Life expectancy for the average American is longer than ever before and is projected to keep growing. With advancements in medicine and a changing mentality, getting older doesn’t mean becoming sedentary.
The National Institute of Health says, “staying physically active and exercising regularly can produce long-term health benefits and even improve health for some older people who already have diseases and disabilities.”
But staying fit and active does become more complicated with age.
Diet can play an important role in keeping athletes healthy and strong over the years. Simin Levinson, Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University and Consulting Sports Nutritionist for the Phoenix Suns, offered advice on how to eat for success as an older adult and athlete.
“One of the things we experience as older adults is that it is much more difficult to maintain lean muscle mass,” she said.
Levinson recommends that older athletes eat three ounces of protein with each meal to not only reduce the loss of muscle mass, but to try and regain lost muscle. She says that three ounces is roughly equivalent to the size of a Post-it note or the palm of a hand.
Chicken and fish are good sources of protein and are low in fat. Levinson added that dairy is not only a great source of protein, but also supports bone health and builds strong skeletons.
Most athletes know the importance of drinking water. However, older adults start to lose the thirst sensation and may not realize they are becoming dehydrated.
Levinson recommends reaching for a water bottle before snacking. If the hunger does not subside after about 20 minutes, then it is time for a healthy, protein rich snack.
Although antioxidants and vitamin supplements get a lot of attention in anti-aging products, the National Institute on Aging says on their website that “it is a good idea to be skeptical of claims that any supplements can solve your age-related problems.”
“Planning healthy, sound meals makes you get the most out of a workout,” according to Levinson. She stresses that the best way to eat healthy is to eat whole foods, and use supplements only when there is a deficiency in spite of a well-balanced diet.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are praised for a variety of reasons and are recommended for issues that range from memory problems to joint pain. Levinson said that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like flax seed and walnuts are helpful for athletes as anti-inflammatories and joint lubricants.
Athletes often do not feel hungry after a long workout. But Levinson recommends that athletes who train hard for an hour or longer should eat a post-workout snack with carbohydrates to replenish the energy sources and protein to help recover muscle damage.
Some of the foods that Levinson recommends for post-workout nutrition are low-fat chocolate milk and a piece of fruit, a Greek yogurt and fruit smoothie, half of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, or half of a turkey sandwich with spinach.
The National Institutes of Health website says that “'taking it easy' is risky. For the most part, when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn't happen just because they've aged. It's usually because they're not active.”
Staying active throughout adulthood can make us happier, healthier individuals, and eating right can make sure we stay active longer.
Exercise for Older Adults. NIHSeniorHealth.gov Accessed February 17, 2015
Phone Interview with Simin Levinson on February 18, 2015
Reviewed February 20, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith