A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise and Healthy Diet for Seniors

Hiral Patel

June 1, 2022

Ageing is a physiological process that causes many dysfunctional changes in the human body. As a result, older adults are more prone to chronic disorders, decreasing their quality of life. Exercise and diet are fool-proof ways to manage age-related conditions and changes. However, diet and exercise-related information on the digital space caters chiefly to adolescents and younger individuals and is not customised to meet the needs of older adults. Here, we try to explore older adults’ dietary and exercise needs. 

Changes During Ageing Process

With advancing age, structural and functional deterioration occurs in most physiological systems, even in the absence of discernable disease. These age-related physiological changes affect organs and functions that affect daily activities and quality of life. For example, physical independence reduces, and skeletal tissue performance goes down. Change in body composition is another factor seen during the process of ageing. According to a study, there is a gradual accumulation of visceral body fat and wasting of muscles. In addition, research indicates an increasing risk of chronic diseases such as Cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain kinds of cancer with increasing age. There is also a reduction in the overall metabolism. Therefore, the diet and exercise changes should accommodate these factors.


Diet is one of the modifiable factors that can help in combating age-related disorders. Changes in diet can improve your heart health, decrease the chances of bone diseases and reduce the wasting of muscles. According to a study, Blue zones are the regions where individuals live much longer without disabilities. Despite the cultural and ethnic differences between individuals living in these blue zones, their diets have characteristic similarities. These diets are mainly plant-based, notably vegetables, lentils and low in meat.

Elements of a Healthy Diet for Seniors 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a vital role in human health. Low vitamin D levels can drastically impact a person’s physical and mental well-being. Traditionally doctors believed that the role of vitamin D was only in the maintenance of skeletal health. However, in recent years, following the discovery of vitamin D receptors throughout the body, its role in preventing and treating chronic diseases has become more significantly known. According to a study, Vitamin D deficiency can lead to various health problems, including cognitive decline, depression, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. 

Vitamin D deficiency is more common in older adults. According to the Institute of Medicine guidelines, the current recommended intake of vitamin D is 15 μg (600 IU) from age 1 to 70 years and 800 IU (20 μg/d) for those over age 70 years. Older adults are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. It is mainly due to decreased nutritional intake due to loss of appetite, reduced sun exposure and increasing adiposity.

According to a study, salmon, tuna, cod, egg, and herring are excellent sources of vitamin D. Vitamin D rich foods are also known to have a protective effect on the skin, according to data. They prevent cell death and carcinogenic effects caused by UVB rays. Hence it is essential to include Vitamin D in the diet of older individuals.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient throughout the life cycle; however, its importance is increased in older adults to battle age-related neurological defects. According to research, Vitamin B12 absorption is highly complicated and inefficient in older adults. As a result, it leads to Vitamin B12 deficiencies which most commonly manifest in pernicious anaemia, neuropathies, motor disturbances, cognitive impairment and memory loss. These symptoms are exclusively present in older individuals. Therefore, it calls for higher consumption of Vitamin B12 rich foods.

According to data, Animal food products, including meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, milk, and other dairy products, contain Vitamin B12. However, Vitamin B12 is not in plant products, and vegans must choose Vitamin B12 fortified foods.

Protein for a Healthy Diet

Body composition tends to change with growing age. As a result, waste of muscle and loss of skin elasticity increase. The recommended dietary allowance for younger adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, the whole body protein turn-over rate decreases in older individuals by 20% or less. As a result, older individuals require more protein content, that is, 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. According to a study, one cannot underestimate the importance of dietary protein in the diets of older adults. Inadequate protein intake contributes to decreased reserve capacity, increased skin fragility, decreased immune function, poorer healing, and longer recovery from illness. 

Sodium Reduction for a Healthy Diet

According to research, high sodium intake leads to various health conditions like high blood pressure. It also increases the risk of stroke, ventricular hypertrophy and proteinuria. Decreasing sodium content is beneficial for all individuals suffering from high blood pressure. However, this effect is particularly noteworthy in older adults. The dietary recommendation for individuals between 51-69 is 1300 mg per day, while it is 1200 mg per day in individuals aged 70 and above.

