How do you make the golden years shine?

It starts with eating right, boosting your vitamin intake and adding some strength training to your exercise routine.

How many times have you run into an old friend you haven’t seen in years and they say, “You haven’t changed a bit!” While that may be true for some of you, it’s certainly not true for me… at least not from what I see in the mirror.

I’m not fishing for compliments, just stating the facts. My body is different at age 60 than it was at 50. I can’t eat like I used to and not pay for it in some way, such as weight gain and higher cholesterol. (Mom and I joke that whoever coined the phrase “the golden years” was full of bologna.)

So here are the cold, hard facts. Registered dietitian Shelley Bagan, RD, LD says we simply don’t need as many calories as we get older. For example, a 50-year-old man burns about 300 calories less than he did at age 20. And women have the additional challenge of hormonal changes from around age 40 and through menopause.

“Hormonal changes result in an increase in body fat for women, especially around the midsection,” Bagan says. “This additional fat not only contributes to weight gain, but also puts women at an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.”

We also lose muscle mass as we age— about 1 percent to 2 percent a year once we blow past 50. To keep what we’ve got, we have to stay physically active and work some strength training into our exercise routine.

Bagan says we also need more protein to help build muscle. Our goal should be 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal to help our body build muscle and not fat.

Another top consideration: Protect our bone health. From about age 30, men and women begin to lose bone density, and further diminishes in women after menopause. Bagan recommends men over 50 boost their daily intake of calcium to 1000 mg a day and women to 1200 mg a day. Men and women over 50 should have a daily intake of at least 600 IU of vitamin D. (My primary care physician recommends I take even more in the winter when our exposure to the sun—a source of vitamin D—tends to be less.)

And don’t forget about eye health. Both my mom and sister have glaucoma, which tends to be hereditary. Older adults also are at increased risk for cataracts and macular degeneration.

While eye exams are critical as we age, so is what we eat to maximize our “eye health.” Bagan recommends omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil, fatty fish twice per week), which can help prevent the inflammation linked to macular degeneration. Focus on foods high in carotenoids, such as spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli and orange juice.

There are other things to consider when it comes to nutrition and aging. I haven’t gotten to digestion, brain or joint health. But Bagan says the best defense is a good offense, which means eating well, regardless of our age.

I’ll keep that in mind as I aim for what hopefully will be those “golden years.”

-Jackie Hays

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