Special Nutrition and Activity Needs of Older Adults

RD with food labelAh the Golden Years! Think retirement, travel, playing with grandchildren – actually spoiling them, then returning them to their parents! :) – and all the other things we dreamed about doing. This is the time when we can attack that bucket list that has accumulated over the years.

But as we get older we undergo various changes in our lives. Certain physiologic and social changes can affect our health. Therefore, we must become more vigilant of our diet and activity status if we are to stay in good shape to do all these things of which we’ve dreamed. Below are nutrition and activity areas that we should be concerned with as we age, and how to address them.

Fluid Needs

Adequate water consumption reduces stress on kidney function, which tends to decline with age. Try to drink about six to eight glasses of fluids, such as water, 100% juice, or low-fat/skim milk every day (more under certain circumstances, such as being physically active in the heat). Not alcohol, however, as it is a diuretic and will dehydrate you. Don’t wait until thirsty, as the ability to detect thirst declines as we age. Check your urine when going to the bathroom – it should be fairly clear. The darker it is, the more dehydrated you are, and you will need to drink more.

Reduced Calories

As we age our metabolism slows and we tend to be less active, so we need to consume fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. This means we must choose our diets more carefully to get the nutrients we need. Nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can fill the bill here.

Muscle Loss

Beginning in our mid-to-late-twenties, we lose approximately 2% of our muscle mass each decade. Exercise, particularly strength training, can counter much of the loss of muscle tissue from aging.

Vitamin D and Calcium

We lose bone density as we get older, particularly women after menopause. We’re outside less often, and when we are our bodies cannot make vitamin D from sunlight as efficiently as when we were younger. Between 50 and 70 years old, we need at least 600 IU (International Units). Food sources are fatty fish, fish liver oils, fortified milk and milk products, and fortified cereals. We can get calcium from low-fat dairy products, canned sardines, calcium-fortified foods and beverages. Also, weight-bearing exercises (walking, aerobics, strength training) help strengthen bones.

Vitamin B12

We need 2.4 mcg (micrograms) per day. Food sources include meat, fish, poultry, milk, and fortified cereals. Since we lose some of our capacity to absorb this vitamin from food as we age, we may need to get the supplement form from fortified foods and vitamin supplements.

Vitamin B6

Men need 1.7 mg (milligrams) and women 1.5 mg daily. Food sources are whole grains, organ meats, nuts, bananas, potatoes, fish, poultry, avocado, legumes and fortified soy-based meat substitutes.


Adequate fiber, along with adequate fluid intake, helps maintain normal bowel function and lower risk of some diseases. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. You should consume at least 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories as a rule of thumb. This means most people should have in the area of 25 to 30 grams per day. When increasing fiber in the diet, do it slowly and drink plenty of fluids with it to avoid gastrointestinal distress.

Multiple Vitamin/Mineral Supplement

Taking a supplement from a reputable company that contains no more than the approximate recommended daily allowance for the vitamins and minerals is a good way to ensure you will not be deficient. Look for the symbol with USP on the container. This stands for United States Pharmacopeia and means the supplement has been tested and meets the stringent criteria set for the manufacturing of dietary supplements.

Getting older is inevitable, but becoming less healthy is not. It may take a bit more effort, but the quality of life that results is certainly worth it. So bring on that bucket list!

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