Published: March 3, 2014
Paul M. Eberts, MD, Family Medicine
Chester County Hospital
Staying fit over age 60 is not that different from fitness at every age. It involves eating well, getting appropriate exercise and enjoying a good night's sleep. I encourage people to think of this not as "my diet and exercise routine," but "living a healthy lifestyle." However, proper nutrition and exercise can mean something different for someone over 60.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
In the United States, the average person gains 1 to 2 pounds every year after age 30, so it is easy to see why we are experiencing an obesity epidemic. I agree with the many experts that advocate a Mediterranean-style diet that usually follows these general principles:
- A primarily plant-based diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
- Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week and limit red meat to several times a month, remembering that a serving of meat is about 3 or 4 ounces, which is a piece about the size of a deck of playing cards..
- Replace butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil.
Also, since some people find that their appetites decrease as they age, they may discover that instead of eating three large meals daily, eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day works better.
When most people think of exercise they think of hard exertion and sweat. In reality, multiple studies have shown that to maintain cardiovascular health and bone health simply walking can be as beneficial as other forms of exercise. The key is that you need to do it frequently, preferable 30 minutes or more, 5 or more days a week. The goal is more than 150 minutes of walking weekly. Walking at a pace slightly faster than normal is all that is needed. I tell people walk to the pace you would as if you were late for an appointment.
To make it a bit easier to start, remember the 30 minutes does not need to be all in a single session. Three 10-minute sessions spread throughout the day are just as good.
For those who have been more active at running or other sports since their younger years and have remained injury free, by all means continue. Any exercise more vigorous than walking can give even more benefits.
For the most well-rounded exercise program, studies recommend two other components: (1) A regular stretching program 2 to 3 times a week for flexibility is important for maintaining quality of life (for example, yoga is excellent for flexibility and core strength); and (2)
Strength training, ideally twice weekly sessions of strength training targeting all major muscle groups is ideal.
Getting a Good Night's Sleep
It has been well studied that many adults in the United States are sleeping too little and chronically sleep deprived. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults require 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Most people think too little sleep will only leave them feeling a bit tired. However, many other health issues are related to lack of sleep, such as weight gain due to an imbalance in cortisol and other stress hormones. Studies show that people remember and learn new information better when they are well rested.
Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and sleeping well are the necessary steps to stay active and healthy after age 60. If contemplating major changes in your eating and exercise habits, talk to and work with your doctor before you begin to make sure you have a healthy plan that works just for you.
This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.