Is Diet the Most Important Factor for Senior Health? Maybe Not.

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Healthy habits are important at any age, but it can be easier to get away with poor habits in your 20’s than in your 50’s and 60’s.  As we age, it becomes even more obvious that a balanced diet, regular exercise and taking good care of our bodies will help us live a longer, higher-quality life.  There are many factors to consider when it comes to good health, so which are the most important?  According to a recent survey, there are consistent habits those seniors who consider themselves in “great” health have in common.
The findings, collected by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, were based on interviews of 480,000 people over the age of 65.   Those seniors who take care of themselves were more likely to say they are in “excellent” or “very good” health.  “More specifically, seniors who exercise frequently are much more likely than those who do not to say they are in excellent or very good health -- 51% vs. 34%. Similarly, 46% of seniors who are not obese rate their health as excellent or very good versus 31% of those who are obese. Those who eat healthy and do not smoke are also more likely to be in excellent or very good health than those who do not -- but the differences are not as great.”  Seniors who visited the dentist within the past 12 months were also more likely to say they are in good health – 49% vs. 32%. 
For this group of participants, it seems that regular exercise, not being obese and visiting the dentist are more closely tied to good health than other factors like a healthy diet.  It’s not clear exactly why, but it could be that seniors who are already in good health are able to be more active versus those who have health issues.  It’s still interesting to see these trends, especially since the sample size of the survey is so large.
Although exercise is important, the percentage of people who engage in regular physical activity decreases with age.  Yet the percentage who eat healthy increases dramatically – “into the 60% range when they hit their 40s, the 70% range in their late 50s, and then soars into the high 80% and low 90% range as they move into their 80s and 90s.”  While some habits might be more important than others, any and all healthy choices will help maintain a better quality life as we age.
Interested in learning more about healthy habits for seniors?  Check out SparkPeople’s Senior Health Lifestyle Center.
What do you think?

