Everyday Ways to Support Successful Aging: Nutrition

When it comes to healthy aging, quite honestly, there’s a lot to do. You’re supposed to make sure to keep your body active and your brain engaged all while maintaining your social connections as well. Sure, the benefits to your overall well-being are worth the effort, but retirement is supposed to be a time with less responsibility on your plate, right? Well, it turns out that in senior living you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. Here’s how programs like our Vivid Life make keeping active, engaged, and connected easy and fun! 

Benefits of Healthy Aging 

Good things happen when you focus on healthy aging. In addition to feeling better overall, which in and of itself is a win, other benefits of keeping active, engaged, and connected include:  

  • Improved ability to do everyday things ​ 
  • Reduced impact of illness and chronic disease​ 
  • Enhanced mobility, flexibility, and balance
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy level
  • Reduced feelings of depression and stress
  • Increased feelings of happiness and self-confidence
  • Reduced risk of cognitive decline 
  • Increased mental adaptability and cognitive reserve 
  • Improved memory recall and problem-solving skills 
  • Improved concentration and attention to detail  

How Senior Living Can Help 

At home, particularly when living alone, it can be hard to stay as active, engaged, and connected as you’d like. From lack of opportunity to lack of motivation to lack of transportation to mobility challenges, and more, it’s tough, we get it! That’s why we created the Vivid Life program in our senior living communities. It’s composed of three parts: Vibrant Body, Vibrant Brain, and Vibrant Connections. Here’s what each entails:  

Vibrant Body We offer amenities such as a state-of-the-art fitness center, a pool, walking trails, gardening opportunities, and even a dog park to help you stay active. A sample of activities includes:  

  • Walking club – Daily walks at different outdoor locations using pedometers to measure steps. 
  • Yoga – At least once per week for gentle yoga, and once per week for mindful breathing. 
  • Fitness classes – At least two times per week using a variety of hand weights, resistance bands, and circuit-type exercises. 
  • Tai Chi – At least once per week with a live instructor. 
  • Non-traditional exercise – Dancing, gardening, etc. at least two times per week. 
  • Physical games and sports – Golf, putting, bowling, croquet, bocce, and ping pong available daily with organized events one to two times per week. 

Vibrant Brain We offer monthly calendars filled with classes, events, creative arts, and enrichment opportunities to help keep you engaged. A sample of activities includes: 

  • Visiting lecture series – Twice per month with topics such as cultural, historical, local interest, career-oriented, etc. 
  • Creative art series – At least one per week with a theme that runs 3-6 weeks, such as poetry writing, storytelling, painting, digital photography, etc. 
  • Learning series – At least three times per month with an emphasis on learning something new such as foreign language, sign language, technology, hobbies, etc. 
  • Games – At least one time per week and may include poker, bridge, Scrabble, etc. 
  • Mindfulness – A meditation class once per week and gratitude discussion group twice monthly. 
  • Church service – At least once a week through visits by local churches. 
  • Stress reduction – At least once per month class that offers deep breathing exercises, nature walks, music appreciation, spa-type treatments, etc. 

 Vibrant Connections We offer resident-led clubs, social events, outings and volunteer opportunities for any interest to help you stay connected. A sample of activities includes: 

  • Outings – At least twice per month and may include going to concerts, art shows, museum visits, theatre productions, etc. 
  • Intergenerational programming – At least once per month and focuses on building relationships between young adults/children and residents. 
  • New resident welcome party – At least once per month to formally introduce all new residents, and includes ice breakers, social games, etc. to encourage connection. 
  • Philanthropic program – At least once per month provide residents the opportunity to give back to the community, such as volunteering for a local food bank or pet shelter. 
  • Resident-led clubs – May include game clubs, professional clubs, common interests, etc. that meet at least monthly.  

What’s more, it’s all right outside your door (or transportation is provided offsite) and all in a supportive environment with home maintenance, housekeeping, and restaurant-style dining freeing your time to make it even easier to stay active, engaged, and connected. 

Learn more about Vitality Living’s Vivid Life programs. Or find a Vitality Living community near you today to schedule a tour. 

