As soon as she wakes up, Nancy McClelland, 68, from Safety Harbor, Fla., likes to head out to her garden. “I have a wild yard, and I spend a lot of time picking vegetables and herbs that I use in my cooking, give to friends, or powder and add to smoothies.” She has always been active — she has been doing yoga regularly for decades, enjoys nature walks, and was an avid tennis player until knee and toe issues made her give up the sport. “I needed to continue to get aerobic exercise, but I really don’t like the gym, so I started playing Pickleball, and it’s so much fun,” she says Haven’t heard of pickleball? It’s a paddle sport that takes elements from tennis, badminton, and table tennis — and it’s surging in popularity. “Because we play on hardwood, not concrete, and the running area is shorter, it’s easier on my joints,” McClelland shares.
As you enter your fifties or sixties, you may find that you have more time to be active and focus on your own health — and maybe even discover new sports, like Nancy. But you also may experience a natural slowing of your metabolism, which means you won’t need as many calories. “That’s all the more reason why you should be choosing calories more wisely. If you don’t need as many, you want to make sure that the ones you’re taking in really count,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table. For example, a moderately active woman over 50 only needs to eat around 1800 calories a day, while a moderately active man of the same age might need around 2200-2400. By seeking out whole foods instead of high-calorie but nutrient-poor options (like overly processed foods, or desserts), you’ll be filling your body with the fuel you need stay healthy and active, and you’ll have the energy to pick up fun new workouts. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
Fruits and Vegetables
There’s a very compelling reason to add more fruits and veggies into your diet: Adults over 40 who consume at least the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables had higher mental health and well-being scores than those who ate less, according to a survey by the AARP. Depending on your age, gender, size, and activity level, you should be eating 1.5 to two cups of fruit per day, and two to 3.5 cups of vegetables. (You can calculate your exact needs here.) If you aim to buy produce in a variety of different colors — to eat the rainbow, if you will — you’ll naturally get an assortment of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables tend to be high in fiber, which takes time to digest, meaning that you’ll feel full for longer, and your blood sugar levels won’t spike and drop, leading to a dreaded energy crash. Getting ready to work out? A banana is a perfect snack to have just before or after you exercise. It’s filling, and a great source of potassium, which helps your muscles function properly.
Do you often wonder whether to opt for white or wheat? Choose whole wheat whenever possible. Older adults need five to seven servings of grains a day, and at least half of them should be whole. “Watch out for false promises,” Taub-Dix cautions. “Just because a bread is called ‘wheat bread’ doesn’t mean that it’s whole wheat. You need to read the label and make sure the first ingredient is 100 percent whole wheat.”
Whole grains contain all parts of the grain — the bran, germ, and endosperm — while refined grains like those in white bread or saltine crackers have been milled to remove the bran and the germ, which results in a smoother texture, but fewer nutrients like fiber (which helps keep your digestive system moving), B-vitamins (necessary for cell production), and iron (which transports oxygen in the blood). Whole grain oats contain a soluble fiber called beta-glucan that can help lower bad LDL cholesterol in the blood. Quaker Oats are a great option for a whole grain breakfast — just add fruit for an extra boost of fiber, nuts or seeds for protein, and milk for calcium and vitamin D.
A very easy way to up your energy is to stay hydrated. Water is necessary for all bodily functions, and not drinking enough can make you feel sluggish. As you get older, it’s common to feel less thirsty, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still need to hydrate. It’s important to remind yourself to drink throughout the day, Taub-Dix says. Water helps you digest and absorb the nutrients you eat, rid your body of waste, protect your joints, and regulate blood pressure. Science shows that women should aim for about 73 ounces of water a day, and men should hit at least 100 ounces. If it’s hot or you’ve been working out, you’ll need to chug even more to make sure your body stays hydrated.