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SEDONACAT 1/11/2021
I love to exercise even tho I'm in my early 70s but keep getting waylaid by spontaneous fractures of the spine due to osteoporosis. The very exercises that I need to do to build bone "break" me. It very discouraging. Report
JOE14250 12/15/2020
How is a survey equivalent with facts? Maybe on Family Feud, what is the correlation with actual facts? I believe that there are objective ways of measuring genuine health. What are the statistics for longevity? What are the health numbers besides the BMI? Cardiovascular health is key, nutritional habits, and exercise habits are all important as well as alcohol consumption and smoking and drug use. Report
JANIEWWJD 11/18/2020
Good article!!! Re-read it. Report
CAROL3SAN 9/22/2020
Very helpful. Thanks. Report
RCLYKE 8/24/2020
Great article Report
EVILCECIL 7/2/2020
Good to know. Thanks. Report
yes, you can stay fit when you are older Report
JANIEWWJD 6/5/2020
Thank you for sharing!!!! Report
GEORGE815 5/19/2020
Thanks Report
2DAWN4 4/12/2020
Great article Report
AQUAGIRL08 2/23/2020
I enjoy working out since their can be a social aspect to it. Great article! Report
Interesting article. Report
Very interesting. Thanks. Report
It is a combination of things, indeed, which adds (or takes away) from our health. I just started Sparks when I was 56 and my health overall has improved greatly and I am now 65. It's never too late! Report
Thank you for the information! I'm 72 & try my best to eat healthy see my PCP at least once per year! I need to work on keeping up on my work out! Report
It’s a mixture of things however, health at any age is important. Report
I'm moving my body everyday, consistency is the key. Report
Wonderful article Report
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Thanks for the great information. Report
Thanks for a great article :) Report
Good info Report
Something to think about. Report
Thanks for sharing. Good information Report
Good to keep in mind, as I turn 62 on my next birthday! Report
Inspiring article thanks! I am in my 7th decade of life and the highlight of our time together for my husband and me are the gym dates we go on 5-6 days a week. Report
At this time in my life I am more active than my parents were but not more so than my grandparents. I still need to up things. Report
Thanks for an informative article! :) Report
In order to be 'not obese' my guess is that you must have at least SOME decent healthy eating habits... Report
Nice information. Report
Very interesting and makes sense to this old fart. Report a senior it seems to me that the fact that I am in excellent health is a combination of exercise, healthy diet, being at healthy weight, & enough getting sleep. Not sure it's one thing but everything together. Report
Great article! Report
I don't believe in "acting my age". My body might not be able to do what it did 30 or 40 years ago, but my actions are those of a younger person. Keeping up with current events, staying active, helping out in the community all help people as they age. When I was 64 I married my dear husband, the love of my life, who was 15 years younger. We both have a young attitude and keep busy. I don't think of life as having limitations. Losing weight would be wonderful, and I'm doing my best to do it, but intend to keep that attitude of winning and never giving up. Most of the exercise, in my opinion, is in the brain. Report
Absolutely economics has a huge impact on senior health. I am 66, with strictly my Soc Sec check to live on. My fixed expenses take up 75% of that. Leaving me with about $300 a month for groceries, clothes, toilet paper, all the necessities. My income is a smidge above the poverty level so food stamps aren't available. The local food banks offer mostly carbs, salt and sugary stuff. The federal government says my income makes me a "severely low income" senior. The last ten days of the month I eat a lot of bread and peanut butter. Until food becomes less expensive, which it won't, low income seniors will continue to struggle with food insecurity and related health issues. While the politicos, talking heads and Dr. Know-it-Alls give lip service to good health in other areas of the social strata, they clearly miss the hard issues facing seniors. Report
I agree with what LILLIPUTIANNA said. Couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you, LILLIPUTIANNA . :)
Here is the post I am taking about.
"I believe this article leaves out the important element of socio-economic status when it comes to having the ability to be active, have access to dental care, or the ability to acquire and eat healthy food. Many seniors are isolated due to their lack of financial resources. Asking them to go to the gym is like asking them to fly to the moon." - 1/12/2015 11:14:12 AM
I believe this article leaves out the important element of socio-economic status when it comes to having the ability to be active, have access to dental care, or the ability to acquire and eat healthy food. Many seniors are isolated due to their lack of financial resources. Asking them to go to the gym is like asking them to fly to the moon. Report
I am just starting to get into the Sparks program. I had started awhile ago, just in counting calories and activity, but have been waylaid with mucho paperwork dealing with financial survival issues. Tonight, I decided to really look at Spark People and read blogs and more information offered and I find I really like it very much. I also read all the comments herein and I found them to be very interesting. I am going to have a birthday soon and will be 66 and I just don't feel, think it, sound it or look it. I consider age just mileage. Neither of my parents were heavy nor my brother; I on the other hand always had some pounds to drop for many years. I went to diet doctors in my youth a number of times. I managed to slim down in my later twenties. I found that gardening was my favorite exercise and I used to go dancing and worked and food was not a big deal at that time. When I hit fifty, I got fat. I have had physical issues and it is a bear to become as physically active and I want to be. I am not giving up. My mom had M.S., my dad had ALS, my brother has Parkinson's and my mom, brother and I have a genetic disease called mytochondrial myopathy. Can't do anything about it ... symptoms are like intense fibermyalgia (spelling?) and major back issues. Ticks me off because it is so frustrating wanting to be more active and not being able to do as much. However, my brother manages to garden intensively , still plays racket ball now and then and has a great attitude ... tells me he is blessed. So, I listen to him and I feel shamed that I am not doing more. I am getting off the pity pot and getting more into the Sparks program and am willing to learn and do whatever is necessary to make my life healthier and any suggestions will be appreciated. I have watched some of the television shows that show people who weigh 500 or more pounds actually get up and start moving and doing exercise and I realize that it must be as difficult for them as for me and it gives me encouragement that change is possible, even for me. I hope all the folks doing this journey for health and to look as good as possible are successful and I applaud you. Report
I have family members in their late 80s who go to their gym 6-7 days a week. They're A great testimony to the importance of using your mind and brain on an ongoing basis. Report
I belong to the Fitness Center at our local community college - a facility used for training by college and professional athletic teams when they come in for special games. The median age of local members is 72, so at only 65 I am a relative youngster, and there are at least 4 members I know personally well into their 90's. Report
I go to the gym on an regularly and attend many different classes. I am not 66 and am certainly not anywhere near the oldest in my classes. There are people in their 70's and 80's and they are inspiration to the rest of us. They more than keep up. One of the ladies comes on the bus which takes her an hour each way and she is there 6 days a week. She can swim laps for two hours! Report
I go to the gym on a regular base and at 66 years old I certainly am not anywhere near the oldest person in my classes. It is amazing to me what great shape these men and women are in at the upper end of their 70's and early 80's . They are an inspiration to the rest of us. Report
Jack LaLanne, the Godfather of Fitness, lived to be 96 and LIVED everyday being out and active. He didn't have alzheimers. He showed all of us that we CAN be fit into our 90's. Like he said "Use it or lose it, because the more you push your body the stronger it will get."
I don't agree with the idea that you have to have MONEY to be healthy. Lots of poor people find money to spend on "smokes" and "beer", so it is a matter of what you want to spend money on. Apples and grapefruits aren't that expensive, etc. Also, u can exercise by walking around your neighborhood or using a set of handweights at home with a DVD. You don't have to spend money on an expensive gym membership. Jack LaLanne worked out at home.
At 62, I know I'm never getting "old" in my thinking about living. Report
I know quite a few seniors, being 70 myself. Many engage in daily exercise at the gym. There are more seniors in the weight room early in the morning than younger.
I think they are more aware of what they need to have a healthy life. Thats exercise and healthy eating.
Some of our younger generations feel they have time before they need to exercise and chose healthy foods .
My grandparents were farmers, they ate very healthy and got their exercise working.
I do believe it's extremely important for a person to be active in some way for their entire life. Being sedentary can really age a person fast. The problem is that as people get older, they could end up with medical issues that may be the cause their obesity or sedentary life style.

