Published April 1, 2022
Americans are living longer on average, thanks to modern medicine and technology, but they are not necessarily living healthier in their later years. Nearly 61% of Americans age 65 or older have multiple chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cognitive decline, and dementia.1 The goal of healthy aging is not only to increase years of life, but also and more importantly, extend healthy active years.1 Research has identified action steps we can take to maintain our health and function as we get older.
Aim for physical activity.
Include physical activity throughout the day. Regular exercise and physical activity may reduce your risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that often occur with aging. For instance, balance exercises help prevent falls, a major cause of disability in older adults. Strength exercises build muscles and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Flexibility or stretching exercises help keep your body limber and give you the freedom of movement you need to do everyday activities.2
Eat a balanced diet.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the best options to maintain health over your life span. Get tips on how to make it Mediterranean.3 Additionally, if you are looking to support your brain health, look into the MIND diet, a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
Be mindful of nutrients.
Along with a balanced diet, there are some nutrients of concern for older adults. Make sure that you are getting enough.
Older adults are prone to losing muscle mass due to aging.4 and protein helps you prevent that loss. To help build and retain that muscle mass, exercising and getting quality sources of protein including lean meats, seafood, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, yogurt, and cheese is recommended. Try our Skillet Pork Salad with Warm Orange Vinaigrette, which is an excellent source of protein.
How much? The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per day. For a 150-pound woman, that means about 54 grams of protein a day, and 65 grams for a 180-pound man. Some evidence suggests that older adults may benefit from more protein since the recommendation is based on healthy individuals. See your doctor or dietitian for specific recommendations.5
Calcium & vitamin D.
Older adults need calcium—and vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium—to help maintain bone health.6 The recommended daily allowance of calcium is 1000 mg for men and 1200 mg for women. Good sources of calcium are dairy products, especially milk and yogurt. Other nondairy sources that contribute to calcium intake are tofu, turnip greens, and kale.7
The recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D is 15 micrograms (mcg). Very few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Fortified foods, such as milk, provide most of the vitamin D in American diets. Salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish are among the best sources. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks provide small amounts.8 Try our One Pan Salmon, Kale, and Chickpeas with Buttermilk Sauce recipe, an excellent source of vitamin D.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all your cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a blood condition that makes people tired and weak. This nutrient is of concern to older adults because the body’s ability to absorb it may decrease with age. Some medications may also cause decreased absorption. A supplement may be needed; check with your physician to determine what supplement, if any, may be appropriate. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg for both men and women. Foods that have B12 include salmon, chicken, lean ground beef, yogurt, eggs, and turkey breast.9
Zinc is involved in numerous aspects of metabolism, including immune function, protein synthesis, and wound healing. Men need 11 mg daily, and women need 8 mg per day. Foods that contain zinc include lean beef, yogurt, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, and oatmeal.10
Don’t rely on supplements.
Even though it is tempting to take supplements that claim to improve memory, alleviate joint pain, or prevent heart disease, it is better to get your nutrients from whole foods. While some people may need certain supplements to help them meet their nutrient needs, supplements should not be used as a replacement for a balanced diet. And because some dietary supplements can interact with medications, check with your doctor before deciding to take a dietary supplement to treat any health condition.11
Dehydration is a concern with older adults. Many factors may cause older adults not to drink enough fluids throughout the day, including a decreased sense of thirst, concerns about bladder control, or issues with mobility. Drink water as often as you can. Low- or fat-free milk, including lactose-free options or fortified soy beverages, and 100% juice, can also help you stay hydrated. You can also get water from the foods you eat, including fruits, vegetables, and soups.
For the love of you.
Choosing how you eat is uniquely personal. It’s about your needs, your preferences, and your goals. As your wellness ally, we’re in your corner with fresh ideas, recipes, and wellness icons that make it easier to shift toward wiser food choices. It’s all about you, at your very best.
1Shlisky, Julie, David E. Bloom, Amy R. Beaudreault, Katherine L. Tucker, et al. Nutritional Considerations for Healthy Aging and Reduction in Age-Related Chronic Disease. Advances in Nutrition 8, no. 1 (January 2007): 17–26.
2U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS): What Do We Know about Healthy Aging? National Institute on Aging. February 23, 2022.
3Assmann, Karen E., Moufidath Adjibade, Valentina A. Andreeva, Serge Hercberg, Pilar Galan, and Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot. Association Between Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet at Midlife and Healthy Aging in a Cohort of French Adults. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A 73, no. 3 (March 2018): 347–54.
4Papadopoulou, Sousana K. Sarcopenia: A Contemporary Health Problem Among Older Adult Populations. Nutrients (Special Issue: Contemporary Issues in Nutrition Research) 12, no. 5 (April 1, 2020): 1293.
5Baum, Jamie I., Il-Young Kim, and Robert R. Wolfe. Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake? Nutrients (Special Issue: Dietary Protein, Exercise and Muscle Health in an Aging Population) 8, no. 6 (June 6, 2016): 359.
6Klemm, Sarah, RDN, CD, LDN. Special Nutrient Needs of Older Adults. EatRight.org. May 21, 2020.
7U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Calcium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. November 17, 2021.
8U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. August 17, 2021.
9U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. March 9, 2022.
10U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Zinc Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. December 7, 2021.
11U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Dietary Supplements for Older Adults. National Institute on Aging. April 23, 2021.