilting the pubic bone up slightly. This is the starting position.

    Breathe in and move your right foot one step up (about 10 inches); then as you place the foot on the wall, exhale, sending the navel toward the back of the spine, and contract the lower abdominal muscles.
    Breathe in and move the left foot a similar distance up the wall; breathe out as you place the foot on the wall.
    Breathe in as you “step down” with the right foot; as you place the foot on the wall, breathe out to contract the lower abdominal muscles.
    Breathe in; step down with the left foot; breathe out.
    You have now completed one full set.
    Repeat three additional sets of steps. Increase the number of repetitions in future sessions.
    Exhale and bring the knees to the chest. Hold, stretching out the lower back and releasing the tension in the abdominal muscles.

    Pelvic-Floor Exercise

    Women can build on the two above positions to strengthen the pelvic floor. When you contract the lower abdominal muscles, focus also on the pelvic floor by tightening the muscles around the vagina, as though you are drawing them inward and upward toward your navel. In the following steps, the pelvic-floor component is added in italics.
    Lie in front of a wall and place both feet, hip distance apart, flat against it. Make sure that the knees are aligned above the hips and the thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Ensure that the lower leg, from the knee to the foot, is parallel to the floor. Take a deep breath and exhale, contracting the navel toward the spine; the lower back moves toward the floor and the lower abdomen deflates, tilting the pubic bone up.
    On the next out-breath, contract the muscles around the vagina and the sphincter muscle surrounding the bladder neck of the urethra; the bottom comes slightly off the floor and the feet push harder against the wall.
    Release, breathing in.
    Repeat as before.
    Men have similar pelvic-floor muscles and can face the same problem of weak bladder control. This occurs, for example, after treatment for an enlarged prostate. They can also benefit from the pelvic-floor exercises described above, with some adjustments, of course, for differences in anatomy. Men should tighten and pull up the muscles of the pelvic floor by imagining they are passing water and then attempting to stop it.
    Pelvic-floor exercises should be done daily to avoid problems of incontinence. For those uncomfortable doing the exercise lying down, an alternative is to stand with the feet slightly apart and follow the sequence above, starting with the breathing. (Obviously, the references to the floor would not apply in this variation.) This is equally effective for the pelvic floor, but less so for the abdominal muscles.

    Maintaining the Back

    The postural muscles in the back are almost continuously contracted in order to hold the body up. These muscles have to be stretched to release the stress exerted on them and to maintain their flexibility. Maintaining the flexibility of these muscles essentially involves retaining their natural length. To keep the back flexible requires more than muscle flexibility; it also requires the “joints”—the junctions between the vertebrae—to be mobile. If they are not mobile, the movement of the spinal column will be severely restricted.

    Feline Stretch (Erector Spinae)

    Kneel, with the knees hip distance apart. Place both palms on the floor, aligning the palms directly below the shoulders, fingers pointed forward. Make sure that the weight of the body is evenly distributed.

    Exhale, tucking the chin toward the chest, tucking the base (coccyx) of the spine and the sitting bones under you, and tucking the tummy in, contracting the navel toward the spine. The body is now curved as though you were an angry cat.
    Hold and release, breathing in as you do. You should feel the muscles in your back lengthening from the head to the tail end, opening up spaces between the vertebrae. The trapezius muscles, which lie between the shoulder blades, will also lengthen from shoulder to shoulder.
    Repeat three times at least. Each movement should be slow and controlled.

    Standing Feline Stretch (Erector Spinae)

    For those who have knee problems or find it difficult to kneel, a modified back stretch can be performed standing up.

    Stand with feet hip distance apart; cross your arms and place each hand on the opposite knee or upper thigh.
    Take a deep breath and exhale. As you exhale, tuck your chin towards your chest, tuck the tail end (coccyx) and sitting bones under, and tuck the tummy in, sending the navel toward the spine. The body is now curved like an exaggerated question mark.
    Hold the stretch, breathing normally, and then release. Return to the normal position, but do not arch your back.
    Repeat three times.

    Maintaining the Quadriceps

    Strong quadriceps help support the knees and assist movements such as climbing steps, walking uphill, sitting down, getting up, especially from a deep armchair, and getting out of cars. The easiest way to strengthen the quadriceps is to climb stairs. However, you might still find it useful to set aside two to three minutes per day to do the following:

    Squats with Support (Quadriceps)

    Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your body upright, holding on to a support such as the back of a chair or a wall. If using a chair make sure it will not topple over.

    Gently bend the knees as though you are going into a sitting position, breathing out as you do so. Bend your legs, if possible, to about 45 degrees, so that the knees in this position are aligned above the toes but not beyond them.

