When it comes to aging, there is no “one size fits all” plan. Vitality varies from person to person. However, there are many ways you can help combat some of the health concerns commonly associated with aging.
Most gerontologists agree that the root cause of physiological losses associated with aging—i.e., loss of muscle, skin elasticity, or changes to organ function—result from normal wear and tear to cells that die and are not replaced. Therefore, the effects of cell loss accumulate over time. Though some degree of decline is normal and unavoidable, many individuals may exhibit excellent health well into the “older adult” phase. The Greeks referred to this appearance of vibrancy and youth with age as “agerasia.”
While aging is a normal process reserved for the lucky, the following recommendations are simple ways to help you maintain your youthful energy and health—agerasia—into your 60s, and beyond.
1. Stay Hydrated
Hydration is important at any age, but it is particularly key for older adults. Older individuals tend to retain less water than younger people, mostly due to decreased lean body mass, though also related to decreased fluid intakes or a decline in kidney function. This factor may increase your risk of chronic dehydration.
The average person requires roughly 1 milliliter of fluids for every calorie consumed. Therefore, if you consume an average of 1,800 calories daily, you require around 1,800 milliliters, or 60 ounces, of fluids.
Concerned about coffee? A study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics has concluded that daily coffee intake as part of a normal lifestyle is not associated with dehydration. Furthermore, current research suggests that regular coffee consumption may protect against cognitive impairment and decline later in life. This being said, it is good to keep in mind that water is the gold standard for hydration, and should make up a majority of fluid intake.
Aim to consume the majority of your daily fluids as pure water, though feel free to continue—or even consider taking up—your own daily coffee routine.
2. Keep Moving
The USDA recommends adults at any age should get at least 250 minutes of exercise each week. This can include gentle activities, such as yoga, walking, or swimming, which are also beneficial because they minimize the impact to your joints. Some types of weight-bearing activity—like weight lifting, dancing, step aerobics, or basketball—may also help preserve lean muscle mass.
3. Focus on Protein
Our body composition changes with age. Aging is associated with an increase in total body fat, as well as a shift of that fat distribution. An older individual has higher total body fat and visceral fat (fat surrounding the organs). While routine physical activity may help lessen this shift, some degree of change is inevitable. To some extent, a small increase in overall fat may be healthy. Think of it this way—if you slip and fall, you will likely fare much better with adequate fat tissue to pad and protect your bones.
However, the increase in fat stores also comes with a decrease in lean body mass—a condition known as sarcopenia. Insufficient protein intake and sarcopenia widely occur in older individuals, both underweight and overweight. Sarcopenia may lead to weakness, decreased ability to function independently, and increased risk of injury.
The standard daily recommendation for adults of all ages is typically .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (or .36 grams protein per pound of body weight). So, a 140-lb. individual would require roughly 50 grams of protein daily.
Here are a few high-protein sources:
- Animal products (fish, meat, eggs, and dairy)
- Nuts and seeds
- Bone broth (also contains collagen, which may also benefit your skin)
(Of note, individuals with kidney disease, wounds, or other chronic conditions may have specific protein needs. Consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian regarding your unique dietary needs.)
While you can benefit from healthy choices to prevent excessive weight gain, dramatic weight loss should not be a goal during this stage in life either. Instead, focus on your protein intake and weekly physical activity to help preserve your lean muscle mass.
4. Stay Regular with Fiber
Constipation is a common problem after age 60, likely due to a combination of a decreased appetite, lower fluid intake, and inactivity. Stay regular by making sure to include plenty of fiber in your diet. Fiber may help provide bulk to aid the passage of food and waste products through your gut.
Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are fibrous. The World Health Organization recommends five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and it has found that increasing your fruit and vegetable intake by 1 to 2 servings daily may lower your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
An added perk is that the antioxidants found in these fruits and veggies may not only help keep your digestion more regular, but they may also help counteract free radicals, the culprits behind cellular death and aging.
5. Monitor Salt and Sugar Intake
As we age, we may begin to crave more salt and sugar. This phenomenon is likely caused by an age-related decline in both taste buds as well as sense of smell. You may want to add salt or seek sweet foods in an attempt to enhance flavor.
The tendency to over salt and over sweeten food can have negative health effects. Extra salt may increase blood pressure and fluid retention, and too much sugar can result in Type II Diabetes due to impaired blood sugar regulation in older adults.
Instead, try salt-free seasonings. The grocery store spice section stocks myriad seasoning options, some of which are very good. Try a salt-free lemon-pepper seasoning for poultry, fish, and vegetables, or a Cajun or savory seasoning for eggs, red meats, and potatoes. Fresh lemon juice and herbs also add great flavor to meats, fish, and vegetables alike.
When it comes to sugar, aim to keep sugar out of your fluids. Sweeten coffee or other hot beverages with a calorie-free natural sweetener such as stevia, and focus on non-sugary beverages, avoiding excessive juice, soda, or sweet tea consumption.
6. Take Your Vitamins
As we age, we may also experience a decreased ability to digest vitamins and minerals, which may lead to a higher risk of deficiency. Two vitamins to pay attention to are vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
- Vitamin B12
Older individuals may be at risk for low B12 due to less intake of foods containing this vitamin and decreased stomach acid secretion, which can inhibit conversion of B12 into a usable form. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal source foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products. It also can be added to fortified foods such as breakfast cereals in a crystalline form, which is better absorbed by those in the older population. This crystalline form is not dependent on stomach acid for absorption, making it more bioavailable.
- Vitamin D
Our skin doesn’t synthesize vitamin D as efficiently as we age, and our kidneys may become less able to convert vitamin D to the active hormone form. Vitamin D may be absorbed from the sun, and it is also found in fatty fish and egg yolks. Store-bought cow’s milk, nut milk, and most orange juices are also fortified with added vitamin D.
Be sure to periodically check with your physician to determine if your vitamin B12 and vitamin D levels are within normal range. If not, your doctor may prescribe a supplement.
Whether you’re caring for yourself or someone else, these tips can help you create a roadmap as you prepare for the future. Whether you’re in your 20s or 60s, it’s never too early or too late to start taking steps to ensure that you are able to live as the best version of yourself, healthy and vibrant, long into the future!
*Editor’s note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group, and it is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Learn how to use natural wellness practices like meditation, yoga, and Ayurvedic eating to help slow, and even reverse, the aging process at Perfect Health, our intimate, personalized mind-body healing retreat. Learn More.