Do Our Dietary Needs Change As We Age?

As I was getting ready to replenish my supply of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement, Centrum Silver for Men caught my eye. This supplement (and the generic versions) are made for the specific needs for men over 50. Hmmn? Being 59, it made me wonder if my nutritional needs had actually changed because of my age. Do we, in fact, need different nutrients because we are older ? older-eating Here are some sources that I looked through for an answer.

According to (The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), older men need more calcium and vitamin D (no specific levels stated), as well as more dietary fiber (30g/day).

While the Oregon State University gives specific micronutrient recommendations for adults >50 years old, they don’t indicate any changes from the <50 population.

Finally, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academies provides recommended age specific intakes for men and women Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Estimated Average Requirements. Here the only change for men 50-70 is for an increase in Vitamin B6.

So, as for micronutrients go, we might need more calcium, fiber, and vitamins D and B6. Let’s back up a bit and look at the big picture. One of the main nutritional issues for aging adults is malnutrition because as we age we tend to eat less. This may be a result of being less physically active and therefore needing fewer calories or it may simply be a loss of appetite. As you might suspect, a decrease in calories also means a decrease in the nutrients that we take in. The concern is that our health can be compromised if the intake levels of certain nutrients gets too low.

Here are the questions, if we want to keep our micronutrient levels optimal, do we just eat more to get the nutrition we are lacking? or should we take a supplement? if so, does the supplement need to be age specific?

If we are eating less because we are less active, then the decrease in calories is appropriate and to add calories without adding activity would result in gaining fat weight. Of course, I’d like to say, “Get active!” as that would not only allow for a greater caloric intake but also a more functional, self-sufficient life. In lieu of taking in more calories, it seems quite reasonable to take a supplement (check with your doctor first). I take a multi-vitamin/mineral as a “catch-all”, to fill in the gaps just in case I’m not getting the recommended levels. As for the age-specific supplements, I think that if you weren’t eating at all, it might be important. But, as a supplement to your diet (you’re not starting from scratch, after all), I don’t think there’s any real need get that specific.

Back to the original question, do our dietary needs change as we get age? No… and yes. No, there isn’t any significant change in total amounts needed, but yes, as our dietary intake decreases the need to prevent deficiencies becomes greater.

“I Don’t Need Help. Why, Back in My Day…”

A man’s pride can be his downfall, and he needs to learn when to turn to others for support and guidance. – Bear Grylls

Older men are the worst (I know because I am one.) We’ve had at least half a lifetime’s worth of experience and we believe that means that we know stuff.

Well, we do know stuff, but often times not as much as we think we do. It turns out that sometimes what we think we know, we remember incorrectly. Other times what we believed was “The way” to do something has since been proven to be ineffective or even harmful. Have you ever found yourself saying, “Back in my day…”? I do fairly often, but it’s not to show expertise. I discovered early on that if I relied on what I learned when I was younger, I would have found myself left behind in the world. Now, when I use, “back in my day” it’s to illustrate how far off the mark we were.


Old-time bodybuilding champion and Nautilus pitch man, Casey Viator

In example, “Back in my day, we used a Nautilus machine circuit as a major part of our strength workouts for college football.” True story. While it might have done a fine job at building muscle, we now know that machine-based strength training programs do not have the best carry over to sports performance.


What myths and fallacies are you hanging on to? Are you putting in a lot of time training your abs to lose the fat around your waist? (There is no spot reducing. Sorry.) Are you putting in lots of time on cardio to lose weight? (It’s not the most effective way to take off the fat.) Are you doing yoga and avoiding weight training so you will build longer, leaner muscles? (Muscles don’t build longer, and getting leaner results from the right caloric balance.)

There’s also the issue of what you were training for back then. The goals of the past may not be what you want from your training now. I used to train for strength and power. That was when I was playing football. Now, my goals are different and my training reflects that.

The point I’m trying to make is that “back in my day” information may be a day too late (or, more likely, years too late.).


“I can feel it working!”

Don’t take the chance that what you “knew” back then, still holds true and don’t let your pride or ego keep you from asking for help. Find a certified, experienced personal trainer to help make sure your training program is one that is based on the most current scientific evidence and is specifically created to meet your individual needs.






The Final Straw

Many people go through life without feeling the need to exercise or watch what they eat. Weight gain, decreased strength, endurance, and/or flexibility, the onset of disease, these are all situations that happen gradually, many times without the individual’s notice. That is, until something happens that changes their perspective.

This final straw or moment of crisis, shifts an individual’s thinking from, “I’m fine the way I am.” to “I need to do something to change this.” If and when you have this moment, you should write it down in detail. What was going on? What did you hear and see? How did you feel? These are emotional moments and questions that require emotional answers. It is emotions, after all, that drives us. By documenting this, you will help to strengthen your resolve in changing and you will have something to turn to when your motivation wavers.


The following are a few of the actual moments that brought clients to me for my help.

“At my last checkup, my doctor told me that I was pre-diabetic and that if I didn’t change how I was living my life, I would need to go on insulin.”

“I fell down outside my barn and I couldn’t get off the ground. It took me three hours to eventually get to something that I could use to help me pull myself up.”

“I saw a picture of myself and I couldn’t believe it was me. How could I have gained so much weight?”

“I just found out that my daughter is pregnant and I want to be around to be part of my grandchild’s life.”