    Gently return to a standing position. The movements should be slow and controlled. You should feel the upper part of the thigh, the quadriceps, working.
    Repeat. The number of repetitions depends on the individual. Start with a comfortable six or eight squats and build up to as many as you can sustain. You might try for 12 to 15 a day, but if this is too ambitious, do a set of 6, rest, and do another 6.
    The slower the squat, the more difficult it is. When you have mastered the exercise, you can try going down in two stages and coming up in two stages, pausing after each one. If you are strong and have good balance, do the squats without a chair, balancing the body with arms stretched forward.

    Thigh Stretch with Support (Quadriceps)

    This is an exercise for stretching out the quadriceps after the squats.
    Keeping the knee of the supporting leg soft, bring the heel of the other leg toward the bottom, grasping the ankle with the hand. Keep the knees together and tilt the pelvis forward to effect a better stretch for the quadriceps.

    Hold and release. Breathe evenly throughout.
    Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    Extras for the Brave

    The strengthening and stretching exercises outlined above are geared toward the special needs associated with aging. Many individuals, however, may wish to do more. How much you do will depend on your level of fitness; it is difficult to generalize. The example of Helen Klein in Chapter 4 gives heart to all of us.
    I have included in the following exercises the use of a wall. A little support to start with does no harm and can help in maintaining correct body alignment, because by using a wall you can judge if you are standing straight or not. If even these exercises are too easy for you, consider trying the exercises described in Chapters 9 and 10. However, although the following exercises look deceptively easy, if they are executed well, using correct body alignment, they may prove more difficult than you think. For this reason they are also suitable for younger people.
    Remember, you can always adjust the intensity of the exercise according to your needs. Now turn on the music!
    Back Leg Lift (Gluteals)
    Stand facing a wall with your feet no more than hip distance apart.

    Place both hands on the wall for support.

    Take a deep breath; then, as you exhale, let the navel contract toward the back, tilt the hips slightly forward, and extend the right leg behind you. This setup helps to keep the hips stable and prevents you from lifting the leg too far, causing the small of the back to sag. Keep the supporting leg soft, with a slight bend to the knee.

    Lift and lower the extended right leg in a slow and controlled manner, pausing at the end of the lift to work harder.
    Repeat six to eight times, or as many times as is comfortable.
    Repeat, using the left leg.
    You can vary the contraction. If you find that the supporting leg tires easily, then reduce the number of repetitions and perhaps increase the number of sets instead. In this way you will find that there is less stress on the supporting leg. When you become stronger, the stress will eventually disappear.

    Leg Curls (Gluteals and Hamstring)

    Stand facing a wall with your feet no more than hip distance apart.
    Place both hands on the wall for support.
    Take a deep breath; then, as you exhale, let the navel contract toward the back, tilt the hips slightly forward, and extend the right leg behind you. Again, this setup helps to keep the hips stable and prevents you from lifting the leg too far, causing the small of the back to sag. Keep the supporting leg soft, with a slight bend to the knee.
    On the next out-breath, lift the extended leg off the floor, and bend it to bring the heel towards the buttocks. Then straighten it. The movements should be slow and controlled, and the breathing even. Do not apply force when bending the leg; for most people the heel will not touch the buttocks.

    Repeat six to eight times, or as many times as is comfortable.
    Change legs.

    Side Leg Lift (Tensor Fascia Latae and Gluteals)

    Stand next to a wall or a strong, firm chair (one that will not topple over), and place one hand on the wall/chair for support.
    Take a deep breath; then, as you exhale, let the navel contract toward the back and tilt the hips slightly forward. This gives the stability you need to make sure the movement that follows doesn’t involve the hip.

    working, you relieve the supporting leg from carrying the full weight of the body.
    Lift and lower the extended leg in a slow and controlled manner. This “working leg” should be straight, but do not lock the knees of either leg.
    Repeat six to eight times or as many times as is comfortable.
    Change legs.
    You should feel a tightening of the buttocks and the outer thigh muscle. Beginners who find that the supporting leg tires easily should reexamine their body alignment. One of the most common problems is keeping the supporting leg rigid and leaning towards the wall/chair. This brings the whole weight of the body onto the supporting leg, resulting in stress.  Also remember to keep the supporting leg soft. Another mistake is to lift the working leg using the hip, so do check your body alignment to make sure you’re not hiking your hip up as you lift your leg. It may also be necessary to do fewer lifts per set and to incorporate lots of rest in between sets. When you gain strength, you will find that the stress on the supporting leg disappears and all the workout is on the leg desired! Take heart—even those in their early twenties can have difficulties initially getting into the right position.
    As you gain strength you can increase the number of repetitions or sets of all these exercises. Vary also the speed in the lifting and lowering of the leg, but take it easy to start with; give top priority to perfecting the technique. Then build up to more reps and sets.
    It is important to stretch out the leg muscles after the exercise. In particular, the calves and the hamstrings have to be lengthened to maintain their flexibility. Any of the stretches outlined in Chapter 6, on warm-ups, can be used if you find it difficult to stretch on the floor, but hold them marginally longer than the chapter recommends (12 to 15 seconds), and use support such as a wall or chair if necessary. The main aim in stretching  after exercise is to return the muscles to their original length, rather than to develop their length. Since these stretches have been described earlier, I provide only two illustrations in this chapter to show how a wall (or chair) might be used for support in stretching out the calves and hamstring at the end of a workout.
    For those who have no difficulties going to the floor and who are supple, some of the floor stretches illustrated in Chapter 10 on flexibility training may be used. However, they are advanced, and I suggest using only the static position for stretching the hamstring, at least to start with (see page 145).

