Wellness Considerations for Healthy Aging

*This blog post is an adaptation of the wellness talk Dr. Dodge gave to the Coppell Senior and Community Center in July of 2012

My grandparents, dancing at my wedding in 2008

Wellness Considerations for Healthy Aging

There are many factors that contribute to developing and maintaining health. As we age, our lifestyle choices become more important to ensure that we age in a healthy manner. “Sleeping regularly and adequately, eating well-balanced meals, engaging in physical activity, not smoking, not using or moderately using alcohol, and maintaining a healthy body weight”[i] are a few healthy habits and lifestyle choices that can help us all age well. These suggestions may be some things that you have heard before, but it is important to understand them and know how to implement them correctly in your life to age as healthily as possible.

Sleep As we age, our bodies tend to need less sleep. However, getting adequate sleep is important for your body to repair, rest, and re-energize from daily activities. Your body also uses this time to process and store memories and events from the day. These memories and events are moved from short-term memory storage into long-term storage and your brain helps to organize the information that was learned through the day. Not getting enough regular sleep can lead to decreased immune system functioning and put you more at risk for developing short-term and chronic disease processes.

Exercise Engaging in physical activity is another crucial part of maintaining health while we age. Physical activity has innumerable health benefits including decreasing body weight; increasing flexibility, endurance, and balance; extending life; improving cardiovascular health and blood pressure; lowering lipid levels in the blood, improving sleep quality; improving posture and mobility; increasing blood flow to the brain and maintaining mental ability; alleviating depression, maintaining muscle mass, and maintaining balance and coordination.1 Through the aging process, adults lose muscle mass and strength, as well as balance and coordination. Physical activity helps to counter act this by maintaining muscle mass as well as allowing your brain to be able to better tell where your body is in space, therefore maintaining balance and coordination. For those who have not been physically active, it is a good idea to start slow and ease into a routine. Below is a table taken from Rolfes’ Understanding Nutrition (2005)i that gives a few suggestions on how to ease into a work out routine. Beginning too quickly or pushing past what the body is use to or capable of is dangerous. This could cause injury that may have negative affects on ones short- or long-term health. It may feel like starting out so slowly is not enough physical activity. However, a gradual build in the amount, time and intensity of a work out routine will allow the body to adapt more easily, prevent against muscle soreness, and prevent other health complications that would inhibit any further progression in your physical activity.


Exercise Guidelines for Older Adults
Examples Endurance Strength Balance Flexibility
Start Easy Be active 5 minutes on most or all days Using 0-2 pound weights do 1 set of 8 repetitions twice a week Hold onto a table or chair with one hand, then with one finger Hold stretch 10 seconds: each stretch 3 times
Progress gradually to goal Be active 30 minutes on most or all days Increase weight as able; do 2 sets of 8-15 repetitions twice a week Do not hold onto table or chair; then close eyes Hold stretch 30 seconds; do each stretch 5 times
Cautions and comments Stop if you are breathing so hard you can’t talk or if you feel dizziness or chest pain Breathe out as you contract and in as you relax (do not hold your breath); use smooth, steady movements Incorporate balance techniques with strength exercises as you progress Stretch after strength and endurance exercises for 20 minutes, 3 times a week; use slow, steady movements; bend joints slightly


Nutritional Deficiencies Proper nutrition from a well-balanced meal plan is essential for healthy aging as well as a healthy lifestyle in general. As we age we need to be aware of some possible nutritional deficiencies that become more common. The immune system can be highly compromised if nutritional deficiencies exist. As we age, absorption of B vitamins such as B12, Folate, and Biotin may decrease. Calcium, iron and zinc absorption can become diminished as well, primarily due to developing inflammation in the stomach and digestive tract. These deficiencies can be addressed with proper supplementation as well as restoring proper digestive function by reducing inflammation. Vitamin D is another nutrient of concern that may become deficient as we age. Older adults tend to not spend enough time outside to allow adequate time for the skin to produce Vitamin D. Aging also reduces the skin’s capacity to make Vitamin D and the kidneys’ ability to convert it to its active form. Therefore it is important to supplement this with a high quality form of Vitamin D3. Vitamin D helps with supporting the immune system, maintaining important brain function, balancing calcium and phosphorous to help maintain bone health, and helping to prevent many other diseases. Water is another very important part of healthy nutrition and is vital to all the chemical reactions and functioning of the whole body. As we age we tend to not drink as much water because of several different reasons. Some older adults become more incontinent or have more frequent urges to urinate and do not want the inconvenience of getting up to use the bathroom frequently. In the case of incontinence, it would be of great benefit to seek out a physical therapist who specializes in restoring pelvic floor musculature. Many older adults also lose the sense and recognition of thirst and just do not think to drink water or realize their body needs more hydration. In these hot summer months it is even more important to remember to stay hydrated. Older adults tend to be more dehydrated and can dehydrate even more quickly in the heat. This can be dangerous because when older adults are dehydrated they are more susceptible to urinary tract infections, pneumonia, pressure ulcers, confusion and disorientation. It is important to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day.