  • Fast foods like burgers
  • Fries and pizza
  • Frozen meat dishes 
  • Processed meats
  • Salted canned products like vegetables and fish
  • Dairy products like cheese, buttermilk and butter
  • Salted baked items like bagels, croutons and crackers 
  • Boxed meals
  • Pickled vegetables 

These are high in sodium, and one should avoid them as much as possible. However, switch to low sodium alternatives if you like them a lot.

Follow Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean dietary patterns contain 

  • Abundant plant foods (fruits, vegetables, cereals, pulses, nuts and seeds); minimally processed
  • Seasonally fresh and locally grown foods; 
  • Fresh fruits as the typical daily dessert 
  • Nuts, olive oil and natural honey (limited to feast days)
  • Olive oil works as the principal source of dietary lipids. 
  • One consumes dairy products (mainly cheese and yoghurt) in low to moderate amounts. 
  • Also, one consumes fewer than four eggs per week.
  •  Red meat in low frequency and amounts

Studies have concluded that the Mediterranean diet helps in decreasing chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and inflammation. In addition, data indicated that Greater adherence to Mediterranean Diet relates to improved mental depression, age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The Mediterranean diet was also associated with decreased mortality and morbidity in older adults.

Essentials of a Healthy Diet Plan for Seniors

Foods that You Should Consume More

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains, like whole-grain bread, oatmeal and brown rice
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk; milk products; or non-dairy soy, rice, almond, or other drinks with vitamin D and calcium
  • Lean meats, seafood, eggs and poultry
  • Peas, beans, unsalted nuts, and seeds (if you can tolerate them and aren’t allergic.)

Foods that You Should Consume Less

  • Added sugar drinks and foods
  • Foods that are high in sodium
  • Fast foods
  • Refined carbohydrates

Control Portion Size

  • Use smaller serving plates. It allows you to watch your portion size.
  • When eating, avoid watching TV, your smartphone, or other devices. It will allow you to notice how much you are consuming.

Plan Meals and Snacks

Consuming healthy meals and snacks may be easier when you plan. When planning meals, look for recipes that sound delicious to you. It can be an excellent place to start.

Keep Calories in Mind

The number of calories people need each day varies by individual. Consult a health care provider to discuss your weight goals. 

Sample Shopping List

1. Vegetables for a Healthy Diet

Fresh vegetables

  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Squash
  • Green beans
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Artichokes
  • Cucumber
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots or celery
  • Onions
  • Potatoes/Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Green peppers

Canned Vegetables and Vegetable Products

(low-sodium or no-salt-added)

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomato sauce 
  • Other canned vegetables

2. Meat for a Healthy Diet

  • Chicken
  • Fish 

Meat Equivalents

  • Tofu 
  • Eggs/egg substitutes 

3. Fruits for a Healthy Diet

Fresh Fruits

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Peaches
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Grapefruit
  • Apricots
  • Dried Fruits
  • Cherries
  • Plums
  • Melons
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Plantains

Frozen Fruits (Without Added Sugar)

  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • 100% Fruit 

Dried Fruits

  • Raisins/dried fruit (Remember to eat them in moderation as they are higher in calories than fresh fruit)

4. Nuts and Seeds for a Healthy Diet

  • Almonds, unsalted
  • Mixed nuts, unsalted
  • Peanuts, unsalted
  • Walnuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds, unsalted
  • Sunflower seeds, unsalted
  • Cashews, unsalted
  • Pecans, unsalted

5. Fats and Oils for a Healthy Diet

  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Olive oil

6. Beans and Legumes for a Healthy Diet

(If canned, go for salt-free variants)

  • Lentils 
  • Black beans
  • Red beans (kidney beans)
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Fava beans
  • Italian white beans
  • Chickpeas

7. Other Foods for a Healthy Diet

  • Fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk
  • Whole Wheat Bread.