    Calf Stretch Using Wall (Gastrocnemius)

    Stand facing a wall, about one foot away (i.e., with enough space to lean forward towards it).
    Lean forward and place both hands on the wall for support.

    Take a deep breath and exhale, tucking in the tummy and placing one leg behind you, bending the front leg in the process.
    The knee of the bent leg should be aligned above the ankle to avoid any stress on the knee.
    The heel of the extended leg should be on the floor, with toes pointed forward for proper alignment.
    The upper trunk of the body is inclined slightly forward (a vertical position would stress the lower back).
    Hold the stretch on the calf of the extended leg for 12 to 15 seconds, and release.
    Repeat on the other side.
    You will find that, supported by the wall, you can hold the stretch for more than 12 to 15 seconds without discomfort. You can also stretch the calves even more by taking the leg further out behind you.

    Hamstring Stretch Using Wall

    Stand with your side to the wall and place one hand on the wall for support.

    Take a deep breath; as you exhale, bend the leg nearest the wall (the supporting leg) and extend the other leg in front. You should be absolutely stable and comfortable.

    Bend the body slightly, placing the free hand on the thigh of the supporting leg for greater stability, and gently lower the upper trunk forward until you feel a stretch in the hamstring of the extended leg. Hold for 12 to 15 seconds and release. Be careful not to “slump” the body when lowering the torso.
    Gently return to the upright position.
    Repeat on the other side.
    Appendix 3, Program 5 provides suggestions for structuring exercise programs for folks over 50.

    Nutrition for Changing Needs

    Nutritional needs change with age. The decline in lean body mass and basal metabolic rate, together with reduced physical activity, mean that the body’s energy requirement diminishes. If the same calories are consumed as in earlier years, the result will be increased weight and even obesity. Energy requirements can fall by as much as 5 percent for each decade after 40 years of age.
    Although an older person’s total energy requirement decreases, other nutritional needs increase because of the greater need for regeneration and repair. While the amounts of vitamins and minerals required by those over 50 years of age are about the same as those of a younger adult, the need for protein increases. In the United States, for example, a consumption of 60–75 grams of protein a day, depending on body weight, is recommended by the American Dietetic Association for those over 50. 
    This figure compares with the average recommended daily allowance of 46 grams of protein a day for women and 56 grams a day for men in the United States. It is to be noted that no official recommended daily protein intake has been set for the elderly and different nutrition organizations in the United States have slightly different suggestions on the levels to be consumed. Overall, however, the view appears to be that the elderly would benefit from a daily protein intake that exceeds the 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight recommended for younger adults. In the United Kingdom no additional quantities of protein are suggested, but the recommendation for the elderly to consume foods that are concentrated sources of proteins, vitamins, and minerals reflects a similar view. This emphasis on the need for a more nutritious diet is seen also in the guidelines on eating habits for the elderly in Japan. They are encouraged to “eat side dishes first,” rather than the main staple, rice, and to “eat every kind of food.”
    A 50+ Exercise Class in Action
    I lead an over-50s class in a local hall. Such classes offer a social occasion as well as an opportunity to improve or maintain fitness and health. Attention to general well-being is an important aspect of fusion fitness.
    The increased requirement for nutrients combined with a decreased ability of the digestive system to absorb them makes it vital to choose foods of high nutrient density that are easy to absorb. Elderly people have difficulties digesting and absorbing calcium, vitamin B-12, vitamin C, and iron. Older people often develop difficulties digesting milk because the body no longer produces enough lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose in milk. In some cases the medication taken to combat illnesses associated with aging interfere with the absorption of calcium. Corticosteroids prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis, for example, decrease calcium absorption and increase its excretion in the urine. In the United States, the recommended daily intake of calcium for adults age 51 and older is 1,200 milligrams, compared to the 1,000 milligrams recommended for younger adults. It is important, therefore, to include in the diet foods that are good sources of these nutrients. Eating aged cheeses that are low in lactose, eating yogurt with active cultures, and drinking lactose-reduced milk or buttermilk are some suggestions for those with problems digesting milk.
    Replenishing vitamin B-12 is thought to help reverse lapses of memory and improve coordination and balance because of the role it plays in protecting nerve cells. Incorporating a wide range of animal protein in the diet should meet the requirements of both the amino acid lysine and vitamin B-12. Although a balanced diet should provide an adequate supply of vitamin B-12, supplements might be needed by individuals undergoing treatment with antibiotics.
    Besides the particular nutrients discussed above, it is also important to ensure a balanced intake of all vitamins and minerals. These are as important for the elderly as they are for the young. In the United States, people over 50 are encouraged to boost their consumption of antioxidants. Vitamins C and E are important antioxidants that help mop up the harmful free radicals that can damage body cells and affect health. Supplements are not really needed if an individual eats plenty of fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Medical advice should be sought before taking any supplements.
    Foods high in sugar should be avoided because they only contribute calories. An easy step is to stop drinking sweetened beverages. The same is true of fatty foods, although essential fatty acids (see Chapter 12) must be eaten because of their roles in hormone production and the nervous system. It is important, therefore, to be selective with fat consumption. The consumption of saturated fats such as hard animal fats should be reduced in favor of unsaturated fats of the kind found in fish oils and in vegetable oils such as sunflower and olive oil. Sodium consumption should be moderated because of its association with hypertension. One effective way is to gradually reduce the salt used in cooking. Saltiness is an acquired taste that can be reversed with time. Salt with reduced sodium is also available.
    The weakening of the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract that comes with age often results in constipation. To offset this trend elderly people should ensure that they have sufficient fiber in their diet. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and manage blood glucose levels, while insoluble fiber alleviates digestive disorders and may help prevent colon cancer. Adequate fluid must also be consumed to maintain the water balance of the body and to contribute to regular bowel habits. The requirement to drink at least eight glasses of water a day remains unchanged with age. Unfortunately, many older people do not drink enough because of the discomfort associated with a full bladder and weak bladder control.
    The following simple guidelines should prove useful to you by helping you arrive at a suitable diet and a sensible pattern of food consumption.
    To help with digestion and the absorption of nutrients:
    • Eat regularly and often
    • Do not miss meals
    • Eat small quantities at each meal
    • Eat and chew slowly

