Healthy Exercise and Diet Plans for Seniors

Maintain a Healthy Weight and Active Life at Any Age

Multi-ethnic mature couple preparing food
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It’s never too late to get healthy and improve your quality of life. For some older adults this means maintaining or reaching a healthy weight. Research suggests that the optimal BMI for elderly adults is between 23 and 23.9, but the best BMI for you may depend on your preexisting medical conditions.

So what is the best eating plan for senior adults to maintain an active lifestyle and reach a healthy weight? And how do you start an exercise program if you've never been active? Your best resource is your healthcare provider, but information about weight loss and exercise plans may be helpful in the process of starting that conversation.

Reaching a Healthy Weight for Seniors

In general, weight loss is not recommended as it already occurs within 15% to 20% of all elderly adults and it can increase the risk for morbidities and mortality. If you are concerned about your weight, you may want to take special considerations into account. For example, your lifestyle may have changed over the past several years, you may be living alone, and you may have medical issues to consider. Your first step should be to discuss your weight loss goals with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist.

The best diet for seniors is not always the diet program that is most popular or that is recommended for adults in other age groups. It's important for seniors to maintain muscle mass, to find an eating plan that provides proper nutrition, and that does not interfere with medications or the management of your medical conditions.

For example, some commercial diet plans require that you subscribe to diet food subscriptions. Sometimes, these foods are heavily processed and may provide more sodium than you need if you are trying to manage hypertension. Your doctor will be able to sort through your specific health history and recommend an eating plan that is both safe and effective for improved health.

Your doctor may also be able to provide a referral so that you can meet with a registered dietitian. An R.D. Can create a plan that fits your budget, your lifestyle, physiological changes, and your health needs. You might also get a referral to see a physical therapist. A qualified physical therapist can work with you to find exercises that keep your body strong and mobile.

Elements of a Healthy Eating Plan

Dr. Mike Moreno, M.D., author The 17 Day Plan to Stop Aging provides practical advice that can help you stay healthy in your golden years. The board-certified family physician gives simple steps that can help you to maintain a healthy weight and maintain lean muscle mass.

"It’s typical for older adults to have less of an appetite as they age," says Moreno. This often occurs, he says, because people become more sedentary and it becomes harder to stimulate hunger. Studies indicate that other physiological changes that affect appetite include: abilities to chew and/or swallow, changes in the digestive system, hormonal changes, disease, pain, changes in senses of taste and/or smell, and medications. Moreno suggests that a healthy diet for seniors should consist of smaller more frequent meals.

Moreno also suggests that seniors be especially careful to achieve a diet that is nutritionally balanced but provides plenty of protein. For most adults, this means including a source of lean protein at every meal. Sources of protein might include eggs, egg whites, fish, chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of meat.

The recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram body weight. But the recommendation for elderly adults is 1.2 gram to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight because they are more susceptible to muscle breakdown. Optimal intake be approximately 35 grams of protein at each meal. 

Fiber is another essential component of a good diet for seniors, says Moreno. Fiber helps to regulate digestio and prevents constipation which can further decrease your appetite. Good sources of fiber include raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Moreno provides these tips for seniors who want to improve their diet:

  • Stay hydrated! Water is imperative for maintaining your energy and feeling good throughout the day.
  • If necessary, use supplemental products such as Ensure or Boost to help maintain a schedule of regular balanced meals. (Other experts may also recommend using a medical-disease-related nutritional supplement to improve your overall oral intake).
  • Try not to eat by yourself. Find friends and family to share in meals.
  • Add exercise to your regular routine to help stimulate hunger.

Some experts also suggest using blended smoothies or soups to help combat early satiety (the inability to eat a full meal due to fullness after eating a small amount of food) Your healthcare team may also recommend using a medical-disease-related nutritional supplement to improve your overall oral intake.


Healthy Exercise

If you haven’t been active for most of your life, trying to start an exercise program in your senior years may seem overwhelming. But Moreno suggests that you focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do. “Start simple,” he says. "Walking, for example, gives you every exercise benefit that you need."

To make the walking experience more enjoyable, Moreno suggests walking on flat ground (no hills) and finding walking partners to make the experience more social and pleasant. But if walking is too stressful on your joints, Moreno suggests swimming or performing stretching exercises in a seated position. “Do what you can to move your joints every day,” he says.

Best Tips to Prevent Aging

Even if you don’t consider yourself a senior just yet, you are still aging. “We start aging when we are born,” says Moreno. So anyone can take simple steps to look and feel better as the years tick by. Dr. Moreno suggests easy changes that you can make at any stage of your life to turn back the hands of time.

Moreno suggests these three steps to feel better and get healthy:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Your weight plays a key role in controlling the factors of aging. Get to a healthy number on the scale and stay there.
  • Stay hydrated with water. Your body is craving it more than you realize. Water is critical to maintaining your energy level and good daily health.
  • Move more. Find an activity that you like and that helps you to maintain a daily movement schedule and stick with it.

Remember weight loss shouldn't be a primary goal. Instead, a healthy overall eating program is likely to have a beneficial impact. BMI recommendations are different for elderly adults and for younger people. Small changes can have a big impact. When in doubt, consult a healthcare provider specializing in geriatric medicine or a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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Article Sources
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  2. Pilgrim AL, Robinson SM, Sayer AA, Roberts HC. An overview of appetite decline in older peopleNurs Older People. 2015;27(5):29-35. doi:10.7748/nop.27.5.29.e697

  3. Baum, J.I.; Kim, I.-Y.; Wolfe, R.R. Protein consumption and the elderly: What Is the optimal level of intake? Nutrients 2016, 8, 359. doi:10.3390/nu8060359

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