Healthy Aging With Nutrition and Exercise

By: Dr. Jim Collins, MD

We are all aging. That’s a fact. Despite this, there are many things that are in our control to slow down the aging process and help us age well. Among these – nutrition and exercise provide the greatest positive impact on how we age and stay healthy later in life. Nutrition and exercise are good for the brain and bones, mood and self-confidence, independence and management of disease and pain. Simply put, there are no down sides to eating an “age-defying” diet and maintaining an active lifestyle.

Age-Defying Foods

What we eats makes a big difference in how we feel and how we age. Our skin will stay more youthful and our heart can stay stronger throughout our lives. There is a plethora of advice on eating healthy foods as we age in books and magazines, on television and radio and on the Internet. So, where do we begin?

Foods to Put on Your Plate

Let’s get as practical as we possibly can. There are certain foods that should be on your breakfast, lunch and dinner plates every day. Why? These foods are well-known as anti-aging foods. They provide good sources of antioxidants, vitamins, beta-carotene, fiber, protein and Omega 3.

  • Eat at least 5 portions of colorful fruits and vegetables daily, including dark leafy greens, blueberries, carrots, and deep red tomatoes. Eat brightly-colored produce such as corn, peppers, oranges and melons. These foods maintain good vision and protect your vision from macular degeneration. Vitamin C helps to keep the skin younger-looking and eating yellow and green vegetables daily can reduce wrinkling and other signs of aging skin.
  • Resveratrol is a power anti-oxidant found in grapes and red wine. Scientists have been telling us for years that getting these in our diets can reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and premature aging.
  • Whole grains are not only heart-healthy, they can reduce your chance of developing type two diabetes. Oats, quinoa, wheat, barley, and brown rice are grains rich in fiber. Eat at least 3 portions of these daily as a part of your anti-aging diet.
  • Two portions of fish per week will provide all of the Omega-3s you need to protect your heart, reduce your risk of having a stroke and minimize the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Dairy is a healthy source of calcium and vitamin D, which are important for health bones and preventing osteoporosis in aging women. Eat a minimum of 3 portions daily. Choose low fat dairy options to avoid cholesterol problems. For those who don’t eat dairy products, good alternatives are soy products, almond milk and cereals.
  • While you’re at it, throw a few almonds on your plate to add healthy fat, which has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Beans also provide great anti-aging benefits, including high fiber and protein, which can reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes. One more piece of advice: reduce your salt and sodium intake due to its association with high blood pressure and kidney disease.      

Medical studies show that risk for developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease can be significantly reduced by maintaining a healthy diet as we age.

Exercise and Aging Well

As we age, exercise becomes more important than ever. It gives us energy, helps to maintain independence, and can benefit already-existing diseases and pain. Exercise is good for both the body and brain. It enhances memory and mood, maintains or helps with weight loss, and strengthens mobility, flexibility and balance. Regular exercise can also help with sleep, reduce the impact of illness, manage pain and build self-confidence. Regardless of your current health condition, there are exercises that can benefit everyone.

Tips to Get Started

Before beginning an exercise routine, consult your physician to see what exercises you should and shouldn’t do. Take into account your current health conditions – it’s better to be safe than sorry. Start low and go slow. This means build your exercise program little by little. Always warm up and listen to your body. Commit to an exercise schedule for around 3 to 4 weeks, so you create a new habit. Find exercises you enjoy and stick with them. If exercising ever makes you dizzy, weak, short of breath or you begin to experience chest pain or joint pain, stop and consult your physician. Become focused and mindful of your body, breathing and movements and make every session count!

Building Your Exercise Plan

A good exercise plan begins with cardio endurance exercises, including walking, swimming, climbing stairs, cycling, tennis and dancing. These exercises will get your heart pumping and prepare you for the next type of exercise - strength and power training.

Strength and power training can be done with the use of free weights, machines or elastic bands. These exercises build muscle, improve balance and help to prevent bone loss with aging. They can also increase your speed and help to avoid falls.

Next, add flexibility exercises, such as stretching and range of motion. Yoga is a good example. Flexibility exercises help keep your body limber, increase range of motion of your muscles and joints, and help with everyday activities, such as driving, showering and playing with your grandchildren.

The last group of exercises to add is those that help with balance, which include standing and stability, while stationary or moving around. Examples of this type of exercise include yoga, Tai Chi and other posture exercises. They improve your balance, posture and your quality of walking.

Aging involves many changes in our bodies and brains that may be outside of our control. Despite this, we can control how we care for ourselves as we age. In particular, diet and exercise are among the most important areas where we do have control. Putting more age-defying foods on your plate and remaining active can only produce positive results as you age, regardless of the condition you are currently in. It is never too late to start! Eat smart, exercise and have fun!