Local dietician shares ideas for healthy living as we age

‘Supporting your body system’ ought to be goal for seniors.

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Nutrition is a particularly important aspect of life that can impact aging — a healthy lifestyle can help avoid chronic diseases.

“With age, calories are burned at a slower rate, muscle mass is lost and organs begin to slow,” said Katie Conrad McCoy, a registered dietitian at Kettering Health. “Energy needs tend to decrease in response to decreased activity and overall metabolism is reduced. Risk of chronic diseases (like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease), changes in bone density, muscle mass and weight are common issues as we age. Health conditions, medications and the body’s reduced ability to digest food efficiently all can lead to nutrient malabsorption.”

Nutrition is a vital part of managing a chronic disease, such as diabetes, and nutrition may also help an individual minimize negative side effects of chronic conditions.

“When you have diabetes blood sugar control is really important,” McCoy said. “If you eat well balanced meals and pay attention to carbs, then you’re supporting your body system.”

McCoy, who has worked six years as a dietician, also provides nutrition demonstrations and presentations for Kettering Health Years Ahead, a service line tailored to patients 65 years and older.

Johanna McCargish, participated in one of the nutrition classes about a year ago, and since then, she has lost 30 pounds in six months, and lowered her cholesterol, A1C, heart rate and blood pressure.

The 64-year-old from West Milton is also currently participating in a hip and knee stretch exercises class, and follows a low-salt diet.

“I eat low carb and more whole grains,” McCargish said. “I don’t look at it as a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. I’m just able to be more active. I ride my own motorcycle, and it’s easier to get on and off. It’s easier to get around. My husband and I walk and camp. I feel like my brain is sharper. I overall feel better.”

McCargish, who had a stroke five years ago, has taken classes about salt intake, herbs, Mediterranean diet and Afib. She has also started growing her own herbs.

McCargish advises anyone who is interested to take the classes and use the materials.

“They’re very knowledgeable,” she said. “Be patient as you grow older. Take short walks, even if it’s up and down your driveway. Little by little get outside and limit your TV and phone time. I catch myself wanting to sit in the chair and I push myself. Find a way to take extra steps and just move more.”

The programs are open to the public and attendees do not need to be patients at the Years Ahead facility. The presentations are specifically designed for those 65 years or older.

Classes are held in conference room, and some topics include health care, meditation, senior scans, balance and fall prevention, safe driving, nutrition and cognition, and exercise classes.

The classes are held by doctors, nutritionists, dietitian, exercise specialists, as well as speakers from outside organizations.

McCoy encourages people to try habit stacking, if they are looking to improve their health.

“It’s never too late to include health-promoting activities in your life,” she said. “If you always have a cup of tea in the morning, add a couple strength training exercises right before or after. Do you walk every day? Add in a protein-rich snack afterward.”

Below, McCoy shares more insight for nutritional options.

Nutrition is one aspect of life, what else should a person focus on?

Nutrition and physical movement. Maintaining abilities, independence and activities of daily living is important. Develop a community because loneliness is an epidemic for everyone.

As we get older, our bodies don’t work the way they used to. Adaptive equipment was created to maintain independence. Perhaps one hand works better than the other. An option is cutting boards with spikes to hold food still, so cooks can chop with one hand. It makes your life easier when your physical body doesn’t allow you to do things the way you have always done them.

As people age, cooking becomes more challenging. Any tips for easy meals?

It is definitely a challenge, and I just experienced this with my grandparents. My grandmother is in her 90s and she want to retire from cooking. I encourage planning ahead. We’re all going to have bad days. Keep extra things in the pantry that you like to eat. Make meals ahead of time and freeze them. There is no shame in buying something prepared if that works well for you. Seniors is a wide range from 60s to 90s, and the goal of nutrition can change. Cook and eat meals together with family and friends. Community is a vital part of healthy aging.

Tips for staying healthy and active

  • Join a local group. Many facilities offer classes specially designed to meet the exercise requirements and physical constraints of older adults.
  • Health is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Include movement you enjoy and are able to do. If chair yoga sounds boring, join a local dance class. It’s okay if you love cabbage and hate broccoli. Eat the vegetables and fruits you love.
  • Remember to eat regular meals and snacks. If eating three large meals becomes overwhelming, choose smaller more frequent “mini” meals/snacks. Adequate nutrition promotes health and provides energy to support continued activity.
  • Hydration is important. Thirst declines with age, which leads to less fluids intake and can result in dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to boost your cognition, mood, organ function, digestion and prevent infections.

Advice for those 60 years and older

  • Eat a variety of nutrient dense foods as often as possible. Include adequate protein, Vitamin D, calcium and Vitamin B12. As we age, the body’s ability to absorb B12 is decreased. Some medications can decrease absorption as well. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products (meat, poultry, seafood and dairy).
  • Calcium and Vitamin D are vital for bone health as well as many other body functions. Lack of calcium contributes to the development of osteoporosis. Vitamin D is required for the body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D is unique in that it is mainly absorbed through the skin from exposure to the sun. While there are a few food sources containing small amounts of Vitamin D (seafood, liver, eggs and fortified dairy), it is impossible to consume enough from food to meet daily needs. Living in the northern hemisphere presents unique challenges to meet our Vitamin D needs. For large portions of the year, we are wearing enough clothing covering most of our skin, that Vitamin D can’t be absorbed. Spend time in the sunshine daily, 20-30 minutes. If you spend long periods of time outdoors remember to bring sun protection, as prolonged exposure to the sun presents a different set of issues. If possible, ask your doctor to test for Vitamin D deficiency. It is a common test that can easily be included with regular blood work. Ask for the 25-hydroxy Vitamin D test. If you and your doctor determine that supplementation is necessary, choose Vitamin D3 for better absorption.
  • Protein is vital for building and repairing muscle, tissues and bones. Maintaining adequate muscle mass is top priority in older age. Adequate strength allows for increased independence, stability, mobility and overall quality of life. Include sources of protein with each meal or snack to help promote blood sugar control.

Recipe: Nut Butter Energy Bites

These energy bites make a quick tasty snack. The ingredients are full of healthy fats, fiber and protein making it a balanced treat to enjoy on-the-go. Use 72% or greater cocoa content in the chocolate, if possible, to keep the added sugars low. Make sure the nut butter/peanut butter is unsweetened.

1 cup quick oats

¾ cup creamy peanut butter (unsweetened) OR any unsweetened nut or seed butter

¼ cup shredded coconut ¼ cup ground flaxseed

½ cup mini chocolate chips or chopped dried fruit (cranberry, apricots, mango, cherries, etc.)

1-2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup, just enough to moisturize the dough so it sticks together

Place all the ingredients together in a large bowl and mix with a spoon until well incorporated. Mixture with be thick and stiff.

Use a scoop or spoon to form the mixture into 15-20 balls.

Roll each ball together with your hands. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate for 7-10 days in an airtight container.

Recipe adapted from: https://feelgoodfoodie.net/recipe/no-bake-energy-bites/#wprm-recipe-container-19594

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Cox First Media invites folks with story ideas about and for people who are 60 and older to submit those for consideration. Email Marie Kriedman at writeawayk@gmail.com and Editor Mandy Gambrell at mandy.gambrell@coxinc.com.

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