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Nutrition and aging go hand-in-hand

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Nutrition and aging go hand-in-hand

Nutrition is important for people of all ages, but it's especially important for men and women over the age of 50, who can dramatically improve their quality of life by eating a well-balanced diet filled with vitamins and nutrients. Though that may seem like common sense, research has shown that men and women in this age group, who are often referred to as "Baby Boomers," are not necessarily as healthy as they may seem.

While the baby boomer generation, which is generally regarded as those people born between 1946 and 1964, boasts longer life expectancies than any generation that came before them, some of that can likely be chalked up to advancements in medical care, including a booming pharmaceutical industry that seemingly has an antidote to every ailment. But a 2013 study from researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that baby boomers are less healthy than the generation that immediately preceded them, tending to be more likely to have higher levels of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. While that news might be sobering, it's never too late for men and women over 50 to start eating healthier diets, which can reduce their risk of a wide range of ailments, including heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis.

The following are a few ways men and women over 50 can alter their diets so their bodies are getting what they need to live long and healthy lives well into their golden years. As is always the case, men and women should discuss any potential changes to their diets with their physicians to ensure the changes will be both effective and healthy.

• Balance your diet. Kids hear of the benefits of a balanced diet seemingly from the moment they enter a classroom for the first time, but many adults fail to heed that basic advice as they get further and further away from kindergarten. When changing your diet, be sure to include plenty of protein and carbohydrates. Protein maintains and rebuilds muscles, which is especially important for aging men and women who might find themselves unable to keep up with the physical demands of everyday life as well as they used to. Including ample low-fat protein, which can be found in fish, eggs and low-fat dairy among other foods, will aid in muscle recovery, benefitting aging athletes as well as those men and women over 50 who recently started exercising as a means to regaining their physical fitness. A diet lacking in sufficient protein can contribute to muscle deterioration, arthritis and even organ failure, so it's important for men and women to prioritize including protein in their diets.

Carbohydrates are also an important part of a balanced diet, as they are a great source of energy that can help men and women stay active well past the age of 50. Carbohydrates found in fruits, grains and vegetables are the most beneficial, as these contain valuable vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

• Don't denounce dairy. Dairy is a great source of calcium, which promotes strong bones and teeth. Men and women over the age of 50 want their bones to be as strong as possible because aging is one of the strongest risk factors for osteoporosis, a potentially debilitating medical condition in which loss of tissue causes bones to become brittle and fragile. Vitamin D is necessary to effectively absorb calcium, and vitamin D can be found in certain dairy products, including pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed cow's milk, and can be generated when men and women get enough sunlight. Other healthy sources of vitamin D include salmon, light tuna packed in oil, sardines, and sun-grown mushrooms.

• Cut back on sodium intake. Cutting back on sodium intake can be very beneficial, especially for men and women over the age of 50, who are at greater risk of diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease. But cutting back on sodium intake takes more than just throwing the salt shaker away. Processed foods, soups, canned goods, salad dressings, condiments such as mustard and ketchup, and breakfast cereals are just a few of the many products that may contain alarming amounts of sodium. That's important to note, as excess sodium increases blood pressure by holding excess fluid in the body. That excess fluid puts an added burden on the heart, potentially increasing a person's risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, cancer, and kidney disease. The problem with cutting back on sodium is that salt is so often relied on to make foods taste better, and many people find salt-free foods bland. But the rewards of reducing sodium intake are so significant that it's worth making the adjustment, especially for men and women over the age of 50.

No one is too old or too young to embrace a nutritious diet. But men and women over the age of 50 are in a unique position to vastly improve their quality of life by adopting a low-sodium diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals.

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A balanced nutritious diet is key to aging gracefully and staving off illness.