As we approach our 60s, it’s with an eye toward retirement and a whole briefcase of questions and looming decisions. The average retirement age for Americans is around 64, according to SmartAsset.com; however, that average varies from state to state, and men tend to put off retirement a little longer than women.

Some people never technically retire at all, whether it’s because they just love their work or because of the financial uncertainty of retirement. Others start planning their career-exit the minute they get their first adult job.

The notion of how we imagine we will spend our “golden years” is enticing, but the reality of what can happen might put a tarnish on anyone’s outlook—especially if we don’t pay attention to our health.

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Think of what’s sometimes called “the winter of our lives” in two different phases. The first phase encompasses an age-range of 60-75, as we’re just winding down our careers, truly moving into a new phase of life. If you’re fortunate enough to reach the second stage of your golden years, 75 and beyond, you’re looking at a whole different set of issues.

In today’s blog, we’re going to focus on the first stage of getting old. Don’t fret, though, because there are some positive things about aging. First, consider the alternative.

As we age, the plan is often to spend more time with family (for some that means with your children or grandchildren; for others its finally spending quality time with your spouse or significant other, close friends or pets). Many talk of exotic travel—that long planned for safari, a cruise around the world, or a first-time trip to Europe. For others, it’s buying an RV and driving cross country. And for still others, the allure of aging is in staying put and living the deadline-free dream without the shrill awakening from an alarm clock.

Moving into your 60s also may present the opportunity to take up that long thought-about hobby, or volunteer for a cause close to your heart, or write your first novel.

And, for many, in your beginning senior years, you’re still young enough to be active and take advantage of that time of life.

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But there are also cons that come along with this timeframe. Concerns about the decisions you make as you begin your 60s will certainly impact ages 75 and beyond. There is a vulnerability—and insecurities—to the first part of your senior years. For example:

  1. Financial: Will you outlive your money? Will inflation crush your retirement plans?
  2. Health: Will you grow old gracefully, or will you slowly fall apart piece by piece? Will serious illness take hold of you just as you’re starting to feel a newfound freedom? Will you be a burden to your children—or if you don’t have children, will there be someone who you can rely on?
  3. Your Day-to-Day Existence: Will you be bored? Will you feel “less than” without a career to validate your worth? Will you be depressed without a set schedule? Will you be invisible, unable to keep up with new technologies and younger generations who never imagine they will someday reach your age?

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Nutrition for Older Adults

In today’s blog, we’ll address your health as you get older, specifically as it relates to nutrition as we age, starting in your 60s and up till your mid-70s.

In an ideal world, we would all eat nutrient-dense, balanced diets, achieving optimal levels of beneficial nutrients, throughout our lives. But for so many of us, the realities of good nutrition are not a life-long journey of good habits. Instead, we wait for our bodies to feel pain—from achy joints to weak bones—or for serious illness to take us by surprise.

As we approach the first stage of the winter of our lives, our dietary needs start to evolve, our metabolism slows down, our ability to access and absorb certain nutrients becomes less efficient, and often an increase in prescription medications impacts our appetite and the way food tastes.

Keeping all that in mind, there are some health issues that are fairly specific in our 60s to mid-70s, and if addressed, may help serve us better before we get to our “platinum jubilee.” First, some good news: Older adults have the highest Healthy Eating Index of all groups of American adults.

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Here are five nutrition concerns to consider and address:

5 Nutrition Concerns For Older Adults

Protein, protein, protein. Once you reach older adulthood, sarcopenia—age-related muscle loss—can progress at a rate of 3 percent a year. This scientific article says sarcopenia may progress at an even higher rate once you reach 60, and also advises that the condition affects 30% of those between 60 and 80 years old. Protein is one nutrient that can help—especially when you engage in regular strength training exercise. In fact, the just-mentioned article concludes that clinicians should stress the importance of ingesting a sufficient amount of protein (e.g., 25-30 grams) with each meal. That’s not as hard as it sounds. One cup of Greek yogurt provides 23 grams of protein and one large egg has 6 grams. A 3-ounce cooked chicken breast has 26 grams of protein and 4 ounces of cooked salmon has 27. Read more here.

Seniors need more vitamin D. Americans of all ages aren’t getting enough vitamin D, resulting in the vitamin being identified as a “nutrient of concern” by the government. When it comes to seniors, government recommendations call for a higher Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) than for younger adults—800 IU daily for adults over 70 compared to 600 IU for other adults. And even at those levels, some experts believe you’re not in the sweet spot of vitamin D benefits. The nutrient is needed for bone health, immune support, and to help with calcium and potassium absorption. Some emerging research also shows that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of some cancers and play a role in sleep regulation. The National Council on Aging regards vitamin D of high importance as we age.

