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Aging & Geriatrics - Fit and Fabulous as You Mature
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Fit and Fabulous as You Mature

Did you know?

Being healthy and active can help you stay fit and feel fabulous over the years. If you are overweight and inactive, you are more likely to get:

  • Type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar)
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Certain forms of cancer.

You can improve your health if you Move More and Eat Better! This booklet gives you tips on how to get moving and eat well throughout your life.

Why Move More and Eat Better?

Being active and making smart food choices is good for your health. But that's not the only reason to move more and eat better. You can:

  • Have more energy
  • Reduce stress
  • Feel better about yourself
  • Relieve boredom or depression
  • Set an example for your family.

Tips on Moving More

Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (like brisk walking) most days of the week. It is not as hard as you may think, and you do not have to do the whole 30 minutes at on time. Try these tips to get past things that keep you from being active.

"It's too late for me to get physically active."

It is never too late to start moving more. Physical activity can help you manage health problems like arthritis, osteoporosis (bone loss), and heart disease. It may also help:

  • Keep your body flexible
  • Keep your bones and muscles strong
  • Keep your heart and lungs healthy
  • Control high blood sugar, especially if you lose weight
  • Let you keep living in your own home without help.

TIP: If you are over 50 or have chronic health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, or obesity, talk to your health care provider before starting a vigorous physical activity program. You do not need to talk to your provider before starting less strenuous activity like walking.

"Physical activity is a chore."

  • Walk or take an exercise class with a friend or a group—that way, you can cheer each other on, have company, and feel safer when you are outdoors.
  • Start a small garden in your yard or a community garden.
  • Break it up into short blocks of time - taking three 10-minute walks during your day may be easier than taking one 30-minute walk.
  • Do stretches or walk in place while watching TV.

"Its too expensive."

There are lots of ways to be physically active that are free or low-cost. You can:

  • Find a local park or school track where you can walk.
  • Walk around a mall.
  • Join a recreation center or fitness center at work or near your home.
  • Be active with your grandchildren —take a walk, toss a softball, or ride bikes. Physical activity is good for them too.
  • Walk your dog. If you do not have a dog, pretend that you do.

Tips on Eating Better

You may not know where to start on the road to making healthier food choices. Try these tips to eat better, save time, and stretch your food budget.

Get started on eating well

These tips can help you have healthy eating habits:

  • Start every day with breakfast. Try oatmeal, a whole-grain cereal like raisin bran with nonfat or low-fat milk, whole wheat toast spread with jam, or nonfat or low-fat yogurt. Enjoy some fruit with your breakfast too.
  • Try kidney or butter beans in hot dishes, on salads, or plain. Protein is important to your health as you age. Beans are loaded with protein and cost less than meat.
  • Choose nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese instead of full fat dairy products.
  • Choose whole-grain foods like whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta more often than refined-grain foods, like white bread, white rice, and white pasta. Whole-grain foods offer dietary fiber, which helps keep you regular.
  • Do not let sweets like cookies, candy, or soda crowd out healthy foods.

TIP: If you cannot digest lactose (the sugar found in milk) try nonfat or low-fat lactose-reduced milk. Or try nonfat or low-fat yogurt or hard cheeses like cheddar, which may be easier to digest than milk. You can also get the calcium from calcium-fortified juices, soy-based beverages, and cereals. Eating dark leafy vegetables like collard greens and kale, and canned fish with soft bones like salmon, can also help you meet your body's calcium needs.

Make healthy meals that taste good

You might like the taste of fried foods and fatty meats, but these foods can put too much saturated fat in your diet if you eat them too often or in large amounts. Saturated fat is not healthy for your heart. There are other ways you can add flavor to your food. Try:

  • Baking, roasting, broiling, grilling, or oven-frying chicken or fish - season with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, or vinegar (but not salt)
  • Cooking collard greens or kale with onions, garlic, chicken broth, bouillon, smoked turkey, turkey bacon, or turkey ham (use broth, bouillon, and cured meats in small amounts because they are high in sodium)
  • Topping baked potatoes with salsa or low-fat sour cream
  • Making salads and casseroles with low-fat or nonfat salad dressing or mayonnaise, flavored vinegar like balsamic, or a small amount of mustard (mustard is high in sodium).

Save time and money when you cook

You do not have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen or a lot of money to eat well.

Cook enough to last. Casseroles, meat loaf, and whole cooked chicken can last for several days. (Be sure to freeze or refrigerate leftovers right away to keep them safe to eat.)

Buy frozen or canned vegetables (no salt added) and canned fruit packed in juice. They are just as good for you as fresh produce, will not go bad, and make quick and easy additions to your meals.

If your local store does not have the foods you want or their prices are too high, go to another store. Start a weekly shopping carpool, share the cost of a taxi with friends, or ask a relative or neighbor for a ride.

