When it comes to food and fitness after 50, it's important to stay physically active and get the nutrients needed for optimal bone health. Fill up on foods rich in antioxidants, heart-healthy fats, calcium, potassium and vitamin D. Move more, sit less and strive to maintain a normal weight.
Food and Fitness After 50
Your exercise and nutritional needs change as you age. Men and women over 50 are more prone to certain disorders, especially those affecting the bones and cardiovascular system.
Heart attacks, for example, are more likely to occur around this age, according to the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute. The risk is even higher among those who are obese or overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle or eat processed foods. A balanced diet and regular exercise may protect against heart disease and add years to your life.
Another common disease is osteoporosis. About 40 percent of American white women and 13 percent of white men over 50 will experience at least one fracture in their lifetime, reports the International Osteoporosis Foundation. As the researchers note, regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis in both sexes. Physical activity may also help improve strength and function and increase or maintain bone density.
As far as diet goes, your nutritional needs depend on several factors, including your health or fitness goals and activity level. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans make the following recommendations:
- Women aged 46 to 50 years: 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day
- Women aged 51 to 55 years: 1,600 to 2,200 calories per day
- Men aged 46 to 55 years: 2,200 to 2,800 calories per day
The more active you are, the higher your energy intake should be. Lean muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so requires more calories for you to sustain it. According to the University of New Mexico, muscle tissue accounts for approximately 20 percent of daily energy expenditure. Fat tissue accounts for only 5 percent.
Keep these things in mind if you're looking for a diet plan for a 50-year-old woman to lose weight. Fat loss requires a calorie deficit, but you still need to meet your nutritional needs. Make sure your diet provides optimum amounts of protein, complex carbs, unsaturated fats and micronutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D.
Dietary Recommendations After 50
For men and women over 50, a nutrition and exercise plan should follow pretty much the same guidelines as for everyone else, points out the Cleveland Clinic. Stick to a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise and stay active throughout the day. But make sure you get more calcium, vitamin D, omega-3s and other key nutrients in your diet that you need more of as you age.
Listen to your body during exercise and don't overdo it. Watch your weight and try to keep it within a healthy range. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep and limit alcohol consumption. Avoid processed foods and eat more of the following, as recommended by the National Institute of Aging:
- Fruits: 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups per day
- Vegetables: 2 to 3 1/2 cups per day
- Whole grains: 5-10 oz per day
- Meat, fish, eggs and other high-protein foods: 5-7 oz per day
- Unrefined oils: 5-8 tsp per day
Cut down on sugar, as well as saturated and trans fats. Try not to exceed 9 teaspoons of sugar per day if you're a man or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day if you're a woman, advises the American Heart Association.
Read more: 15 Reasons to Kick Sugar
Over time, sugary foods may contribute to obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders, affecting cardiovascular health. Check food labels for fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup, molasses, dextrose, fructose and other hidden sugars.
Nutrients to Consume More
Certain nutrients are particularly important for those over 50. Calcium and vitamin D, for example, support bone health.
As you age, your body becomes less efficient at absorbing vitamin D, which may lead to deficiencies. The risk is higher among older adults who are obese, have inflammatory bowel disorders or spend a lot of time indoors, states the National Institutes of Health. This fat-soluble vitamin occurs naturally in salmon, sardines, cod liver oil and fortified milk.
Another key nutrient is potassium. According to the National Institutes of Health, this mineral regulates sodium and fluid balance, as well as blood pressure and heart rate. A low-potassium diet may lead to hypertension, kidney stones, constipation and heart arrhythmia. The best way to prevent deficiencies is to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes, such as lentils, kidney beans, prunes, spinach, bananas and apricots.
Don't forget about dietary fiber, which is essential for good digestive health, as stated by the Mayo Clinic. Adults over 50 years old are at greater risk of colon cancer, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. A diet rich in fiber may protect against colon cancer, hemorrhoids, constipation and high blood sugar. This nutrient also fills you up quickly and increases satiety, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Make sure your diet also provides optimum amounts of vitamin B12 and unsaturated fats. According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin B12 supports energy metabolism, red blood cell formation and brain health. Unsaturated fats, such as omega-3s, may improve blood lipids and cardiovascular health, reports the National Institutes of Health. Some studies suggest that omega-3s may also protect against colorectal cancer, but more research is needed in this area.
Stay Fit as You Age
Exercise and nutrition are equally important. Physical activity keeps your bones strong, preserves lean mass and may prevent age-related weight gain. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans notes that older adults should follow the same exercise guidelines as their younger peers. Their workouts should include both cardiovascular and strength training along with balance exercises.
To stay healthy, aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. If you prefer a more intense aerobic workout, strive for 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly, as recommended by the HHS. As far as strength training goes, incorporate at least two weekly sessions into your schedule.
Lean mass decreases about 2 percent per year after age 50, reports a review published in Clinical Interventions in Aging in June 2017. Strength training may reduce age-related muscle loss and improve physical function. In the long run, it may enhance your balance and lower the risk of falls.
Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. For example, if you're struggling with lower back pain, you may have a hard time running or jogging. However, you can try other activities, from swimming and cycling to brisk walking.
Strength training is a good choice as long as you avoid exercises that put stress on your lower back. Overhead presses, barbell back squats and sit-ups are just a few to try. If you can't squat, try lunges instead.
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have osteoporosis, heart disease or other serious conditions.
Start slowly and focus on building your strength and endurance. Listen to your body and don't go overboard. Stay active throughout the day as much as you can — walking, gardening, housework and other routine activities burn calories and help maintain your overall fitness.
- Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute: "Heart Disease and Age"
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: "Osteoporosis Facts and Statistics"
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- University of New Mexico: "Controversies in Metabolism"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Men's Health: Lifestyle Tips for Men Over Age 50"
- National Institute of Aging: "Healthy Eating After 50"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin D"
- National Institutes of Health: "Potassium"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: "Colorectal Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin B12"
- National Institutes of Health: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Clinical Interventions in Aging: "Resistance Training for Activity Limitations in Older Adults With Skeletal Muscle Function Deficits: A Systematic Review"