Over the past four weeks we have taken a look at the different types of exercise, how they can benefit you as you age and the frequency you should do them. If you have been following the columns you will know that the word ‘vigorous’ is key when it comes to getting the most from your exercise – increasing your heart rate is so important for the cardiovascular and anti-ageing benefits, so keep working hard.

In today’s column, I want to look at the other key component of healthy ageing – food. The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ is all too true, especially as you begin to get older. You see, as we age, the metabolism slows down, meaning you actually don’t need to eat as many calories during the day as you did when you were in your 20s.

This is also directly related to the amount of lean muscle tissue on your body, which reduces as you age too, unless you do weight-bearing exercise to help prevent it.

So while the actual amount of calories required reduces, the quality of those calories is actually more important than ever. As you age your diet needs to:

Contain plenty of lean protein

This is for muscle repair and to slow down the rate of muscle loss. Lean proteins are foods such as white meat, eggs, fish, tofu, nuts and seeds and lean red meat. The one food that so many people miss here is fish. I love eating fish but yet don’t like to cook it. Ideally you should be eating two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish such as salmon or tuna.

Contain fibrous carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are not only great energy sources, they are also a great source of fibre too. Aim for wholemeal and wholegrain varieties such as brown bread, brown rice and brown pasta, as well as potatoes.

Have plenty of colour

A colourful plate is a healthy plate. Colourful foods are high in minerals, vitamins, anti oxidants and all round goodness. Aim to fill your meals with as much colour as you can. Fruit and vegetables are so essential for health, especially as you age

Limit your salt intake

Keep salt to a maximum of six grams a day – try not to add it to your food and beware of added salt in processed foods and ready-made meals.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Yes it’s enjoyable, but it does need to be moderated. Alcohol is full of calories, high in sugar or yeast, depending on your drink, and needs to be taken in moderation. Yes there is research to show that a glass of wine with dinner is beneficial, but unfortunately we tend to drink far more than just the glass.

Be hydrated

Hydration is so crucial for health, for energy, wellness, work and all round body functions. You should be drinking at least two litres of water a day. You can check this by simply checking the colour of your urine. Ideally your urine should be clear in colour, not yellow.

Vitamin D

One of the biggest issues with growing older is bone health. Weight bearing exercise is so important for health, but so is your diet. Vitamin D is one of the crucial vitamins here that you are going to need. We get most of our vitamin D from the effect of summer sunlight on our skin, which is why you feel so good after that sun holiday. But vitamin D is also found in oily fish, eggs and foods with added vitamins such as super milk and fortified cereals.

Folic acid

Ensure you eat plenty of foods rich in folic acid, which is essential for ageing healthily. You can get folic acid from green vegetables and brown rice as well as bread and fortified foods. As ever, colour and unprocessed foods win out here, so ensure your diet is full of real foods.

Watch your calcium intake

I can remember the ad now, “them bones, them bones need calcium, them bones, them bones need calcium”, and you know what? It’s true. Osteoporosis is a major health issue for older people – particularly women – as your bone density reduces and so the risk of fractures increases. Good sources of calcium are dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, green leafy veg, soy beans and tofu. These are products that, as a nation, we have plenty of, so eat up and keep your bones strong.

Men need to look after their hearts as they age. Half of all 40-year-old men will develop heart disease sometime during the rest of their life. You should start thinking now about what you can do to protect your heart, such as making these dietary changes and getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week with the magic ‘v’ word.

Irish Independent

This article appeared on Independent.ie