September 1, 2010
Eat. Move. Sleep.
These three words may sound like the sequel to a popular book and film, but they actually summarize vital basic activities for staying younger as we age. How much should you eat, exercise and sleep to be your best? Here are some guidelines.
Count your calories. The older you get, the fewer you need. For example, according to the American Heart Association, moderately active women aged 51 and older require no more than 1,800 calories a day, compared to moderately active 31- to 50-year-old women, who can consume up to 2,000.
One reason why we need fewer calories as we age is because our Basal Metabolic Rate (or BMR, the body's continuous energy-burning mechanism) slows over time. A slower metabolism burns fewer calories, and unless we offset it with more activity, our weight creeps up.
A second reason why we burn fewer calories as we age is because our bodies begin a progressive loss of muscle mass when we reach our 40s, a condition known as sarcopenia (which means "muscle wasting disease"). Muscles burn calories, so the reduction in our muscle mass also reduces the number of calories we burn.
Chantal Vella, M.S., and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico, explain that along with the muscle loss we lose a corresponding amount of muscle strength. But exercise in the form of resistance training can help reverse some of our muscle loss and help us regain muscle strength.
A third reason why we burn fewer calories as we age is because we tend to exercise less. If you're having trouble maintaining or losing weight, consult with a trainer and dietitian who can help you calculate how much and what types of exercise and food will help you burn the same amount or more calories than you eat. As always, speak with your physician before you change your diet, step up your exercise or start a new fitness routine.
We tend to get less sleep as we get older —but not because we need less sleep. According to Sleepfoundation.org, research shows that older people still need 7 to 8 hours of shuteye, but because sleep patterns change with age, older people find it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Research also suggests that some of the sleep disturbance we experience as we age can be attributed to physical and psychiatric illnesses and medications, although snoring is the primary cause of adult sleep disruption.
Helpguide.org points out that a good night's sleep is essential to your physical health and emotional well-being at every age. It improves concentration and memory formation, allows the body to repair cell damage and refreshes the immune system.
Eating, moving and sleeping in the correct proportions work hand-in-hand to keep your mind and body fit through the years. For more information visit americanheart.org, unm.edu, sleepfoundation.org and helpguide.org.