Topic of the Month

Fifty and Fabulous: Nutrition for Women

Julia Bird

March 15, 2019

Many women in their 50s have reached a high point in their lives: their children are grown and can take care of themselves, their careers are mature, and they have more time and resources to spend on themselves. It’s a time for them to look at their own lives and make positive changes for their health, which may have taken a back seat over the past decades.

Women in their 50s need to concentrate on several health-related areas to keep them feeling strong and vital. First of all, older women’s metabolism has gradually been slowing over several decades. This means that they need to be careful to maintain a healthy weight to keep active and reduce risk of heart disease and the pains of arthritis. Older women should pay attention to strong bones to avoid fractures. Women need to adopt a heart healthy diet and lifestyle, as they are no longer as protected against cardiovascular disease as when they were younger. In addition, women are concerned about cognitive health. Below, are outline several key nutrition strategies women in their 50s and beyond can follow to feel fit and fabulous!

Regular exercise

Staying physically active is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle for women, particularly as they age. Unfortunately, many older women do not meet exercise recommendations (1). The benefits of exercise extend beyond just keeping fit. Sports such as walking, jogging and aerobics help keep the heart and blood vessels working properly and burn calories. Yoga, stretching exercises and tai chi maintain balance and flexibility. Workouts with weights help keep the muscles and bones strong. Some forms of exercise have a social component, such as taking a dance class or playing a team sport. Regular aerobic exercise can also boost mood and memory (2), and manage stress (3).

Physical activity and nutrition are very closely linked. Exercise and appetite interact dynamically, and exercise will cause both short- and long-term changes in energy needs and hunger sensations. When people exercise regularly, it becomes easier for them to maintain a healthy weight because the body is able to recognize feelings of fullness better (4). Another example of the close relationship between exercise and nutrition is in bone health, it’s the combination of regular weight-bearing exercise, and adequate protein, calcium and vitamin D intakes that helps to prevent falls in older adults. 

Dietary fiber

An often-overlooked nutrient for women over 50 is dietary fiber. The benefits of a diet rich in fiber are many: as well as promoting normal bowel health, dietary fiber contributes to feelings of satiety and can lower cholesterol levels (5). Adequate fiber intakes therefore contribute to overall wellness, and may help reduce chronic disease risk.

Constipation (6) is a common yet uncomfortable condition defined as having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week. It can affect people’s daily tasks, and lead to long term problems such as haemorrhoids and fecal impaction. Constipation affects twice as many older women than men (7). Increasing dietary fiber intakes is a good strategy to prevent constipation. Dietary fiber provides bulk in the colon and retains water, keeping the stool soft and easy to pass.

Dietary fiber’s effects on satiety and cholesterol levels both help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, heart disease and obesity. When meals contain dietary fiber, the speed at which food travels from the stomach to the small intestine slows down (8). Nutrients are released more gradually into the blood, providing better control of blood glucose and delaying hunger signals.

Dietary fiber can modestly lower blood cholesterol levels (5). This is important for older women because they are no longer receive estrogen’s protective effects on the heart and blood vessels and their risk of heart disease approaches that of men’s. Reducing cholesterol is a proven strategy to reduce heart disease risk, and dietary fiber can help. The mechanism relates to bile, a digestive tract secretion used for normal digestion. Bile is made from cholesterol. Normally, the bile used as part of digestive is recycled once it reaches the large intestine. However, dietary fiber binds to bile and prevents it from being recycled. The body has to make more bile from cholesterol, thus lowering cholesterol levels (9).

While international recommendations vary, consuming 25 to 30 g of dietary fiber per day is recommended in many countries. Few people actually meet fiber recommendations (10). Plant foods, particularly whole grain cereals and foods made from them, fruits and vegetables, provide dietary fiber.

Calcium and vitamin D

Two critical nutrients for bone health are calcium and vitamin D. Our bones are not just hard, inert scaffolding, but actually a dynamic, living part of the body. The bones are always undergoing a process called remodelling: bones are continually being absorbed into the body and built up again. That’s how we can recover from broken bones. Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in bones and adequate calcium must be consumed to help the body to build up bone (8).

