Senior Health: Successful Aging

  • Medical Author:
    Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH

    Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What role does diet play in senior health?

A good and healthy diet has numerous potential benefits in the health of seniors.

Heart disease, vascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, strokes, memory problems, osteoporosis, certain cancers, skin, hair and nail diseases, and visual problems are examples of conditions which can be impacted by diet.

Proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water are all essential nutrients that make up most cells and tissues in human body. Thus, these essential components need to be provided in moderation through the diet for maintenance of good health.

A balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fiber is generally recommended to provide these necessary nutrients. Avoidance of saturated fats (animal fat), supplementation with minerals and vitamins, and consumption of plenty of fluids are considered an important component of a healthy diet.

Although the quality of food is important, its quantity should not be overlooked. A large portion of a very healthy diet can still lead to a high caloric intake. Moderate portion sizes to achieve daily caloric goals of 1500 to 2000 are generally advised. Avoiding empty calories are also important. These are foods which lack good nutritional value but are high in calories. Examples include sodas, chips, cookies, donuts, and alcohol.

Special dietary restrictions for certain conditions are also important to follow. Restricted salt and fluid intake for people with heart failure or kidney disease, or carbohydrate controlled diet for people with diabetes are general examples of such guidelines.

Is exercise important in health of the elderly?

Benefits of exercise in disease prevention and progression cannot be overemphasized.

Regular physical activity and exercise can help manage or even prevent a variety of health problems in the elderly.

Heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, certain cancers, depression, and stroke are some the common medical conditions which routine physical activity and effective exercising may greatly benefit the patient.

Some of the numerous health benefits of exercise for seniors include:

  • Weight maintenance and burning excess calories
  • Improving the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol
  • Building up physical endurance
  • Optimizing health of the heart, lung, and vascular system
  • Better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues
  • Maintaining bone and muscle health
  • Reducing fall risks and arthritis
  • Mood enhancement
  • Better sleep quality and duration

Regular exercise 3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes is strongly advised for seniors. An effective exercise is one which would increase the heart rate adequately to about 75% of maximum heart rate. A person's maximum heart rate is roughly calculated by subtracting age from the number 220.

Walking, swimming, and exercise machines are generally safe and can help achieve these goals. Balance exercises, flexibility exercises, and resistance exercises (weight lifting) can also be beneficial.

As a general precaution, if symptoms such as chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath, or fainting or dizziness occur during or after exercising, it is important for the individual to stop the exercise and notify their physician promptly.

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