Supplements For Healthy Aging And Ways To Get Healthier
As older adults sort through fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle, they are also reaching for dietary supplements in the health food section. Along with maintaining a high level of physical activity, many people are using supplements as another way to stay healthy.
According to the 2022 Council on Responsible Nutrition Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, 75 percent of survey respondents said they use dietary supplements, with the vast majority using them on a regular basis. When asked what was their top motivator for taking dietary supplements, respondents answered, “maintaining my health,” and “live healthier/adopt healthier habits.”
Nutritionists say a well-balanced diet is the best way to get the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs. However, depending solely on nutritious food for optimal nutrition is not always practical. So, this is when dietary supplements can be helpful, according to Kara Burnstine, a registered dietician and a nutrition educator at Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida.
Supplements are helpful for giving you a little boost when your body lacks certain nutrients. However, nutritionists say a nutritious diet is the best way to get the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs.
“Supplements will never give you what actual, real food will,” Kara Burnstine, RD, a nutrition educator at Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida tells Fortune Well.“They simply aid you along. They’re not meant to be a food replacement.”
Burnstine, however, acknowledges that depending solely on nutritious food for optimal nutrition is not always practical, and this is when supplements can be beneficial.
“It would be wonderful if we all ate all our fruits and vegetables and our whole grains and our lean proteins and got everything that we needed from the food supply, but unfortunately, our food supply is sometimes not the highest quality either,” Burnstine told Fortune Well. “So we could be doing a lot of the good things and not be getting all of the nutrients from the food.”
Older adults are advised to talk with their doctors before taking dietary supplements since they could potentially interfere with medication they are taking or put them at risk for other health issues.
Not all dietary supplements are for everyone. But for most older adults, Burnstine recommends:
Calcium builds and maintains bones, helps with blood clotting, regulates normal heart rhythm and nerve functions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends women between 50-70 years old get 1,200 mg of calcium a day and men of the same age get 1,000 mg. The recommended dietary allowance for men and women over 70 is 1,200 mg.
“In addition to the calcium supplement, I’m also going to recommend that you get at least two servings of dairy or that you eat a lot of green leafy vegetables, and you do resistance training, which protects bones more than anything else,” Burnstine told Fortune Well.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a nutrient that works with calcium to build and maintain healthy bones. In addition, Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is a mineral. Since the body cannot produce Vitamin D, supplements, food, and the sun help the body gets what it needs. The NIH recommends adults under 70 take 600 international units (IU) a day of Vitamin D while people over 70 take 800 IU a day. Besides supporting muscle function, Vitamin D supports immune health and brain cell activity.
3. Probiotics for gut health
Probiotics are known as the “good” or “helpful” bacteria that resides in the digestive system and keeps the “bad” bacteria at bay. For older adults, probiotics can boost the immune system and aid digestive health.
“We know that if our gut health is good, everything else follows, in terms of inflammation, brain fog, weight loss, sleep, depression,” Burnstine told Fortune Well. “Our gut is tied to just about everything.”
4. Magnesium for mood
Magnesium is an essential mineral that supports the immune system, strengthens muscles and bones, helps lower inflammation and reduces pain. Magnesium also has a calming effect and is believe to aid in reducing stress and anxiety. The mineral tends to decrease with age, putting older adults at risk for depression.
“People who are low in magnesium tend to have higher depression,” Burnstine told Fortune Well. Chronically low levels can also increase your chances of having high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Taking multivitamins are a good way to get the recommended daily allowances of many vitamins and minerals at one time.
“I always say that a multivitamin is sort of like an insurance policy,” Burnstine told Fortune Well. “I would recommend a general multivitamin at any age.”
While there are many brands of multivitamins, health professionals recommend purchasing those that are verified by the United States Pharmacopeia, a scientific nonprofit organization that establishes federal standards of quality for medicines, vitamin supplements, and food.
Other ways to get healthy
Besides dietary supplements, there are other ways health professionals say that older adults can do to maintain their health:
1. Get enough sleep
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night. To get quality sleep, studies show it’s important to have a routine time for going to bed and getting up, turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and make sure your room is dark and cool.
2. Eat healthy food
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy provides the energy and nutrients the body needs as well as reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.
3. Stay physically active
A growing number of studies are showing that staying physically active reduces the risk of disease, and improves brain health. A 2023 study found that just 11 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous exercise could lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease or premature death.
4. Stay socially active
Spending time with family and friends goes a long way to improving physical health and emotional well-being. An international study found that more positive experiences and fewer negative experiences in a relationship result in lower stress, better coping, and better physiological functioning in daily life.
5. Reduce your stress
It’s a fact that stress can worsen health conditions, but a balanced diet, good sleep, exercise and social support can help with stress reduction. The best way to reduce stress is to approach it with a plan, flexibility, fun, and support, Katy Milkman, the James G. Dinan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania told CNN.
By taking it one step at a time, you may soon find you’ve made the changes you are looking for, said Milkman, author of How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.