    To avoid constipation and improve the efficiency of the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract:
    Drink plenty of water, but in small quantities. The excess gas in the digestive system that causes feelings of discomfort and bloatedness is frequently a result of swallowing air when eating and drinking
    Moderate the consumption of tea and coffee
    Reduce the intake of refined carbohydrates such as sugar
    Incorporate lots of fiber in the diet
    Some Beneficial Foods for Seniors*
    Bean sprouts
    Economical, good source of vitamins C (a single helping provides ¾ of adult RDA) and B complex, easily digestible protein, produces less intestinal gas than unsprouted beans, low in calories
    Economical, low in fat, easily digestible protein, rich in vitamin B (without skin)
    Dried fruits
    Good source of fiber, vitamin A, iron, calcium, and energy
    Fish, especially oily
    Excellent source of vitamins A and D, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, iron (sardines, mackerel, salmon)
    Beans, peas, and lentils
    Eaten with grains, these provide a good source of easily digestible protein, B vitamins, and fiber
    Soft and easily eaten, rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, help to encourage the excretion of uric acid associated with gout and arthritis
    Lowers cholesterol, reduces blood pressure, protects the heart, helps fight infections, and is believed to neutralize cancer-causing chemicals
    Eliminate uric acid
    This is not a complete or exhaustive list. It highlights just a few selected foods that meet the requirements and problems generally associated with aging.
    Avoid excess consumption of salt
    Moderate the consumption of alcohol
    To avoid unnecessary weight gain:
    Avoid foods and drinks high in sugar
    Avoid foods high in saturated fat
    To ensure adequate nutrition intake:
    Eat small quantities of a wide variety of foods
    Include in the daily diet:
    –carbohydrates and starches, especially whole-grain products
    –lean meat, poultry, fish (especially oily fish), or eggs
    –dairy products
    –vegetables and fruits
    –peas and beans
    To ensure that the nutrients in foods can be absorbed, special attention needs to be paid to food preparation. Soups, for example, are a good medium, because they are easy to consume and digest and they also provide fluid. Mincing lean meat or poultry is ideal for those who experience problems chewing. Steaming and grilling reduces the need for added cooking fat, and the high temperatures help seal in the nutritional goodness of the food.
    Some people prepare food with a scale for weighing portions and a list of caloric contents, but there is really no need to do so. With experience and a little common sense it will soon be easy to strike a happy balance in your daily diet. Do not be afraid to experiment with new dishes that offer or increase the variety in your diet. Above all else, enjoy your food!.
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