Digestive Health It was mentioned earlier that as we age some nutritional deficiencies might be due to inflammation in the digestive tract. We need to make sure that our digestive tracts are functioning properly to allow for absorption of all the nutrients we intake. As we age we tend to develop more digestive issues, many related to inflammation that develops in the stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Many symptoms that occur after we eat foods can indicate that we may have inflammation in our digestive tract. Things such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, pain, etc. can show us that our digestive tract is not functioning the way that it should. There is a simple four step process that can be used to repair digestive function so that we can more effectively digest foods and absorb essential nutrients.

Four Step Digestive System Repair

1) Remove – Remove any potentially stressful or inflammatory foods and drinks from you diet i.e. sugar, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, coloring and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, casein (dairy), antibiotics, antacids, anti-inflammatory drugs

2) Repair – Repair the damaged, inflamed tissue in the digestive tract by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits as well as adding tissue healing supplements such as Omega 3 fatty acids, GLA, Aloe Vera, turmeric, licorice root and L-glutamine

3) Restore – Restore healthy colonies of good bacteria in the digestive tract by utilizing a probiotic with high quantities of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium as well as providing a good environment for the healthy bacteria to flourish with a prebiotic.

4) Replace – Replace digestive enzymes with a high quality digestive enzymes supplement to improve digestion and absorption of necessary nutrients.


Healthy Eating In addition to having a fully functioning digestive system, it is important to eat good energy rich foods. It is important to eat foods with higher quality nutrients that are not high in calories. Energy needs decline at about 5 percent each decade of life, because of lower energy expenditure and decreasing lean body mass.i So eating foods rich in nutrients and vitamins and minerals and limiting extra calories from sugars and processed foods is important. Having good sources of protein is important because it is a longer lasting energy source that helps to stabilize blood sugar and support a healthy immune system. Good sources of protein are things like poultry, fish, eggs, as well as a lot of nuts and legumes. Another important aspect to include in a healthy diet is quality carbohydrate foods that contain fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates help to protect the protein you are eating from being used up; and they allow your body to have a shorter acting source of good energy. Good options for quality carbohydrates include legumes, vegetables, gluten-free whole grains like quinoa and whole grain brown rice, and low glycemic fruits, like pitted fruits, apples, and berries (avoid things like watermelon and other melons and tropical fruit which can cause a spike in blood sugar). Fiber from vegetables, fruits, and other quality carbohydrates help to lower cholesterol, improve digestion and digestive regularity, and prevent against constipation. Having good fats in your diet is vital to support your nervous system and are essential for cell structure throughout your body. Good fats are anything that contains Omega 3, 6, EPA, DHA, GLA. You can get these from coconut oil, olive oil, almond or safflower oil, by eating fish, or taking a high quality fish oil or essential fatty acid supplement. Too much fat is never a good thing, especially if it is processed, or trans-fats. Processed foods use fat to improve flavor but do not usually use high quality good fats, they use saturated fats and trans-fats that are harder for your body to deal with and is more unhealthy.

Making healthy lifestyle choices can be difficult and takes dedication and persistence. However, in the end it is worth it so that you are able to maintain a healthy active life well into old age. Change does not have to come all at once though. Gradual changes in the foods you eat and your exercise routine will eventually lead to living a much healthier, happier life.


Supplements and Nutrition to Help Specific Conditions

Improve Short-term memory – Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E

Performance in problem-solving tests – Riboflavin, Folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C

Mental Health – Thiamin, Niacin, Zinc, Folate

Cognition – Folate, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Iron, Vitamin E, Gingko

Vision – Vitamin A, Essential Fatty acids

Neurotransmitter Synthesis – Tyrosine, Truyptophan, Choline

Cataracts and Macular Degeneration – antioxidants, vitamins as well as zinc, carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin

Arthritis such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Osteoarthritis – antioxidants like vitamin E and C, omega 3 fatty acids, as well as a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement

Bone Strength and Health – calcium and magnesium, weight baring and resistance exercise

Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. – Eliminate artificial sweeteners like splenda and artificial colorings and flavors. B vitamins and Essential Fatty acids

Cardiovascular Health – Antioxidants, vitamin C, Vitamin E, B vitamins especially Vitamin B3 (niacin) omega fatty acids



i] Whitney, E., Rolfes, S.,( 2005). Understanding Nutrition. Thomson Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.