Sample Menu

Breakfast Options

  1. Smoothie with spinach, fruit, and yoghurt
  2. Vegetable omelette with whole-grain toast
  3. Avocado breakfast bruschetta
  4. Banana split oatmeal
  5. Eggs over kale and sweet potato grits

Lunch Options

  1. Chicken, tomato, and avocado sandwich on whole-grain bread
  2. Quinoa with stir-fried vegetables
  3. Apple coleslaw
  4. Black bean and sweet potato quesadillas
  5. Sancho tuna salad

Dinner Options

  1. Chicken breast, roasted vegetables, hummus
  2. Roasted salmon, zucchini, and sweet potato
  3. Whole-wheat pasta, chicken and tomato sauce
  4. Argentinian grilled steak with salsa Criolla
  5. Fish with spinach

Snack Options

  1. Fruit and yoghurt
  2. Banana cocoa yoghurt pops


Older populations tend to be less active than their younger counterparts. Older individuals also prefer physical activities of lesser intensity like walking, golf and lower impact aerobic exercises. With advancing age, there is a higher chance of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis, arthritis, and sarcopenia( loss of muscle). Although physical activity and exercise cannot stop the biological ageing process, there is evidence that regular exercise can minimise the physiological effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. Also, a physically active lifestyle can increase active life expectancy as it limits the development and progression of chronic disease and disabling conditions. Emerging evidence also shows a significant psychological and cognitive benefit from regular exercise participation by older adults. Ideally, the exercise mix for older adults should include aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening exercises, and flexibility exercises.

Aerobic Exercises

According to research, aerobic exercises provide a more favourable body composition profile in older adults than their sedentary counterparts. These individuals tend to have less visceral fat, greater muscle mass, and higher bone mineral density. They also have younger pattern hearts that indicate better cardiovascular health. As a result, they have significantly lower blood pressure and decreased risk of coronary heart disease. They also tend to have faster nerve conduction velocity and lesser disabilities.

Aerobic exercises recommended are

  • Jogging
  • Brisk Walking
  • Aerobic gym exercises like treadmills and stationary bikes
  • Trampoline
  • Zumba
  • Indoor cycling
  • Swimming

Resistance Training

Resistance training or strength training is a workout that improves strength and endurance. It includes a wide range of training techniques like callisthenics and isometric exercises. According to data, resistance-trained older adults tend to have higher muscle mass and are much stronger than their sedentary counterparts. They have greater bone density and also increased functional independence. In addition, they can combine them with aerobic exercises for a more significant impact. Data also indicates that resistance training increases the Basal Metabolic Rate and boosts the metabolism. 

Balance Training

Balance training is essential for groups with a higher risk of falling. These groups mainly include frail older adults and osteoporotic women. According to a meta-analysis, balance training in older adults increases coordination and strength. It also enhances stability, mobility, and flexibility, making it easier to perform your daily tasks. These exercises help you prevent falls and injuries and improve your athletic performance. Focusing on your balance also allows you to focus and clear your mind. 

Recommended balance training exercises for older adults are:

Tightrope walk

  1. Tie a piece of thin cloth and lay it on the floor.
  2. Hold your arms out wide to the sides.
  3. Walk on the string without stepping off to the side.
  4. Walk at least 15 steps.

Rock the boat

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Press your weight into both feet firmly.
  3. While laying your weight onto your left foot, lift your right foot.
  4. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
  5. Slowly lower your leg and repeat on the other side.
  6. Do each side five to 10 times.

Flamingo Stand

  1. Stand on your left leg and let your right leg be lifted.
  2. As you stretch your right leg forward, use a chair or wall for support. 
  3. Maintain a good posture by keeping your spine straight.
  4. Hold for up to 15 seconds. Then do the other side.

It is important to remember that balance training alone is insufficient. You must combine it with aerobic exercise or resistance training.

Flexibility Training

As age advances, there is a decrease in the joint range of motion which causes poor flexibility, mobility and physical independence. However, a study reported significant improvements in the lower back, hamstring flexibility and spinal extension after a 10-week stretching programme. Yoga and Tai-chi have also increased flexibility in older individuals.


