We have all heard that 60 is the new 40 and if official figures are to be believed, this certainly seems to be coming true.
In the 2006 Census, 11 per cent of the population was over 65, whereas by 2041, this age group is expected to have doubled to 22 per cent - proving that we are indeed living longer lives.
But in order to stay healthy for longer and in turn add more years to our lives, it is important to ensure that we look after our health long into our golden years.
Diet and exercise have always been two of the most important factors to a healthy lifestyle and this remains true for the older members of society.
Dr Marian O'Reilly, chief specialist in Nutrition at Safefood Ireland says achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is vital to good health as we get older.
“In broad terms, as we age, healthy eating and being active have a very important role in how well we feel,” she says.
Varied fruits and vegetables
“It’s really important to eat a diet that is low in salt, sugar and fat and rich in varied fruits, vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates which are high in fibre. This can help with reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and other chronic conditions.”
When referring to the elderly, who Dr O’Reilly says include a very broad range of people, recent research has shown that many are overweight and a large majority are not getting the necessary nutritional requirements which could lead to health problems.
The Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA) survey results showed that among those aged 65 years and over:
• 49 per cent of women and 59 per cent of men were overweight
• A further 24 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men are obese
• Only 1 per cent of individuals were classified as being underweight
• The survey also highlights that 80 per cent in that age group were not meeting the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommendation of 25g of fibre per day
• Inadequate fibre intake can lead to impaired bowel function and constipation, a common issue for this age group which in turn may contribute to increased risk of gastrointestinal disease.
Specific eating advice
“These results emphasise that when we refer to the elderly in general, we’re including in that the very active and healthy 65-year-olds; people in their 70s who may be overweight, obese and inactive; and individuals in their 80s and 90s who may be experiencing reduced appetites and mobility challenges,” says Dr O’Reilly.
“Specific eating advice may be needed to address some of these individuals’ needs.
“It’s also worth highlighting that for those living on their own, there may be reduced motivation to prepare meals ‘for one’, especially if they have lost their spouse who did this. For those with poor appetites or struggling to prepare food, ensuring that every meal is highly nutritious is key.”
Healthy eating advice is similar to that at any other stage of our adult life – and it needs to be adjusted according to gender, weight and activity level, but Dr O’Reilly says there are some broad guidelines which the elderly should adhere to.
“Aim for seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day as these are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre,” she advises. “And try to base your meals around wholegrain carbohydrates, ensuring a good source of energy and fibre.
“Foods high in protein are very important to maintain healthy muscles so make sure to include lean meat, poultry, beans, eggs and fish. Try to have oily fish twice a week - salmon, sardines or tuna are rich in omega 3 fats and these have an important role to play in your cardiac health and cholesterol levels.
“Also you need three servings of low-fat dairy foods (milk, yoghurt, or cheese) every day to maintain your bone health. And it’s important also to keep your body hydrated, so drink plenty of fluids.”
Healthy eating and regular physical activity always have a positive impact on how we feel. And if we maintain a healthy lifestyle as we get older, we will feel better and enjoy this new stage of our lives.
During the Pfizer Healthy Town initiative, the older population of Tullamore is being encouraged to get moving - and according to the HSE it is never too late to start an exercise plan.
“Every one of every age can benefit from being active,” says a spokesman. “If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease or osteoarthritis or if you have symptoms such as chest pain or pressure, dizziness or joint pain, talk to your GP before you increase your activity levels, but most health conditions are helped by being physically active.
“Being active also helps reduce your risk of falls, helps to maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, and can improve your balance and coordination and allow you to continue to live independently and lastly, it really will help you to feel great.”
• Take it easy. Begin with five to 10 minutes a few times a week and gradually increase to reach the recommended 30 minutes five days a week
• Wear proper fitting shoes. If are buying new shoes, have your feet properly measured by an expert in a shoe shop or a sports shop
• Walk as much as possible – it is a great form of activity and it’s free
• Active holidays or days out. There are many beautiful rural areas, parks/beaches where it is safe to walk
• Active housework. Gardening, washing floors and windows are good ways of keeping active around the house
• Join a group. There are many group activities for older people, including Men's Sheds for men. A Go for Life programme is running in many communities
• Be active indoors. Shopping centres are a good place to walk when the weather is bad
• Move in your chair
• Adapt. If you have a movement or sensory difficulty you can adapt the activity
• Health checks - Avail of health checks on offer including www.bowelscreen.ie.
For more healthy eating advice including 'how to' recipes, visit www.safefood.eu
For more on Healthy Town, see www.facebook.com/HealthyTownIreland