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healthy living for people over 50: healthy older couple hiking together

A Guide To Diet, Exercise, And Supplements For People Over 50 

When one of Instagram’s hottest fitness influencers is over 70 and your dad’s Downward Dog pose rivals your instructor’s, you know that age truly is just a number.

“If you take care of your body, you can maintain your quality of life and live an active lifestyle, despite your age,” says dietitian Claudia Hleap, M.S., R.D. And, luckily for all of us, it’s never too late to start investing in your health and well-being.

“While healthy living looks different in your twenties versus your fifties and beyond, this does not mean you have to be any less vivacious,” adds dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller, R.D., L.D.N., advisor for Fitter Living. “As you age, you just have to learn to adapt your healthy lifestyle to fit your stage of life.”

The road to thriving in the latter half of life is paved with a wholesome diet, dedication to (the right) exercise, and smart supplements. Consider this your guide to feeling fabulous through your 50s and beyond.

Baked salmon steak with vegetables. Diet menu. Top view

Nutrition

No matter your age, a whole food-based diet is always the way to go. But there are certain tweaks worth making as you approach and surpass your 50s. It’s important to increase focus on the following four foods and nutrients:

1. Protein

“Many people, especially those 50 and older, do not get an adequate amount of protein from their diet,” says Hleap. This lack of protein is associated with a loss of strength and muscle mass, and a decreased ability to perform everyday tasks.

Read More: 9 Easy Ways To Increase Your Protein Intake

Though individual needs vary, “those over 50 years old should consume closer to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day,” says Hleap.

2. Fiber

Another focal point of eating well in your later years: fiber.

Found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, fiber is a nutrient that older adults need to be cognizant of in their daily diet. “Fiber is important for maintaining cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of diabetes,” says Kristin Gillespie, M.S., R.D., nutritionist with Exercise With Style. “It also helps promote bowel regularity, which is very important in older adults, who are more prone to constipation.”

Women over 50 should aim for at least 21 grams per day while men over 50 should aim for at least 30 grams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine.

3. Fatty Fish

Salmon and other fatty fish are great sources of healthy omega-3s, specifically EPA and DHA, which are especially important for people over 50.

Omega-3s help the body ward off excess or chronic inflammation—and consuming plenty of these inflammation-fighting foods can help you avoid issues such as arthritis, Kostro Miller suggests. “The current research also shows that EPA and DHA can improve heart health (think blood cholesterol and triglycerides).”

Aim for at least two four-ounce servings of low-mercury fatty fish per week, says Kostro Miller. Grill, bake, poach, or sauté it, instead of frying it up.

4. Calcium

Many of us have heard since childhood that calcium and strong, healthy bones go hand in hand. With osteoporosis (in which bones become weak and brittle, increasing the risk of fracture) more common in older populations, now is not the time to slack on the essential mineral.

“For men, the recommended amount of calcium is 1,000 milligrams per day through age 70 and 1,200 milligrams beyond 70, says Gillespie. “For women, the recommendation is 1,000 milligrams per day through age 50 and 1,200 milligrams beyond that.”

You can get calcium from foods like green, leafy vegetables, broccoli, pulses, chia seeds, soy foods like tofu, and dairy and non-dairy milks.

If you’re concerned about your intake, talk with a trusted healthcare professional to see if a calcium supplement is right for you.

5. Berries

“Diets that are rich in antioxidants can help reduce pain (i.e. joint pain), help your body function better, and may even help preserve cognitive function in the long term,” says Kostro Miller.

Berries—particularly dark-hued ones like blackberries and blueberries—contain super-high amounts of antioxidants that help the body fight inflammation by blocking the actions of inflammatory compounds that can do harm in excess, Kostro Miller explains.

The sweet result: Consuming one cup of blueberries per day has been linked with positive cognitive benefits in older adults.

Another perk of berries: They contain lots of fiber. “If you can’t find any good fresh berries (or perhaps want to save money or avoid throwing them away prematurely), choose plain, frozen berries,” suggests Kostro Miller.

older man doing plank at home

Exercise

As with your diet, you’ll want to switch up your workout priorities come middle age.

1. Focus On Strength Training

“[After 50], the human body can begin to experience a decrease in mobility, muscle mass, and joint strength,” explains Dr. Alex Robles, M.D., C.P.T., a.k.a The White Coat Trainer.

