As people get older, their metabolism begins to change. And this means their intake of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals must change, too, or their health might suffer. "All the nutritional things that we need to be concerned about as younger adults are even more important as we get older," says Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
Human beings, starting in middle age - that is, from 40-65 years old - experience a gradual decline in their metabolic rate. This causes a loss of about 1 percent of their muscle a year, which is replaced by fat. Thus, people need to respond to aging by eating progressively less. Not to do so risks gaining weight, with all of the health negatives associated with that.
With the change in metabolism comes a need for even more of certain vitamins and minerals than ever before. With this in mind, Lichtenstein and her colleagues have crafted a new food pyramid for those 70 and above. But it's a pyramid that's helpful for all ages, and is good to use with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid
The foundation of the new pyramid is exercise and activity. Just walking outside or working around the house - cleaning, fixing things, yard work, etc. - is crucial for health. As we go up the pyramid, older people need foods rich in calcium, potassium and vitamins D, E and K. Food surveys reveal that the diet of too many older Americans is deficient in these nutrients.
Thus, seniors, to get the calcium they need, should be eating lots of low-fat and nonfat dairy products - not to mention juice and cereal fortified with calcium. In addition, the pyramid teaches that the elderly should consciously drink lots of water and other fluids, rather than just waiting to feel thirsty - on the order of 12 cups per day for women 70 and older, and 16 cups for men the same age, according to the Institute of Medicine.
At the University of Pittsburgh team researchers were exploring how to improve quality of sleep in seniors. What they discovered was that the most effective solutions to a better nights sleep was not new drugs but simple behavior modification changes.
Researchers worked with 79 seniors (average age 72). They all worked with a nurse practioner for very brief explanatory sessions. The basic premise was to sleep when tired and when not, simply get out of bed and do other things, instead of lying in bed waiting for sleep to come. Why lie in bed for 8 hours with only 3 or 4 hours sleep forthcoming.
The study revealed that such simple strategies actually produced better long-term results. At first subjects were indeed tires, but in time they were able to reach deeper, longer periods of sleep without and sedative or other drugs.