24 Jan 2022

Longford's Laura Thompson on eating well to age well

Longford's Laura Thompson on eating well to age well

Last week, I was asked to do a talk for the Longford Age Friendly Alliance and Longford Older Persons Council in the Longford Arms. It was great to meet such a lovely and inspiring group of people.

Getting older is something that we all have to accept and it was great to see the various organisations that are available to make life easier for our elderly. However, volunteers are badly needed and most welcome.

Here are some tips on eating well not just for the older person but for us all.

As we become older changes to our bodies and in particular our digestive system occur.

GI Tract: The muscles in our Gastrointestinal tract become weaker, stiffer and less efficient. This will often lead to heartburn.

Food passes down your throat and through your esophagus to your stomach. There is a little sphincter muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. It should remain closed except when you swallow food, but as we age, it can weaken and stop altogether. This allows the acid from the stomach to pass up into the esophagus causing heartburn.

There are a few things that you can do to help prevent this from happening. Firstly, chew your food properly; gulping your food leads to swallowing air which contributes to reflux.

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Chewing stimulates the enzymes in your stomach, but even more interesting is how recent research has discovered that it also stimulates a part of our brains associated with memory and concentration.

There has been some research into correct breathing techniques, which strengthen the diaphragm muscles. Sitting up straight and breathing deeply and slowly not only helps digestion but also improves anxiety and stress.

Being overweight is also a contributing factor as is smoking.

Bowels: Our bowels get a bit sluggish. Increase your intake of fibre. I am not a big fan of wheat bran as I find it can be too coarse and actually contribute to constipation! Try milled flax or chia seeds - they can be soaked overnight in a small amount of water or sprinkled onto porridge or cereal. These give an oily fibre, lubricating the lining of the G I tract and help lower cholesterol.

The Gut: Lack of friendly bacteria in our guts. Here I go again talking about the friendly bacteria, but they really are the key to good health. As we get older we are more likely to be taking various types of medication which can disrupt the good bacteria in our guts. Also, we tend to get a bit regimented in our diet habits, eating the same food all the time. Our guts need diversity so try and change things up a bit. Include plenty of vegetables and fruits. Include some kefir or live probiotic yoghurt in your daily diet. Alternatively take a good probiotic like Bio Kult.

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Eating: Make dining more attractive. It is hard to have an interest in cooking if it is just for yourself. Try to experiment with different foods and have a friend around if possible.

Water: The next big issue as we age is dehydration. The sensation of thirst decreases as we age and we tend to not realise we are thirsty. The older adult has less water in their bodies. Try to get into the habit of drinking at least eight small glasses a day. Tepid water is better for the body. Herbal teas can be useful such as Fennel and Chamomile.

The secret to good health is to eat a rainbow of colours. These are full of antioxidants that help to prevent free radical damage to our cells. So eat a rainbow of colours.

Finally, try to get out an socialise. It is easy to isolate yourself and not bother to go out. I was impressed to hear of the various social clubs available and the availability of transport.

Most importantly seek help if you need it don’t suffer in silence. If you are somebody who has a spare hour or two, then think about volunteering; it really is very rewarding.

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