Get more of the good fats. As we age, our blood vessels thicken and stiffen, and the mechanical functions that tell our heart to beat start to slow down. If you haven’t started yet, pay more attention to the types of fats you’re eating. Avoid trans fats and eat less saturated fats. Instead, focus on the “good” fats like mono-saturated and polyunsaturated fats. The latter includes the omega-3s fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are found in salmon, sardines, and some dietary supplements. Research shows that omega-3s work for your heart, by potentially reducing triglycerides, slowing the build-up of plaque in your arteries and reducing the risk of an irregular heartbeat. In addition, some research has shown omega-3s may help lower blood pressure. And as we age, our joints stiffen too. Chronic inflammation may be the culprit and omega-3s are known as inflammation fighters.

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Fiber keeps us fit. As you reach your senior years, a major concern is to keep going—in more ways than one. Obviously, you want to do everything you can to stay active and physically fit. And fiber fits the bill. For example, if your digestive system is backed up—and there’s no easy way around this as it happens more frequently as you get older—you may need more dietary fiber. Some statistics show that about one-third of older adults have at least occasional constipation symptoms. Not only does fiber help keep your bowels moving regularly, it also plays a role in maintaining overall digestive health. What’s more, fiber is important for another “senior concern”—heart health. A high-fiber diet may help reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and lower cholesterol levels. Other research shows that fiber can slow absorption of sugar and help improve blood sugar levels—important for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Read more about fiber here and here.

Magnesium makes a difference. Did you know that magnesium is key to more than 300 physiological functions? From bone health to brain function and from the heart muscle to sore, tight or cramped muscles, you need magnesium. The mineral also aids in synthesizing protein and helping your metabolism run properly. Did you know that as we age, our body is less able to absorb magnesium? All the more reason to make sure you’re meeting your daily requirements. Magnesium deficiencies are associated with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. If you’re over 51, the RDA for women is 320 mg and for men, 420. Foods that are rich in magnesium include dark chocolate (65 mg in a 1-ounce serving—here’s a tip: don’t aim to get all your magnesium from dark chocolate!), avocadoes (a medium avocado serves up to 58 mgs of magnesium), and nuts (1 ounce of cashews provides 83 mg of magnesium). Read more here.

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5 Bonus Nutrition Tips for Seniors

Adopt a flexitarian lifestyle. If you’re a meat eater, consider becoming a flexitarian by replacing at least one or two meat meals a week with plant-based alternatives. At the very least, if you can’t quit meat, even a little, go for lean cuts.

Show your snacks who’s the boss. Cut your snacks down to two a day—and make them healthy. A handful of roasted (unsalted) nuts. Celery sticks with hummus or peanut butter or some low-fat cheese. Daily fruit—blueberries, an apple, an orange, a banana. Some plain popcorn—preferably whole grain, leave the salt and butter behind (you’ll get used to it). Perhaps an occasional indulgence—but the more you eat healthy, the more you’ll want to eat healthy.

Give yourself a cut-off time. Make a plan for eating and include a plan to make it stop. If you’re approaching 60 (actually, even if you’re approaching 30), gone are the days of 4 a.m. trips to the diner for French fries or pancakes. As your metabolism slows, eating too close to bedtime can negatively disrupt your digestion, impact your sleep, and lead to unhealthy weight gain. So, do yourself another favor and pick a time (8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m.?) that works for you, or pick a cut-off (two hours before bedtime, three hours?)—when your refrigerator is mentally locked, your kitchen shuts down, and you forget about the protein bars in your night table (hopefully there’s no food lurking under your pillow). Read another perspective here.

Hydrate! Drinking water, about eight glasses a day, is a smart move for most. Especially as we get older. The Cleveland Clinic calls dehydration an overlooked health risk for seniors. Why? Because our bodies need water to function and as we age, our bodies get drier. This is especially true for the second phase of senior life, when we are more likely to experience a reduction in thirst. That’s why hydrating is a good habit to get into now.

Consider dietary supplements. As we age, it may be more difficult to absorb nutrients. If you’re not getting the nutrients you need from food alone, taking dietary supplements can help fill some of those gaps. Discuss this option with your healthcare practitioner(s), sharing what you’re already taking, including supplements and medication, to avoid potential interactions. Do your own research, too, from the brands you purchase and where you purchase; don’t fall for claims that are too good to be true; and read and heed label instructions.

Keep in mind that living longer isn’t necessarily the goal. It’s living better. Addressing the nutrition needs that go along with aging are among the things that can help make your senior years healthier and more rewarding.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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