Luckily, “by maintaining a fitness routine, you can prevent a lot of these age-related changes to your body,” he says. “One important thing people 50 and over should do is strength training.” This type of exercise improves total-body circulation, decreases risk of osteoporosis, helps maintain lean muscle, and more.

Robles recommends focusing on six key functional movement patterns:

  • knee flexion exercises (squats, lunges)
  • hip extension exercises (glute bridges and deadlifts)
  • horizontal pushing exercises (bench presses and pushups)
  • horizontal pulling exercises (rows)
  • vertical pushing exercises (shoulder presses)
  • vertical pulling exercises (pullups and pulldowns)

When starting out, do three or four 30-minute workout sessions per week, Robles suggests. “Choose three of the six exercise patterns and do three sets of each.” You’ll also want to make each of the four workouts different so that you can develop well-rounded strength.

New to weights? No worries. Start light so you can focus on using proper technique.

2. Get Your Heart Pumping

In addition to regular strength training, add 30 minutes of cardio to your routine each day, suggests Melissa Welsh, C.P.T., owner of Limitless Health and Fitness.

“Cardio is beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease and aiding in weight loss, among other things,” says Welsh. Your chosen activity doesn’t even need to be particularly strenuous (unless a medical professional or cardiologist recommends otherwise). “It could be as simple as going for a walk around the neighborhood,” notes Welsh.

Read More: 7 Workouts That Can Burn More Calories Than Running

To make the habit stick, do whatever form of cardio you like the most. Whether it’s rollerblading or walking uphill through a scenic area near home, anything goes. “Try swimming or biking, or just get out of the house and take a walk after dinner,” she suggests.

3. Do Some Yoga

For body and mind alike, a regular yoga or stretching practice can also bring incredible benefits. “Another piece of the equation is flexibility. As we age, our joints tend to get stiffer and less mobile,” says Robles.

If you don’t regularly move your body through its natural ranges of motion, you can lose them. “One common example is the ability to perform a full range-of-motion squat,” Robles explains. “This movement requires good ankle, hip, knee, and thoracic spine flexibility. The inability to get into basic positions such as squats can decrease your quality of life.”

Thus, Robles recommends people over 50 engage in flexibility work regularly, whether through group stretching classes, YouTube videos, or yoga.

“Yoga will maintain and even increase your level of flexibility,” adds Welsh. “It also helps reduce the risk of injuries, improve sleep quality, and improve overall mental health,” says Welsh. Set aside 20 minutes per day, in the morning or before bed, to tune in and flow.

older woman taking supplement

Supplements

The right supplements can support your health at any age—and a strategic routine goes a long way in your later years.

1. Vitamin D

To help keep your strength up and ward off muscle and bone breakdown, many older adults may want to consult with a professional about adding vitamin D to their daily routine.

“This vitamin helps our body absorb calcium, which is essential for bone health and strength,” says Hleap. “I recommend everyone, especially people over age 50, supplement with upwards of 800 IU of vitamin D per day.”

Read More: 7 Signs You Have a Vitamin D Deficiency

“Vitamin D requirements for older adults are typically 800 to 1,000 IU per day, potentially up to 2,000 IU per day,” says Gillespie.

2. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is another important vitamin to supplement in older adults, as they are one of the most at-risk populations for a deficiency,” says Gillespie. This is because the absorption of B12 decreases with age.

“Vitamin B12 plays a variety of critical roles in the body, such as regulating cellular processes and maintaining neurological function,” she adds. “In fact, some studies have shown linked low vitamin B12 levels and worsened cognitive decline and dementia.”

The recommended daily allowance for adults is 2.4 micrograms. Consider a supplement or B12-rich foods like fortified cereals and milks, fish, and dairy to meet your needs. (For more B12 background and groups of people who may need more of it, check out our guide here.)

3. An Age 50+ Multivitamin

“For people over 50, simply choosing an age 50+ multivitamin may be helpful since they may contain higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D, and B vitamins,” says Kostro Miller. (Some may even contain omega-3s, too. Just talk to your doctor before supplementing with them if you take blood thinners.) 

To find the perfect multivitamin for you, check in with a health professional—like a dietitian—to identify your individual needs based on your diet and health. (The Vitamin Shoppe offers free virtual nutrition coaching for its Healthy Awards members.)

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