Getting older is a fact of life, and one that everyone needs to prepare for. As stated in a report by the United Nations, the share of the global population above 65 years old increased from 6% in 1990 to 9% in 2019. By 2050, there will be an estimated 1.5 billion people in the world aged 65 or older.
While aging is a natural part of life, it doesn’t mean that we can take our bodies for granted. As we age, the human body begins to change. Bone density lowers, muscles weaken, and other bodily functions begin to slow down. In a previous post, we talked about ‘How Aging Affects Muscle Loss’. Today, we’re going to talk about a few ways to manage aging in general. Specifically, what nutrition you’re going to need as you get older.
Bone density loss is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to aging. As our bones get weaker, they become less able to hold up our bodies, and become more prone to fractures and other bone-related injuries and diseases. And because recovery can take so long in seniors, it’s especially important that bone health is maintained.
The best nutrient for this is, of course, calcium. The human body can’t produce calcium on its own, so it needs to get it from other sources. The Institute of Medicine has guidelines for calcium intake for older adults, noting that women 51 years and older should take around 1200 mg of calcium while men the same age should take around 1000 mg. You can take calcium from whole food sources like dairy or dark green leafy vegetables, or opt for supplements with the recommendation of your doctor.
Protein is another thing that older adults should start paying attention to. The human body has about 30% protein tissue for most of our lives, but that rate declines to about 20% or less by age 70. While we often pay attention to our protein intake when we’re younger, the truth is that the older we get, the more protein we actually need.
In general, older adults will need about 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Protein sources in whole foods include meats, dairy products, fish and other seafood, eggs, and plant-based sources like nuts and legumes. You’ll also need to think about the protein you’re taking in— collagen is especially important for maintain bone health and density, for example. According to Brightcore, collagen can also help with joint pain, making it especially useful for seniors.
One of the key points to the aging process is oxidative stress. It can damage cells, proteins, and DNA, which contribute to the aging process. In order to slow down the effects of this, elderly people will need to up their intake of antioxidants. Antioxidants can protect your cells against free radicals, and subsequently a wide variety of diseases like heart disease, cancer, and more.
Luckily, antioxidants can be found in a wide variety of foods. Healthline lists a few common antioxidant sources such as watercress, blueberries, papaya, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. Antioxidant supplements are also an option, but on the whole doctors recommend taking your antioxidants from whole foods instead, as supplements can have an excess of antioxidants that can be detrimental to your overall health.
Finally, the next thing that you’ll need to keep healthy in your later years is vitamin D. Vitamin D performs a variety of functions in the human body, including regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate. This helps keep your bones, gums, and teeth healthy, and can even help prevent some cancers.
Additionally, Medical News Today reports that there’s evidence vitamin D can help reduce frailty in old age, making it essential for older individuals. The National Academy of Medicine recommends around 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D for seniors. Great vitamin D sources include oily fish, egg yolk, fortified foods, and of course, sunlight. You can also try vitamin D supplements if you’re worried about hitting the minimum recommended daily amount.
Aging comes with its own challenges, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make sure our bodies are up to the task. The above nutrients are a guide for what aging bodies generally need, but before making any dietary or supplementary decisions you should always be sure to check in with your doctor or nutritionist. After all, if we want to enjoy our golden years, we need to make sure we’re investing in our bodies.