In 1980, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics dedicated the month of March to promote the importance of health and nutrition. While this month creates awareness about healthy lifestyles for people of all ages, there is one demographic whose dietary health is critical in their overall wellbeing. National Nutrition Month serves as the perfect opportunity to assess the impact that certain food and lifestyle choices have on aging bodies — more specifically, our seniors.
Elderly nutrition is a crucial contributor to the quality and longevity of life for seniors. As people age, so too do their nutritional concerns. Poor nutrition can have detrimental effects on the physical, mental, and emotional health of elders. That’s why it is so important to make sure we are helping them meet their evolving nutritional needs and bringing awareness to the key role nutrition plays in their lives.
In observance of March National Nutrition Month, here are some of the most prominent ways that nutritional needs change in elders:
Lean body mass decreases
Bone density shrinks
Amount of taste buds decrease
Malabsorption of vitamin B-12
While these are only a handful of changes that typically occur, ignoring them can cause a ripple effect of other physiological and psychological issues leading to a rapid decline in overall health. Making sense of these changes, however, isn’t always easy.
In celebration of this year’s National Nutrition Month, here are some ways that you can help your senior loved ones navigate their ever changing nutritional needs and lead the healthy lives they deserve:
Help them pick the right foods.
Healthy plates look different at each stage in life. For elderly nutrition, it consists of lean proteins, fruits and veggies, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. According to the American Heart Association, their food choices should contain less sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. They should be nutrient-rich, high in fiber, and provide a healthy dose of vitamin D. More importantly, seniors need to stay hydrated with water and other healthy fluids.
Fortunately, the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) has created a MyPlate for Older Adults diagram to help seniors and their families better understand their nutritional needs.
To help celebrate National Nutrition Month, share this illustration with your senior loved ones. Or do one better — restock their groceries to ensure they have all their healthy food choices at the ready! Score extra points by planning a healthy meal and creating an excuse to gather with friends and family.
Get active with them.
Staying active is important for a healthy life at every age, but it might be even more critical for seniors. It’s no secret that as we age, our physical and mental health also declines. Inactivity does little to help. One way to keep aging bodies in good health this National Nutrition Month is by keeping them moving.
For seniors, proper elderly nutrition combined with an active lifestyle decreases their risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and even cancer. It helps improve their overall balance and strength granting them more independence. It also improves their moods, boosts their self-esteem, and improves cognitive function. Other benefits include weight management, stronger bones, improved mental health, better sleep patterns, reduced hypertension, and increased social wellness.
This March National Nutrition Month, celebrate by getting active with your senior loved ones. Go for a stroll around the yard, practice low-impact yoga with them at home, or spend time outside gardening with them. Not only is this a chance to do something with them that keeps them healthy, but it’s also a chance to connect and bond.
Be there for them.
As we mentioned earlier, making sense of all the changes that aging bodies undergo can be a challenge for our senior loved ones. Their mental health is just as important as their physical health. This National Nutrition Month, don’t forget to practice empathy and compassion. The aging process can be scary and frustrating for many seniors. They often feel a loss of independence or fear of the unknown. Unaddressed, these negative feelings can lead to depression, irritability, paranoia, and other emotional problems.
While it certainly helps, even the right elderly nutrition does not guarantee mental wellbeing. More often than not, cognitive decline is an unavoidable progression in aging bodies. However, that does not mean that they no longer need a healthy support system.
If you haven’t made it a point to reach out and offer some kind words to your senior loved ones, take this March National Nutrition Month to do so. Make time to see how your aging family and friends are doing — not just physically, but emotionally. After all, an empathetic ear may be all they need to lift their spirits and help them cope with the age-related changes they are struggling to understand.
Include the whole family.
Speaking of socialization, did you know that seniors spend most of their days in isolation? It’s a heartbreaking reality that is too often ignored. While some alone-time isn’t necessarily unhealthy, too much of it can lead to serious health problems such as dementia, depression, anxiety, and increased risk of hospitalization, suicide, or premature death.
In observance of National Nutrition Month, we feel it is just as important to foster the emotional well-being of seniors just as much as their physical well-being. Perhaps this year, you could make it a point to celebrate March National Nutrition Month with the whole family. You could take turns hosting weekly dinners or organizing a low-impact activity that everyone can participate in. Not only does this foster togetherness within the family, but it creates a joyful opportunity for your senior loved ones to socialize with the people that matter most to them.
Make every month National Nutrition Month!
As you can see, there’s more than one way to get your senior loved ones involved. Remember that healthy elderly nutrition isn’t just about eating the right foods and staying active — it’s also about nurturing the mind and spirit of our aging loved ones.
This month and every day, it is up to us to make sure that our aging loved ones are getting all the sustenance they need for their minds, bodies, and souls to thrive. They’re counting on us.