Maintaining good gut health is essential for overall well–being, which gets even more important with age. The body becomes less efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients, affecting seniors’ energy levels, immunity, and other bodily functions. In addition, age-related changes in gut bacteria can impact digestive health, cognitive function, and mood. In this blog post, we will explore the factors that affect gut health and share 5 ways to improve gut health, specifically for people over 50.
What is Gut?
Factors That Affect Gut Health
The gut is also home to a diverse and complex ecosystem of microorganisms, including trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. This collection of microorganisms is known as the gut microbiome. It plays an essential role in maintaining overall health by helping the food digest, producing essential vitamins and nutrients, and even modulating the immune system.
However, the balance of gut bacteria can be disrupted by various factors. Some of the most common factors that can affect gut health include:
1. Diet: With age, the digestive system becomes less efficient, making it harder for food to break down and to extract nutrients. A diet high in sugar, processed foods, and saturated fats can promote the growth of harmful bacteria. In contrast, a diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods can support healthy gut microbiota.
Read More: Finding a Low Sodium Diet for Older Adults
3. Medications: Antibiotics, for example, are designed to kill bacteria, but they can also wipe out beneficial bacteria along with harmful bacteria in the gut. Other medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also impact gut health.
4. Age: With age, a decrease in the number of good bacteria in the gut leads to an imbalance in the gut microbiota. This imbalance impacts digestive health, immune function, and even mental health.
6 Ways Seniors Can Improve Their Gut Health
With age, it gets challenging to maintain good health. Here are a few steps seniors can take to support gut health:
1. Eating healthy and balanced diet
The body undergoes physiological changes with age, affecting food choices and eating capacity. But to maintain a healthy diet, it is a must for the elderly to eat a diet rich in nutrients, fiber, vitamins, and whole foods. Fiber, for example, can help regulate bowel movement, prevent constipation, and reduce inflammation in the gut. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables such as berries, green leafy vegetables, bananas, apples, and root veggies can help increase the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria, which supports the immune system and protects seniors against chronic diseases. Meal planning can also help them make healthier choices.
2. Staying hydrated
3. Regular exercise
Exercise can significantly improve gut health by increasing blood flow to the digestive system, promoting regular bowel movement, and reducing inflammation. Regular exercise can also help maintain weight, as excess weight can increase the risk of digestive issues. Additionally, exercise helps to reduce stress, boost the immune system, and improve sleep quality. Recommended types of exercise for seniors include yoga, walking, and strength training. Staying motivated to exercise can be challenging, but finding an enjoyable activity and incorporating it into daily routine can make it easier.
Read More: Can seniors do strength training exercises?
4. Managing stress
The gut-brain connection is a complex and powerful system that can impact our health. It is a communication network between the digestive and central nervous systems. Chronic stress triggers inflammation in the gut and disrupts the balance of gut bacteria. Stress can also lead to overeating, poor food choices, and reduced physical activity, which can further impact gut health. Seniors need to manage stress by including regular exercises, meditation, deep breathing, or spending time in nature. These stress management techniques can reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and positively impact the gut and overall health.
5. Getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep disrupts the gut microbiome and leads to various health issues. Adults over 50 typically need around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation can also increase inflammation in the body, contributing to gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Creating a bedtime routine and avoiding electronic devices before bed can help improve sleep quality.
6. Consider Supplements
In addition to making healthy lifestyle choices, certain supplements may support gut health. Some examples of gut-healthy supplements include probiotics and prebiotics.
- Probiotics are live bacteria that help balance the gut microbiome and support digestive health. These beneficial bacteria can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, as well as in supplements. Probiotics have been shown to help reduce inflammation and gastrointestinal disorders. Probiotic supplements typically contain specific strains of bacteria that can populate the digestive system and promote healthy microbiota. It’s important to choose a reputable brand and follow the recommended dosage by the senior care service provider for optimal benefits.
- Prebiotics are dietary fiber that cannot be digested by the body but feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. These non-digestible carbohydrates can be found in foods like garlic, onions, and bananas, as well as in supplement form. The supplements can help increase the prebiotics in the gut, leading to many health benefits, such as improved digestion, enhanced immune system, and reduced inflammation. According to a study, these supplements also improve calcium absorption, which is good for maintaining seniors’ bone health.