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Health And Beauty: Older adults - staying fit and healthy

Older adults - staying fit and healthyYour weight
Expert advice to help you maintain a healthy weight

Dissatisfied with your weight?
We're bombarded with scare stories about weight, from size zero to the obesity 'epidemic'. But a healthy weight is determined by different factors for each of us. Our expert advice is designed to help you achieve and maintain a healthy, life-enhancing weight.

Overweight or underweight?
Being the right weight has a positive effect on wellbeing but also on our health, as being the wrong weight can cause a range of medical problems.

Eating well and being active will help you stay fit and healthy so you can live life to the full and reduce the risks of ill health.

Older adults in the UK
The number of older adults in the world is growing both in absolute and relative terms. In 1994, 16 per cent of the UK population was aged over 65. By 2031, this will increase to 23 per cent, and 10 per cent of this figure will be made up of people over 75 years old. The greatest challenge over the coming years will be maintaining the health of this increasing number of older adults.

Deciding what we mean by 'older people' is a little arbitrary. The World Health Organization classifies people aged between 45 and 59 as 'middle age', 60 to 74 as 'elderly' and over 75 as 'old'.

But the nutritional needs of older adults are difficult to neatly categorise into absolute age groups. Dietary needs depend on current health, and while many older people are fit and active, some others who are younger may be frail and require additional care.

Nutrition for generally fit and healthy older adults

Research shows that remaining active can help to maintain both mental and physical health. Keeping up the activities you enjoy doing will help to maintain physical fitness and preserve muscle tissue. Preserving your strength will help to maintain your independence. Remember, activity doesn't necessarily mean joining an exercise class. Gardening, walking to the shops and housework can all count as types of activity too.

Energy requirements can decline with age, particularly if physical activity is limited, but the need for protein, vitamins and minerals remains the same. It's vital that food choices are nutritionally dense, which means you still need to eat a variety of foods to get all the vitamins and minerals you need, but with fewer calories. If you're overweight or obese, it's even more important to be calorie conscious.

Advice to restrict fat intake, particularly cutting saturated fat to improve heart health, remains true for older people who are fit and well. A dietary survey of older people showed most eat too much saturated fat. Above the age of 75, fat restriction is less likely to be beneficial, and isn't appropriate if the person is frail, has suffered weight loss or has a very small appetite. In fact, in these situations additional fat may be used to increase the calories in meals and snacks to aid weight gain. Read our tips for tackling nutritional problems for older people.

Older people can suffer from constipation and bowel problems mainly due to a reduced gut motility and inactivity. To relieve this, try eating high-fibre cereal foods, fruit and vegetables. Raw bran and excessive amounts of very high-fibre foods are not the answer, though; they're too bulky and may interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients. To help the gut work properly, it's also important to drink plenty of fluid, approximately eight medium glasses a day.

Dehydration can make people feel drowsy or confused, it's important to drink, even if this means extra trips to the toilet. The risk of dehydration can be higher in older people because their kidneys don't function as efficiently as those of younger people. Older people are also not as sensitive to the feeling of thirst. Fluid intake doesn't just mean water - it can also include such drinks as tea, coffee, fruit juice and squash.

Generally fit and healthy older people should limit foods and drinks that are rich in sugar, as it can impair dental health and contribute to weight gain when energy intake is too high. But for people who have a poor appetite, or who have lost weight, sugar-rich foods can be a useful source of calories.

Anaemia is common in older adults. Poor absorption of iron, due to changes in the gastrointestinal tract, blood loss and the use of certain drugs - together with a poor dietary intake - may be causal factors. Make sure your iron intake is sufficient by eating red meat and foods from non-meat sources (such as fortified cereals, dried fruit, pulses and green leafy vegetables) every day. Absorption of iron from a meal containing non-meat sources is maximised by consuming foods rich in vitamin C at the same time (such as a glass of fruit juice, fresh fruit or vegetables).

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