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Whether it’s “you are what you eat,” “eat better, feel better,” or some other adage, the message is clear: what you put into your body affects how well it functions. This is particularly true as you age. In fact, residents in Blue Zones, regions in the world where people live the longest, incorporate specific nutritional practices into their lifestyle. Here’s what they do and how you can apply these practices to support successful aging.

Building on Blue Zones

The regions classified as Blue Zones include: Sardinia, Italy; the Greek island of Ikaria; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Okinawa, Japan. Research in these places has found that residents share similar lifestyle traits known as the Power 9®.  We’ve discussed all these traits in past blogs [link], but two of which specifically relate to nutrition:

  • Hara Hachi Bu – Known as the 80% rule to stop eating before you feel full.
  • Plant Slant – Eat a primarily plant-based diet.

How to Do Hara Hachi Bu 

The Okinawans in Japan repeat this 2500-year old Confucian mantra before meals to remind them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.  Blue Zones’ researchers believe, “The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it.” 

The trouble is most Americans grew up being taught the exact opposite. You’re supposed to eat until your plate is empty, regardless of how you feel because otherwise you’re being wasteful right? Compound that with the fact that “super-sized” servings have become the norm and it’s easy to understand why overeating is so commonplace.

What can you do? Essentially you can retrain your body and mind to identify when you’re no longer hungry, rather than full. Dieticians suggest eating slowly and staying focused on how you feel after each bite. Once you’ve eaten half of what you normally eat, take a 10-minute break to assess whether you should eat more or stop. This gives your stomach time to communicate with your brain just how full it actually is. 

If you deem it’s time to stop but don’t have the willpower, try getting the food out of your site by wrapping it up, putting it in the fridge for later, give it to someone else or toss it (to compost of course). Keep in mind that it can take 15 to 20 meals to reset the stomach’s muscle memory to get used to less food. Another Blue Zones tip? Eat your smallest meal late in the afternoon or early evening and then don’t eat any more the rest of the day.

Plant Slant in Practice

Residents in Blue Zones primarily eat beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils. They do eat meat, however only a handful of times per month and then it’s mostly pork.  They’re clearly on to something as a growing body of research suggests that this type of diet, often called the “Mediterranean diet,” not only helps with longevity, additional benefits may also include heart health, brain health and reduced depression and anxiety.

So what exactly is the Mediterranean diet?  Unfortunately there’s been a lot of back and forth about what this type of diet consists of but according to the Mayo Clinic, the main components include:

  • Consuming vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats daily
  • Consuming fish, poultry, beans and eggs weekly
  • Moderate amounts of dairy products
  • Limited intake of red meat

Interestingly enough, other components of the Mediterranean diet are sharing meals with family and friends while enjoying a glass of red wine. The notion of drinking red wine in moderation is also one of the Power 9 lifestyle traits. Cannonau wine is most often cited by Blue Zones’ researchers.

To get started with the Mediterranean diet, the Mayo Clinic suggests you follow these tips:

  • Try for 7 to 10 servings a day of fruit and vegetables.
  • Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta. 
  • Try olive oil as a replacement for butter when cooking and on bread.
  • Eat fish twice a week such as fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout mackerel and herring; grill it instead of frying. 
  • Substitute fish, poultry or beans for meat in most cases; when you do eat it make sure it’s lean and in small portions.
  • Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt as well as small amounts of a variety of cheeses.
  • To lessen the need for salt, use herbs and spices to boost flavor.
  • As for red wine, limit yourself to one to two glasses a day with meals.

Nutrition Made Easy in Senior Living

Senior living communities, like ours, support these healthy nutritional practices and can make them easier for you to implement. In fact, one of the key benefits of life in a senior living community is the dining experience. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, residents enjoy chef-prepared selections in restaurant-style dining rooms that often feature daily entrees, an a la carte menu, Soup of the Day, fresh salad bar and delicious desserts. What’s more, menus are prepared by a dining staff familiar with your dietary restrictions and/or preferences and who may often collaborate with a nutritionist or dietician to ensure all your meals are healthy, well-balanced and in the appropriate portions.

senior living guide to aging well

For more information on how we incorporate the Blue Zones’ approach to nutrition in senior living, check out our Successful Secrets to Aging Guide!

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