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Supporting health and wellbeing as you grow older

Ageing well is not just about what we eat and what we do – it's very much a frame of mind,” says Jill Bell of health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork. "It's an ability to adjust positively to changes. It's about adding life to our years rather than just adding years to our lives. It's never too late to start caring for our bodies.”

The most common health issues linked with ageing are aches and pains from creaking joints and muscles, allied with concerns about mental agility. 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.

Dem bones and joints

"We lose bone density as we age and also joint movement becomes stiffer and less flexible,” says nutritional therapist Liz O'Byrne who works with health store the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon, Co Clare. "It's important to consume a diet high in calcium, magnesium, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Leafy green vegetables, bananas, oranges and fish are great additions to the diet. Any antioxidant foods such as blueberries are anti-inflammatory which may help alleviate aches and pains.”

"Omega-3 fish oil is our number one recommendation for joint issues, allied with glucosamine. If pain is a problem turmeric in various forms (teas, capsules, curcumin extract), ginger and bromelain are effective aids,” says Jill Bell. "Bones are a matrix of tissues combining collagen, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other minerals which constantly need renewing.

A healthy, varied diet, avoiding acid-forming processed food and drinks, is the basis of bone health.”

Help is also available from:

Glucosamine – useful for maintaining joint health, particularly in supplements which combine it with chondroitin, turmeric, boswellia or ginger.

Omega-3 fatty acids – essential nutrients for bone health and strength.

Organic apple cider vinegar – an effective alkalising anti-inflammatory remedy for aches and pains.

Magnesium and zinc – both vital for bone health.

Turmeric capsules – anti-inflammatory and pain relieving.

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

Other tips

  • Stay away from aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes if you are prone to joint pain.
  • Cut down on caffeine-containing drinks or sugary foods and drinks – they lead to tissue acidity and aggravate joint and muscle pain.
  • Reduce the amount of sugars and starches in your diet and increase vegetables.
  • Drink water – dehydration contributes to inflammation.
  • Light exercise is very important – walking, yoga and swimming are all very good for flexibility.

Eyes on the prize

"The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin act by protecting eyes from sunlight and harmful blue light,” says Liz O'Byrne. "Vitamin D is known to improve tear function in eyes, thus reducing risk of cataracts and glaucoma.”

Zinc and vitamin C are beneficial to eye health.

A blueberry supplement rich in lutein may help to keep the muscles of the eyes strong.

Help is also available from:

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

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

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 – found in small amounts in brazil nuts, eggs, garlic, and brown rice, seafood and yeast or take a supplement.

Zeaxanthin and lutein – from leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and watercress help prevent oxidation around the eye.

Digestive support

"As we age our levels of stomach acid tend to drop which can lead to poor digestion, heartburn and reflux,” says Jill Bell. "It's important to chew well to encourage the release of saliva 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 usefully encourage the production of gastric juices and reduce symptoms. For constipation, magnesium can be very useful to support muscular activity of the bowel, whether as a liquid, capsule or massage lotion.”

"Our digestion can slow down as we age and reduced stomach acid can impede the digestion of protein such as meat,” says Liz O'Byrne. "We can encourage the production of stomach acid by consuming foods such as fermented vegetables (think sauerkraut and pickles). Fermented foods may also encourage healthful microbes to flourish in the gut.”

Help is also available from:

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

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

Yogurt – restores natural bacteria.

Your healthy heart

The main risk factors for heart disease and stroke are smoking, high blood pressure (hypertension), raised cholesterol, physical Inactivity, overweight and obesity. We should all eat more fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods; eat less fatty foods; eat oily fish twice a week; if you smoke, try to stop; be a healthy weight, watch the portion sizes; be more physically active, at least 30 minutes five days a week; drink less alcohol; learn to relax and have a regular blood pressure and cholesterol check.

"Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are known to improve heart health,” says Liz O'Byrne. "Eating plenty of omega-3 fatty acid rich foods such as oily fish and following mainly a Mediterranean style diet is great for heart health (think vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and wholegrains).”

"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.”says Jill Bell.

Help is also available from:

Cayenne pepper – in a little hot water, first thing in the morning helps clear the arteries and regulates blood pressure.

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.

Garlic – cook with it, eat it raw or take a supplement to help arteries to stay clear.

Green tea – a relaxing drink thought to be helpful in controlling cholesterol.

Plant sterols, red yeast rice, lecithin and citrus extracts are helpful for cholesterol. If you take statins or beta blockers, be sure to take CoQ10, which helps to reduce some of the adverse effects.

Mind matters

"Challenging your brain with mental exercise – doing crosswords, learning a new skill, pursuing a hobby or polishing up school Irish – stimulates brain cells to communicate and remain active,” says Jill Bell. "The body and brain repair during sleep, so maintaining a good sleep pattern is important.”

"Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and mackerel and eating lots of vegetables (especially dark leafy greens) and nuts, seeds and beans can help boost our mental health,” says Liz O'Byrne. "As well as diet, regular social contact, fresh air and movement are also vital.”

Help is also available from:

Rhodiola – helps boost learning and memory skills, along with essential fatty acids, vitamin D and curcumin.

Osteo alert

"People with a light bone structure are specially prone to osteopoenia and osteoporosis,” says Jill Bell. "Weight-bearing exercise is important – walking, climbing stairs, dancing and so on. Ensure your diet contains sufficient calcium and magnesium from leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, legumes and wholegrains and you are getting sufficient vitamin D.”

Help is also available from:

Calcium supplements when taken in conjunction with vitamins D3 and vitamin K2 – D3 helps calcium absorption and K2 puts calcium where it is needed.

Vitamins D and K, magnesium, boron and zinc are all helpful supplements for osteoporosis.

Prostate concerns

Prostate issues can become a problem for men in their 60s. Any man who is experiencing frequent or painful urination, blood in urine, inability to urinate, pain in their back, hips, thighs or pelvis should see a doctor straight away.

Eat foods rich in beta-sitosterol such as pecans, avocados, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, rice bran, wheat germ, soybean products and dandelion coffee. Also eat tomatoes and other vegetables rich in lycopene.

Help is also available from:

Remedies containing nettle root, zinc, lycopene, pumpkin seed and sea buckthorn can help. Saw palmetto – used to relieve the discomfort of an enlarged prostate.

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