Nourishing longevity

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Nutritional therapist Karen Geary sheds light on optimising health with targeted nutrition for the older generation

As society undergoes a global demographic shift, more individuals are reaching advanced age, making it crucial to understand and address the unique nutritional needs of older adults. In the UK, an ‘older’ adult is generally defined as an individual aged 65 years or older. With advances in healthcare, technology and living conditions, life expectancy estimates have risen significantly over the past century, reaching 78.6 years for males and 82.6 years for females in 2020 to 2022.

Common issues in older adults
Older adults face various health challenges, including diminished muscle mass, decreased bone density and a higher susceptibility to chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline. Almost 95 per cent of individuals over 60 have at least one chronic condition, such as high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, high cholesterol, digestive disorders or kidney disease. Proper nutrition is crucial for preventing and managing these age-related issues.

Blue Zones and common factors
Blue Zones – regions known for having an unusually high number of centenarians – offer valuable insights into longevity. Places like Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia in Italy share common lifestyle practices promoting health in older adults, including a plant-centric diet, moderate alcohol consumption (preferably red wine), limited animal product intake, regular physical activity, strong social connections and a sense of purpose.

The impact of diet on ageing
Diet plays a central role in the ageing process, influencing factors such as inflammation, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial function (the energy source for cellular processes).
As we age, our repair systems become less effective, and a nutrient-dense, balanced diet is ever more important. Key dietary considerations for older adults:

  1. Protein intake – adequate protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass. Sources include poultry, fish, beans and dairy products. Incorporating protein into every meal, including breakfast with options like eggs or Greek yogurt, is recommended.
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids – found in olive oil, fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseeds, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties supporting cognitive health.
  3. Antioxidant-rich foods – fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants combat oxidative stress and supply a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Include a variety of colours, with a focus on purple plants high in polyphenols.
  4. Magnesium – found in dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds and whole grains, magnesium is crucial for more than 300 bodily functions.
  5. Vitamin D – essential for bone, brain, and immune health, vitamin D is found in oily fish, egg yolks, red meat and liver. During winter, it’s suggested we all consider a vitamin D supplement (how to supplement vitamin D).
  6. CoQ10 – our levels naturally decrease with age, and statins may further lower production. Oily fish, liver, whole grains or supplementation can be supportive.
  7. Hydration – ageing diminishes the sense of thirst, making dehydration common. Staying well hydrated supports overall health.

You’re not just what you eat
Adequate sleep is crucial for healthy ageing – with five to seven hours as a minimum, but avoiding excessive sleep beyond nine hours.
Regular physical activity, even as little as 13 minutes a day, can extend life by three years. Try also to stay connected with friends and family – a sense of community is key.
Addressing the nutritional needs of older adults is critical for promoting health and longevity. As the global population ages, a proactive approach to nutrition in older adults becomes imperative, not just for extending life expectancy but also for enhancing the quality of life in later years.

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