by Emma Schiestl, Community Outreach Program Director
March is National Nutrition Month! Although many people emphasize leading a healthy lifestyle in order to live into your golden years, many people forget the importance of nutrition once you’ve reached them. Here’s what you need to know about maintaining your nutritional health as you age.
- By consuming a balanced, healthy diet in your later years you can avoid many common diseases that disproportionally effect seniors. Many disease, including osteoporosis, type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure are directly influenced by food consumption. Additionally, many of the consequences of these diseases are far more damaging to older adults in comparison to younger individuals who suffer from the same condition. By altering your diet to avoid these health conditions you may drastically improve your quality of life. For example, by adding additional calcium to your diet through milk or milk substitutes, you can increase your bone density and reduce your fall risk.
- Poor diet can result in mental health consequences. “A growing body of evidence indicates that food plays an important contributing role in the development, management, and prevention of specific mental health problems such as depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.” Although nutrition can effect these conditions at any age, the consequences may be more severe in older adults because preventable cognitive decline is often viewed as natural, causing caregivers and doctors not to recognize when an aging person can actually treat their cognitive symptoms. In order to prevent these mental health changes be sure to eat a varied diet full of nutrient rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- A higher proportion of seniors are effected by malnutrition than any other age group. Malnutrition in seniors can be caused by many factors including the inability to drive to the grocery store, teeth and gum weakness, arthritis interfering with cooking ability, loss of appetite, the desire to avoid eating alone, and a reduction in the sensitivity to taste resulting in a decreased desire to consume food. This is dangerous, especially to seniors, because malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system making it more likely for an older adult to become sick and it can result in physical weakness increasing a senior’s chance of injury. Malnutrition is easily preventable given the cause, check out the link above to for prevention tips.
- Specific vitamins and minerals become even more vital as you age. Vitamins and minerals have several different functions in your body ranging from fighting infections to assisting in the absorption of energy from food. While it is important to get a variety of vitamins and minerals from your food consumption throughout your life, certain vitamins and minerals become even more important as you age. For example, calcium is vital for maintaining strong bones, something that is crucial for older adults who are at risk for bone loss. Vitamin D is equally critical based on its role in assisting with calcium absorption. Additionally, Vitamin B6 plays a critical role in maintaining neurotransmitter health. Not only are neurotransmitters important for maintaining mental health, they also greatly effect physical health. For instance, the tremors associated with Parkinson’s Disorder are caused in part by dopamine reduction, an important neurotransmitter effected by Vitamin B6.
- It’s never too late to start eating healthy One major drive behind maintaining good nutrition is the desire to live a long life. Although this desire provides strong motivation for young adults and individuals in mid-life to eat well, older adults who have already reached their later years find this less compelling. However, nutrition is still highly important once you’ve reached older adulthood. While many people focus on the long term benefits of healthy eating, there are also several short term results an individual can benefit from by choosing a healthier diet. For example, by making healthier food choices older adults can experience “increased mental acuteness, resistance to illness and disease, higher energy levels, faster recuperation times, and better management of chronic health problems.” There is always a good reason to start eating better at any age!
Nutrition is important at any life stage! If you’re an older adult struggling to prepare meals on your own or for your loved ones, remember there are options. Colorado Springs has Golden Circle locations across the city, and Silver Key can deliver Meals on Wheels directly to your home.