Health Topics

Staying Healthy in Your Golden Years: Nutrition, Exercise and Safety

Staying Healthy in Your Golden Years: Nutrition, Exercise and Safety

For most older people, good health and an active lifestyle is an achievable goal with proper nutrition, medical check-ups, treatment of common risk factors, and attention to personal safety. The risk of heart attacks and strokes is reduced with treatment of hypertension and high cholesterol, smoking cessation, and good control of diabetes. Periodic check-ups, mammograms and PAP smears for women help to identify early but treatable diseases; and immunizations (influenza, bacterial pneumonia, for example) help prevent infections.


Nutrition remains important throughout life. As we age, the risk of poor nutrition increases due to problems with oral disease, chronic diseases such as heart failure and emphysema, social isolation, financial problems, and a loss of ability to shop or prepare fresh food. Weight loss (underweight) becomes a more serious problem than weight gain (overweight). Nutrition-related problems become more evident after the age of 60 years: osteoporosis, iron deficiency, vitamin deficiency, protein-calorie malnutrition. To remain nutritionally sound, older people need to:

  • Maintain a comfortable and safe weight.
  • Eat a diet balanced in protein, fat, and carbohydrates. In particular, older adults should maintain an adequate protein intake of approximately 1-1.2 gm/kg of protein. For example, a 150 pound (70 kg) man should have approximately 70-100 gm of protein daily. Persons who are very physically active or have an infection or heightened metabolic need may require more protein. A chart of protein in different foods is shown below. Persons with chronic kidney disease should check with their physician about protein in their diet—sometimes a lower limit is suggested. In general, we recommend obtaining protein needs from food, not from powdered supplements. Adding non-fat dried milk to drinks and foods (such as coffee, oatmeal, potatoes), however, can increase the protein content safely, since 1 oz (2 tablespoons) contains 3 gm of protein.
  • Use a multivitamin and mineral supplement if their diet is not balanced, they have been ill, or are losing weight. Vitamins do NOT contain protein.
  • Consume at approximately 1000 mg of elemental calcium daily and 1,000 units of Vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis and decrease the risk of falls and hip fractures. Persons with kidney stones or hyperparathyroidism should not utilize calcium supplements.

Although there are health claims for supplemental antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E and beta carotene, the best way to get these substances is by eating a diet that includes fruits and vegetables.


Regular physical exercise helps maintain good health and physical independence in old age. Healthful physical activities include aerobic (endurance) exercises such as walking, swimming, dancing ("low impact") and resistive (strengthening) exercises (after medical clearance) such as weight machines or elastic bands. Tai chi and senior yoga can help with balance, strength, and flexibility. Consider a personal trainer for proper technique in weights and stretching if you have not done this recently.

Exercise hints:

  • Choose activities that you like.
  • Make physical activity a part of each day.
  • Don't overdo exercise—"start slow, go slow."
  • Exercise with a friend or group.
  • Have fun!


Home safety problems are common: slippery bathroom floors or tubs, inadequate lighting, frayed rugs or carpets, loose cords, inadequate heating and cooling systems. As we age we should consider steps to assure our continued safety and good health:

  • Modify the home to make it safer.
  • Stay in contact with family and friends: stay active!
  • Plan for future financial needs and living situation.
  • Complete an advanced directive.
  • Maintain a positive attitude: passions and interests.

For more information

Meal programs for seniors, contact:

Administration on Aging Elderly Care Locator 800.677.1116
American College of Sports Medicine: 317.637.9200, ext. 138
The DoAble Renewable Home (free copy from AARP): 888.687.2277

Below is a guide to choosing foods during the day that have adequate protein. You may wish to meet with a dietician to further guide your food choices.

Meat/Fish (3 ounces)

Food Protein gm
Beef 25
Chicken (2 breast) 25
Turkey 25
Pork 23
Ground beef 22
Fish or shellfish 21
Tuna 21
Salmon 17
Chicken (1 drumstick - 2 oz) 14
Sliced turkey/ham (2 oz) 10
Hot dog (1) 6


Food Protein gm
Cottage cheese (4 oz) 13
Egg substitute (4 oz) 12
Soy milk (1 cup) 11
Milk (1 cup) 8
Yogurt (6 oz) 8
Cheese (1 oz hard) 7
Egg (1 large) 6
Ice cream/frozen yogurt (4 oz) 4
Cream cheese (1 tbs) 1

Beans/vegetarian foods

Food Protein gm
Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime® (1) 17
Beans, peals, lentils (1 cup cooked) 15
Boca Burgers Original Vegan® 13
Soy nuts (1/4 cup) 12
Boca Meatless Chick'n Patties® 11
Edamame (4 oz) 10
Peanut butter (2 tbs) 8
Tofu (3 oz) 7
Gardenburger® Original or portabella (1) 5

Other Foods

Food Protein gm
Kashi Go Lean Cereal® (1 C) 13
South Beach Diet High Protein Cereal Bars® (1) 10
Pasta (1 C cooked) 8
Oatmeal (1 C cooked) 6
Bread, whole wheat (2 slices) 5
Nuts (1 oz) 5
Bread, white 4
Cheerios® (1 C) 4
Green peas (1/2 C cooked) 4
Corn flakes (1 C) 2