To change our lives takes a change in our mindset, a shift in our priorities. When that final straw moment happens, you need to own it. You can change, and, while not knowing how to can be a problem, it’s no excuse. Find help and always keep in mind why changing is important to you and your life.

Good luck, and let me know if I can be of help. Mark

Safely Training for Balance

In my last post, The Loss of Balance Fear Spiral, I mentioned that it is common to have more difficulty balancing as we get older. I also discussed how I believe that this is due to being less physically active, challenging our balance less, and the accompanying fear of falling that occurs. As promised, in this post I want to offer ways to safely improve your balance and lose the fear in trying more challenging activities.

First, let’s talk about safety. If you do not feel absolutely safe from falling, you will never really allow yourself to challenge your balance.  The corner of a room can be your best friend when training balance. Corners, walls, railings, anything solid that you can lean against or grab will give you the confidence to try balancing and know that you can save yourself if you start to fall. You also need to choose a level that is only slightly more advanced than your current level. While there are all kinds of balance devices available, that doesn’t mean that you need to, or even should be using them.


Balance training that misses the point, not safe and not applicable to your life activities (unless training for the circus, that is)

Balance training exercise selection, like any other exercise selection, should be specific to your individual needs. For most of us, those needs are about standing tall, walking, climbing, and possibly a little jumping. So, let’s look at some exercises for those activities.


Single Leg Balance         Single Leg with Reach              Reaching Tall                      Tandem Walk    

Single Leg Balance – Standing on your leg closest to the wall, with your back close to the wall, stand as tall as you can and work to maintain balance. Only touch the wall if you need to.

Single Leg Balance with Reach – If the single leg balance is not challenging, maintain that position and move the non-weight bearing leg forward, then to the side, and back again. Moving that leg will force you to readjust your center of gravity over your standing leg.

Reaching Tall – For those of you whose posture is leaning forward, particularly if you fear falling backward, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and with their back about 6″ away from the wall, reach both arms as high as possible. Lower your arms as you start to feel yourself falling back (don’t worry, the wall is there to catch you if you do fall back). Repeat.

Tandem walk – Standing with the wall close to your side, walk forward heel to toe in a single straight line. You can try going backward, once you feel like you have mastered going forward.


Calf Raise Balance                     Heel Walk Side Stepping                  Step Up and Balance

Calf Raise Balance – With your feet shoulder width apart and hands hovering in front of the wall, press down with your toes and lift your heels as high as you can. Hold the top position for a couple of seconds, lower your heels and repeat.

Heel Walk Side Stepping – Standing with your back about 6″ away from the wall, lift your toes and balance on your heels. Now side step parallel to the wall until you reach the end of the wall. Reverse the direction and side step back.

Step Up and Balance With a Pause – Turn every time you take the stairs into a balance exercise. With your hand hovering above the railing, step up and balance on the lead leg for a couple of seconds before you take the next step and balance on the other leg. Step and balance the whole stair case.

These may not seem very challenging to look at, but give them a try and see how you do. Fit these exercises in wherever and whenever you can. The more often you work on your balance the sooner it will get better.


Note: The goal of these balancing exercises is to be close, be safe, but, only touch the wall or grab the railing if you need. You have to struggle a little to force your body to adapt and become better at balance.


The Loss of Balance Fear Spiral

Balance, like most other aspects of fitness, falls under the “use it or lose it” category. As we age, we tend to be less active. With that decrease in activity comes sarcopenia, a wasting of muscle that causes a drop in resting metabolic rate, increased fat weight, loss of strength, and functional abilities. A drop in activity can also decrease flexibility and balance. We notice these things, of course. We can’t do the things that we used to be able to do. So, when it comes to balance, the “What if I fall?” question that we start to ask ourselves is followed by fear and anxiety.


That fear and anxiety causes us to start to hedge our bets when it comes to balance. If you try to stand on one leg, right now, I’ll bet that you fall inward, toward the midline. Having worked with many older adults, I’ve found that this is almost universal. Why is that, you might ask. I believe (yes, this is my humble opinion, although based on years of working with the issue) that the fear of falling has started making people play it safe. If I stand balanced on one leg and lose my balance, which direction would be safer to fall? If I fall outward, I might not be able to catch myself and I could get hurt. If I fall inward, I simply catch myself with my other foot and all is right with the world. So, rather than take the chance of falling outward, I begin to pull back on my balance, never quite getting on top of the leg. This guarantees that I fall inward.  The same is true in falling forward or backward. If I lose my balance and fall backward, I could really hurt myself. However, if I fall forward I’ll either be able to get a foot out in front or at least be able to break the fall with my hands. Hence, we start to lean forward… just in case.

What’s the harm in playing it safe? Well, as we start to hedge our bet, never really balancing on one leg or standing up straight as we walk, our strides become shorter as we fall inward. We’ve decreased the balance challenge, which decreases our actual ability to balance, which we start to feel, which makes us hedge our bet more and challenge our balance even less, and… the vicious cycle continues. Before you know it, your walk has turned into a sequence of short steps, falling forward and inward. You’re now doing the old person shuffle.

The good news is that you can both prevent the loss of balance and/or regain it once you’ve started to lose it. This, like other aspects of fitness, comes from regularly challenging it. As you challenge it and start to see improvement, you become more confident, with increased confidence, you feel comfortable challenging your balance more and… you’re on an upward spiral toward greater balance and functional abilities.

Next week, I’ll talk about some specific ways to safely improve your balance.