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Be your best at any age

Ageing can lead to numerous health issues, but with improvements to your diet and lifestyle you can enjoy a healthy older age

The most common health issues linked with ageing are aches and pains from creaking joints and muscles, allied with concerns about mental agility,” says Jill Bell from health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork, “but the good news is that there is plenty we can do to improve the situation, or at the very least, maintain what we have.”

“One of the most common issues people face post retirement age is malnutrition,” says Angela McGlanaghey from health store Simple Simon in Donegal town. “Older people tend to have a very bland diet and eat a lot of the same foods. Many, especially those living alone, tend to eat processed foods which are low in fibre and nutrients, can lead to malnutrition and in turn cause a lot of health issues. A good strength multivitamin can help boost immunity and prevent deficiencies. However, diet is key in order to regain strength and build immunity in seniors.”

Power of the mind

“Short term memory loss can be a real bugbear, but tricks such as keeping lists and repeating out loud facts we want to remember can help to reduce frustration,” says Jill Bell. “Challenging your brain with mental exercise – joining a book club, doing crosswords, pursuing a hobby or polishing up school Irish – stimulates brain cells to communicate and remain active. Cherishing friends and social contacts is really important too, though that’s a challenge these days. The body and brain repair during sleep, so maintaining a good sleep pattern is important. Regular bedtimes, dark bedrooms, a soothing tea, and herbs such as lavender, hops, passiflora or valerian can help, as can magnesium to relax muscles.”

Senior diet

“Though there are nutritional supplements which can help to maintain both mental and physical health, nothing beats a healthy diet high in fruit and vegetables, with sufficient protein to nurture muscles, and oily fish a couple of times a week to supply omega-3 for mental health and to ‘oil’ creaking joints,” says Jill Bell. “Keeping well hydrated can be a challenge as it’s quite easy not to feel thirsty even when our bodies need liquid. If a person’s appetite dwindles, smaller more frequent grazing of nutritious foods – yogurt, fruit pureé, nuts and seeds, dried fruit for example – can sometimes be easier than facing a larger set meal.

“If it is suspected that a person isn’t getting sufficient nutrients in their diet, it’s time to look at supplementing. There are supplements designed specifically for over 65s which are easy in the digestive system, and it’s generally advisable to add a vitamin D.”

Dodgy digestion

“As muscle strength can weaken, a frequent problem for older people is constipation,” says Jill Bell. “Diet is the number one support, choosing foods high in fibre such as fruit and veg, porridge, linseeds, prunes and other dried fruit. Magnesium can be very useful to support muscular activity of the bowel, whether as a liquid, capsule or massage lotion.

“As we age our levels of stomach acid tend to drop which can lead to poor digestion, heartburn and reflux. It’s more important than ever to chew well to encourage the release of saliva and digestive enzymes and not to eat a heavy meal close to bedtime. Natural apple cider vinegar or a bitter herb such as centaurium, taken before a meal, can reduce symptoms.”

“For digestion we would recommend including probiotic and prebiotic foods in the diet and also perhaps the inclusion of a probiotic supplement,” says Angela McGlanaghey.

Other supports for digestion:

Digestive enzymes – help the body to break down food and absorb more vitamins and minerals from food.

Garlic – for a cleansing and antibacterial action on the gut.

Yogurt – restores natural bacteria.

Camomile tea – drink after a meal for heartburn and acid reflux.

The role of exercise

“Exercise brightens the mind and helps to fend off stress. It helps with sleep, reduces the risk of some diseases, helps with balance and agility. A regular walk or cycle, gentle yoga or even pushing a lawnmower all count as exercise. Check out online videos for ideas and guidance.” Jill Bell

Where the heart is

“Anyone on blood thinning medication should consult their pharmacist or health professional before taking any food supplement or herbal remedy from us, and even some foods such as linseeds, due to possible contraindications,” says Jill Bell. “That said, if a customer asks about supporting heart health, we suggest diet first and foremost, boosted by omega-3, garlic, hawthorn, magnesium or co-enzyme Q10. Hawthorn tea provides gentle and effective support.”

Other supports for the heart:

Fish oils – if you don’t eat much fish, take a supplement of fish oil with omega-3 to cut down on unhealthy fats called triglycerides.

Sterols and stanols – found in nuts and grains, help control cholesterol levels. Also available as supplements.

CoQ10 – may be of benefit to heart health. Ask in your local health store.

Dem bones and joints

“Omega-3 fish oil is our number one recommendation for joint issues, allied with glucosamine, and if pain is a problem turmeric in various forms (teas, capsules, curcumin extract), ginger and bromelain are effective aids,” says Jill Bell. “Lighter-boned people, especially if they have been smokers, frequently suffer from osteoporosis. We tend to think of bones as solid, but in fact they are a matrix of tissues combining collagen, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other minerals which constantly need renewing. A healthy, varied diet is the basis of bone health, and there are a number of excellent food supplements to add if osteopoenia or osteoporosis are issues. Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium, and vitamin K ensures the calcium goes to bone tissue rather than the blood stream.”

“Omega-3 and vitamin D are both essential for bone health,” says Angela McGlanaghey.

Other supports for joints and bones:

Natural anti-inflammatory supplements that have clinically supported benefits, such as boswellia, hyaluronic acid, curcumin, MSM, glucosamine, rosehip extract and New Zealand green-lipped mussel oil.

Magnesium and zinc – both vital for bone health

Vitamin B12 – keeps homocysteine levels down, an amino acid linked to bone fracture.

Eyes on the prize

Having your eyes tested regularly is essential as we age as eyes can change over the years, and your optician can also spot other more serious conditions during the examination.

Also supporting eyes:

Carrots – a rich source of beta-carotene which the body converts into vitamin A.

Bilberry – contains antioxidant vitamins A and C that help to prevent damage to the eyes. Available as tablets, sometimes with lutein and zeaxanthin.

Flaxseed oil – good if you have dry or itchy eyes. Available as capsules and a liquid.

Omega 3 fish oil – good for general eye health and clear eyesight.

Selenium – benefits the eyes. In small amounts in brazil nuts, eggs, garlic, and brown rice, seafood and yeast or take a supplement.

Vitamin A – a vital nutrient for eyes. In dairy products, fish oils and egg yolks.

Zeaxanthin and lutein – from leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and watercress.

Zinc – contributes to the maintenance of normal vision.

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