Growing is an inevitable ultimate true process of life. Ageing is unchangeable and uncontrollable. It requires a lot of awareness, motivation and physical, mental, and social support to age elegantly. We all proactively try our best to secure old age financially. We generally do not think or plan about our nutritional health for old age. Like financial planning, good health planning also needs small mindful nutritional investments right from a young age. It needs a steady and focused approach to secure the desired positive quality of life during old age.
Why does ageing increase undernutrition risk?
Ageing brings various vigilant and silent internal and external changes. All these cumulatively lead to poor appetite, low nutritious food intake, low immunity and increased susceptibility to health complications.
- Calorie requirements reduce but an inadequate intake of food causes weight loss
- Vitamin and mineral requirements increase as compared to young age
- Changes in vision, taste, or smell and dental problems affect appetite or enjoyment of foods
- Digestive changes affect the way the body absorbs nutrients
- A decreased sense of thirst raises the risk of dehydration
Overall health changes
- Immune function declines and prolongs recovery from illness
- Changes occur in the way medicines work in the body, and how they interact with foods
- Regular intake of medicines can alter appetite or taste
- Risk for chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease increases
- The loss of a spouse or partner, loneliness and depression leads to changes in eating patterns
- Less income after retirement and reduced mobility lead to cutting down or buying nutritious foods
- A reduced ability to commute makes it hard to buy food from the grocery store
- Cognitive impairment decreases the ability to buy foods, prepare meals, or use utensils
What is the role of a balanced diet in active and healthy ageing?
The impact of poor diet on the elderly affects all body systems and increases health risks. Like at a young age, old age also requires healthy food habits and a balanced diet including all aspects of a good dietary pattern. A diet consisting of foods from several food groups provides all the required nutrients in proper amounts.
- Adequate water intake It is one of the key factors to prevent chronic diseases and fight infections. Water is essential for normal bodily functions including absorption and distribution of nutrients, thermoregulation and the excretion of waste. Ageing reduces the thirst sensitivity and even mild dehydration may have adverse effects like urinary stone recurrence and broncho-pulmonary and renal disorders.
- The right amount of energy With age, basal metabolic rate (BMR) reduces, resulting in changes in body composition, reduced muscle mass, increased body fat and decline in energy requirement. Lower energy intake leads to impaired immune response, muscular and respiratory function, delayed wound healing, longer rehabilitation and a greater length of hospital stay.
- Protein intake Sufficient intake of protein is important to maintain healthy muscles and prevent musculoskeletal damage. Protein metabolism becomes less efficient with increasing age.
- Fat in the diet Fat accumulation increases but its utilization reduces. Hence, chances of an imbalanced lipid profile results are expected. This increases the risk of chronic lifestyle diseases.
- Vitamins and minerals Deficiencies of multiple micronutrients lead to poor immune functioning, improper digestion, weakness, lack of concentration and low quality of life. The most prevalent deficiencies are VitD, calcium, Vit B12, Iron, Zinc, Folic acid, Vit A, Vit C and Vit E. Deficiency symptoms are not always very prominent, hence remain unchecked for a longer period.
- Antioxidants Oxidation-induced free radicals numbers increase in the body with advancing age. A lower intake of antioxidants leads to increased susceptibility to various infections.
- Probiotics and prebiotics These are mandatory to maintain good intestinal health, proper digestion and boost immunity. Also, normalize bowel movement, prevents various chronic diseases and improves the overall functioning of the body.
What are the healthy habits to be followed from a young age?
Nutritional screening to determine nutritional risks: As age progresses, functional degradation and wear & tear also increase. So it is necessary to keep a check on the body and its organ operations from time to time. It is recommended after 30 years of full body checks including complete blood test, blood glucose test, HbA1c test, liver test, kidney test, reproductive system test, Vit D, Ca, Iron and Vit B12 test to be done regularly. Always notice small or minute signs and symptoms of physical, mental and emotional changes.
Dietary and lifestyle tips
- Drink small quantities of water and healthy fluids regularly throughout the day and not consume large amounts at once
- Never skip food or fast for too long and eat a small quantity of food at regular intervals of time
- If at all calorie restriction is required, do it under experts guidance
- Have low-fat good quality protein like nuts, pulses, soy, seed, and a moderate amount of paneer, fish, eggs and white meat in your diet
- Replace saturated and trans fat with good fats like omega 3 and 6 fatty but in moderation
- Add a good amount of antioxidant-rich foods like fresh vegetables, fruits and a moderate amount of green tea to the diet
- Include prebiotics like a variety of vegetables and bananas and probiotics like curd, buttermilk, and lassi in a regular diet
- Try to have Alpha-linolenic acid-rich fenugreek seeds and mustard seeds regularly
- Limit or avoid a high intake of salt/sodium and sugar intake including table salt & sugar
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables instead of sugar-loaded packed fruit drinks
- In case of nutritional deficiencies, consult an expert and start supplementation accordingly
- Add low-fat milk and dairy products to your dietary routine
- Do 30 mins physical activity and go out under the sun for vital Vit D absorption
- Minimize alcohol consumption and smoking with increasing age
- Take appropriate rest, go for a digital detox, calm down over stressed-out mind and develop a self-talk routine in daily life
- Acquire activities to activate the mind like reading, writing, solving puzzles and playing chess
- Develop gratitude towards life and strong positive relationships with near and dear ones
Efforts should be made not to stop or avoid ageing but to welcome it wholeheartedly and happily. It is the final destination of the lifecycle so it should be cherished and celebrated to the fullest. Planning old age attentively, financially, nutritionally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is the best gift one can give to self and their loved ones.
- South Asian J. Food Technol. Environ., 2(3&4):432-437 (2016)
- Nutrition Resource Manual for Adult Day Health Programs
- Prog Health Sci 2016, Vol 6, No 2 Nutritional habits of the elderly
- The Role of Nutrition in Active and Healthy Ageing, European Commission