Reading Food Labels

Food labels may help you make smart choices. But they can be confusing. Here are some quick tips for reading food labels:*

  • Serving Size: All the information on a food label is based on the serving size. Be careful—one serving may be much smaller than you think. Compare what you eat to the serving size on the label.
  • Calories: Most women need to eat almost 1,600 calories per day, with no more than 30% (about 480 calories) from total fat.**
  • % Daily Value (%DV): This tells you if a food is high or low in nutrients. Foods that have more than 20 percent daily value (20% DV) of a nutrient are high. Foods that have 5 percent daily value (5% DV) or less are low.
  • Saturated Fat: Saturated fat is not healthy for your heart. Compare labels on similar foods and try to choose foods with a 5% DV or less for saturated fat.***
  • Trans Fat: Trans fat is not healthy for your heart. When reading food labels, add together the grams (g) of trans fat and saturated fat, and choose foods with the lowest combined amount.
  • Cholesterol: Too much cholesterol is not healthy for your heart. Keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as low as possible.
  • Sodium: Salt contains sodium. High sodium intake is linked to higher blood pressure. Foods that contain more than 20% DV are high in sodium. Look for labels that say "sodium-free" or "low sodium." Foods that are low in sodium contain no more than 5% DV for sodium.

TIP: Many food labels say "low-fat," "reduced fat," or "light." That does not always mean the food is low in calories. Remember, fat free does not mean calorie free and calories do count!

Fiber: Choose foods that are rich in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Sugar: Try to choose foods with little or no added sugar (like low-sugar cereals).

Calcium: Choose foods that are high in calcium. Foods that are high in calcium have at least 20% DV.

* For more information on reading nutrition labels, see Using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, available from the Federal Consumer Information Center, 1-888-878-3256 or read Guidance on How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Panel on Food Labels from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at

** From Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you need a special diet, check with your health care provider before following these guidelines.


Keeping Track of Serving Sizes

Many people think that bigger is better. We are so used to value-sized portions—especially in restaurants—that it is easy to eat more than our bodies need. Eating smaller portions will help you cut down on calories and fat (and might save money, too). Here is a 1,600 calorie sample menu with sensible portion sizes:*

1/2 cup oatmeal
1 English muffin with 1 tablespoon low-fat cream cheese
1 cup low-fat milk
3/4 cup orange juice

2 ounces baked chicken without skin (a little smaller than a deck of cards)
Lettuce, tomato, and cucumber salad with 2 teaspoons oil and vinegar dressing
1/2 cup rice seasoned with 1/2 teaspoon tub or liquid margarine
1 small whole wheat roll with 1 teaspoon margarine

TIP: Try keeping a food diary. Writing down what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel when you eat can help you understand your eating habits. You may be able to see ways to make your eating habits healthier. You can also use your diary to plan weekly menus, make shopping lists, and keep track of recipes you would like to try. For more information about keeping track of food portions, read WIN's brochure, Just Enough for You.

3 ounces lean roast beef (about the size of a deck of cards) with 1 tablespoon beef gravy
1/2 cup turnip greens seasoned with 1/2 teaspoon margarine
1 small baked sweet potato with 1/2 teaspoon margarine
1 slice cornbread
1/4 honeydew melon

2 1/2 cups low-fat microwave popcorn
1 1/2 teaspoons margarine

TIP: Use tub or liquid margarine instead of butter. Choose a soft margarine that has no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and that lists "liquid vegetable oil" as the first ingredient on the ingredient list.

American Heart Association

* Adapted from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute sample menus.

Eating Away From Home

In real life, you cannot always cook your meals. Here are some ways to make healthy choices when you are away from home:

  • Use a small plate at social functions to help keep you from eating too much.
  • At restaurants, order a half portion, share a meal with a friend, or take half of your order home for another meal.
  • Balance your meals throughout the day. If you have a high-fat or high-calorie breakfast or lunch, make sure you eat a low-fat dinner. If you know you will be having a higher fat dinner, make lower fat choices earlier in the day.

You Can Do It! Set goals.

Move at your own pace.

Celebrate your successes.

Allow for setbacks.

Let your family and friends help you.

And keep trying—you can do it!

Cookbooks Heart-Healthy Home Cooking African American Style. NIH Publication No. 97-3792, 1997. This pamphlet tells how to prepare your favorite African American dishes in ways that will help protect you and your family from heart disease and stroke, and includes 20 tested recipes. Available from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for $3.00; call (301) 592-8573 or (240) 629-3255 (TTY).

Down Home Healthy Cookin'. National Cancer Institute, reprinted 2000. This pamphlet features 12 recipes for traditional African American foods modified to be low in fat and high in fiber—but still tasty. Available free from the National Cancer Institute; call 1-800-4-CANCER or 1-800-332-8615 (TTY).

NIH Publication No. 04-4927
June 2004