Embracing a balanced, nutrient dense diet across your lifespan is a key factor in preventing many chronic diseases and aliments. This becomes especially important into later adulthood when the risk for illness increases. In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, we’ve gathered what you need to know about the importance of nutrition as we age.

The impact of food on health

Food provides fuel our bodies need to complete the necessary functions of living. The nutrients in food give our cells information about what they should or should not be doing. Because of this, the quality of our diet has a huge effect on our physical and cognitive condition, bone, and eye health, as well as the function of our vascular and immune systems. A diet of foods low in nutrients but high in calories can make a person more prone to common diseases such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

How dietary needs change with age

The aging process affects the body in many ways, including changing the nutritional needs of older adults. Metabolism tends to slow and bone and muscle mass decrease causing a diminished amount of energy expended on a daily basis. Less energy being used means less energy from food is needed. Chronic conditions and medications also play a role in what a person is able to eat. Additionally, the body’s ability to absorb and properly utilize many nutrients becomes less efficient as we age. This results in an increase in the amount of nutrients a person should consume to ensure they’re getting everything their body needs.

Other challenges older adults face

Because aging bodies need less food but more nutrients, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the right balance. Older adults can also face limited food choices due to loss of appetite and stunted taste and smell. Oral health tends to decline as well making chewing difficult and perhaps a decreased ability to swallow. Furthermore, some may experience mobility constraints which can make shopping, lifting heavy jars and opening containers troublesome.

What should older adults do?

There are several actions people can take to mitigate the nutritional changes and difficulties arising in later adulthood.

  • Lead an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise, as this will stimulate appetite and other body functions.
  • Hydrate by incorporating plenty of fluids into your daily routine. Some older adults can lose their sense of thirst, so it’s important to drink liquids throughout the day.
  • Limit high calorie, low nutrient foods that contain added sugars, saturated fats or high levels of sodium. This includes foods like baked goods, chips, candy and soda.
  • Visit your dentist regularly and address any discomfort, especially while chewing, immediately.
  • Enjoy the social aspect of food by hosting a potluck with neighbors, cooking with friends, taking a cooking class, or sharing a meal with family.
  • Counter a changing sense of smell and taste by incorporating foods with a variety of colors, textures, and more robust flavors to keep things interesting.
  • Seek an occupational therapist if you struggle with preparing food due to problems with range of motion, pain, or muscle weakness.

Many adults choose to live in a retirement community as it provides more opportunities to live a physically and socially active lifestyle. Plus, living in a community of your peers can ease any hardships you may face as you work to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

Located in Clear Lake, Iowa, the community at Glen Oaks is designed to foster connection and promote active living. With a swimming pool, fitness center and walking trails among the many amenities available to our residents, as well as organized activities for individuals and groups, there’s no shortage of activities. The health of our residents is of the utmost important to us, which is why we have partnered with Northern Iowa Therapy to offer physical and occupational therapy options to those living in our community.

If you’re ready to live life your way, come see for yourself everything Glen Oaks has to offer. Schedule an in-person tour today or visit us virtually any time!