Ageing is a physiological process that increases the rate of mortality and morbidity. Older individuals are also more prone to chronic conditions and disabilities. They tend to lose their physical independence with age. Diet and exercise are crucial in preventing these chronic conditions and decreasing disabilities. The dietary requirement for protein and other micronutrients is more in seniors. Various diets like the Mediterranean diet increase life expectancy while decreasing age-related disabilities. 

Physical activity is a great way to reduce visceral fat and lower muscle wasting with increasing age. Aerobic exercises and resistance training can help with bone and cardiovascular health. Resistant training also increases the muscle strength of seniors significantly. Balance training is essential to reduce the risk of falls and injury, and one should add to the exercise regimen. By following the said changes, one can age healthily and live longer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the best way for a senior to lose weight?

A. Best way to lose weight wouldn’t be different for seniors. If you plan to lose weight, changes in lifestyle, including diet and exercise, can go a long way. It is essential to be on a calorie deficit diet, so watch your calories. Aerobic and Resistance-training can help burn calories. However, be careful not to over-exert.

Q. How can a 70-year old lose weight fast?

A. There is no way to hack weight. Losing weight takes time and effort. Even if you can lose weight fast, it will be extremely unhealthy. Therefore, starving yourself and fad diets are not the way to go. Instead, it would help if you watched your calories and consistently exercised regularly to lose weight.

Q. What kind of diet is good for seniors?

A. A diet that is majorly plant-based with lower meat content helps increase longevity and decreases disabilities. It is also essential to reduce your salt content and increase your protein and vitamin content.

Q. How do I get back in shape at age 70?

A. You can start with baby steps. Start with your diet, make a shopping list, and include fruits and vegetables while avoiding red meats. It is also important to avoid refined carbs as they are the primary cause of various health conditions. Next, you can add exercise to your day. Start with low-intensity activities like walking and then build it up. Do not force yourself as it might lead to injury.

Q. What should an elderly person eat for breakfast?

A. Avoid refined carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent option for your breakfast. Eggs are also incredibly versatile, and you can eat them in many ways. They are a great source of protein. Adding probiotics is also a great way to take care of your gut health.

Sample breakfast plan

  • Smoothie with spinach, fruit, and yoghurt
  • Vegetable omelette with whole-grain toast
  • Avocado breakfast bruschetta
  • Banana split oatmeal
  • Eggs over kale and sweet potato grits

Q. What causes belly fat in seniors?

A. According to a study, fat is redistributed centrally from the limbs to the body’s trunk during ageing. As a result, physical manifestations of ageing lead to a progressive increase in body fat and promote sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle mass combined with low muscle function.

Q. What is the average weight of a 70-year-old woman?

A. According to the CDC, the mean average weight of a 70-year-old woman is 166.5 pounds or 75 kgs to be approximate. The ideal BMI range is also higher for older adults than their younger counterparts and lies between 25 and 27.

Q. How can I lose my stomach fat?

A. Target fat loss is a myth, and it is not feasible to lose fat in a specified area. You can lose fat by being in a calorie deficit. However, the area of fat loss is affected by genetics and, to some level, hormones.

Q. What foods should seniors avoid?

A. Seniors must avoid red meat, refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta etc.; fast foods like burgers, pizza etc.; high Sodium foods like pickles and canned fish.

Q. Which breakfast choice is healthy for a rushed morning?

A. If you are in a rush, a couple of nuts or fruit can be a good option. Also, whole wheat toast with scrambled eggs is relatively easy to make and can be helpful to keep you full till your next meal.

Q. How often should the elderly eat?

A. Try having smaller meals more often and with nutritious snacks in between. It’s important to eat regularly, at least three times a day.

About the Author

According to Hiral, “Striving to be better than yesterday, is the key to achieving any goal that is ahead of you”. As a diet and lifestyle consultant, Hiral intends to help her clients inculcate habits such as healthy eating and regular exercise to improve their lifestyle holistically for a better tomorrow. She also aims to make her clients feel good from the inside-out and bring about a positive change to their overall life.

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