All is takes is one accidental fall to break a person's hip. The next thing you know that once active elderly person is now laid up in bed and can't exercise. Of course, I've also seen how regular exercise (that includes some strength training) can help that same person regain their health.

Personally, I believe that no one is too old to make a change to their health. Every little bit can make a difference. But, I also believe that if a person has been sedentary during a large portion of their life, that will decrease that person's over all quality of life. I see lots of older people at the gym and many take care of themselves. however, they have the money to take care of themselves.

One of the factors of good health that the article didn't mention is how much money the older people with good health have. We've all seen the studies that have shown that people living under the poverty level not only have a higher mortality rate, but also a higher rate of obesity because they don't have access to good food, medical attention or exercise.

So, my question is how many of the people who were exercising regularly were also financially secure. It strikes me that being able to take care of yourself requires a certain amount of money.

Not sure I would agree with you. I think there are some in every generation that are fit and healthy and those who are sedentary. I think there is more awareness now, but if what you say is true (younger generation better fit than parents), why is obesity so rampant? Also, my DH's parents were farmers and very fit and lived long lives, in addition to eating well balanced meals without current trends in junk food. My mom exercised all her life and still walked 4 miles a day in her early eighties. Just had to weigh in here. Going to the gym seems to be the in thing, but manual labor in the past kept people fit. Report
I do believe, if you are not obese, chances are you do have a healthy diet. I will be 65 on Friday, and do exercise and have a healthy diet. I do much better than my obese friend, who is the same age, and eats piles of bad food. I exercise 6 days a week. It does pay off! Report
Oddly enough my Dad was probably even heavier and MORE sedentary at my age than I am (of course NOT being asthmatic helped HIM a lot). He did have UNTREATED hypertension though. But I know he lost a TON of weight when he retired and ate like a horse ( I think in retrospect it was a combination of less stress and more physical activity). Sadly, he then got Alzheimer's. Report