Vitamin D helps bone health in two ways. First of all, it is needed to help the body to absorb calcium from the diet (8). Secondly, it contributes to normal muscle function. People with vitamin D deficiency suffer from poor muscle tone and muscle pain (8). Supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to improve muscle performance in older adults with low vitamin D levels (11). Improvements in muscle function and mass help older adults’ ability to balance and prevents falls (12). Given that older women are at much greater risk of osteoporosis that other people, it’s critical that they consume enough vitamin D and calcium together to keep their bones healthy (13).

THE DASH DIET (14)

  • High in low-fat dairy products
  • High in fruits and vegetables
  • Low in fats
  • Rich in fiber

Fit and Fabulous Nutrition for Fifty Year Olds

Women in their fifties often have the time and energy they didn’t have when younger. The change of life can be a time when women set forth changes in their lifestyle. Including more exercise in their weekly routine is a way to reach many health goals at once. A heart healthy diet such as the DASH eating plan will ensure women get nutrients such as dietary fiber and calcium into their diet (14). And taking a dietary supplement containing recommended levels of vitamin D is a good way to make sure that vitamin D requirements are met. The fifties are time for women to focus on themselves and their health to be fit and fabulous!

References list

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  2. Zheng G, Xia R, Zhou W, Tao J, Chen L. Aerobic exercise ameliorates cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med 2016;50(23):1443-50. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095699
  3. Laird KT, Krause B, Funes C, Lavretsky H. Psychobiological factors of resilience and depression in late life. Transl Psychiatry 2019;9(1):88. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0424-7
  4. Blundell JE, Gibbons C, Caudwell P, Finlayson G, Hopkins M. Appetite control and energy balance: impact of exercise. Obes Rev 2015;16 Suppl 1:67-76. doi: 10.1111/obr.12257
  5. Brown L, Rosner B, Willett WW, Sacks FM. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69(1):30-42. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/69.1.30
  6. Dahl WJ, Stewart ML. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber. J Acad Nutr Diet 2015;115(11):1861-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003
  7. Andy UU, Vaughan CP, Burgio KL, Alli FM, Goode PS, Markland AD. Shared Risk Factors for Constipation, Fecal Incontinence, and Combined Symptoms in Older U.S. Adults. J Am Geriatr Soc 2016;64(11):e183-e8. doi: 10.1111/jgs.14521
  8. Otten JJ, Hellwig JP, Meyers LD, eds. Dietary reference intakes: the essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington, DC.: The National Academies Press, 2006.
  9. Ebihara K, Schneeman BO. Interaction of bile acids, phospholipids, cholesterol and triglyceride with dietary fibers in the small intestine of rats. J Nutr 1989;119(8):1100-6. doi: 10.1093/jn/119.8.1100
  10. Thompson HJ, Brick MA. Perspective: Closing the Dietary Fiber Gap: An Ancient Solution for a 21st Century Problem. Adv Nutr 2016;7(4):623-6. doi: 10.3945/an.115.009696
  11. Dawson-Hughes B. Vitamin D and muscle function. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2017;173:313-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2017.03.018
  12. Tanner SB, Harwell SA. More than healthy bones: a review of vitamin D in muscle health. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis 2015;7(4):152-9. doi: 10.1177/1759720X15588521
  13. Wade SW, Strader C, Fitzpatrick LA, Anthony MS, O'Malley CD. Estimating prevalence of osteoporosis: examples from industrialized countries. Arch Osteoporos 2014;9:182. doi: 10.1007/s11657-014-0182-3
  14. Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Hinderliter A, Watkins LL, Craighead L, Lin PH, Caccia C, Johnson J, Waugh R, Sherwood A. Effects of the DASH diet alone and in combination with exercise and weight loss on blood pressure and cardiovascular biomarkers in men and women with high blood pressure: the ENCORE study. Arch Intern Med 2010;170(2):126-35. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.470