Getting enough calcium (and vitamin D, see below) can help prevent osteoporosis, the leading cause of bone fractures in older adults (see our Bone Health Center). If you’re 50 or older, you need 1,200 mg of calcium. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, calcium-fortified soymilk and orange juice, and fish with edible bones (like canned salmon or sardines). Other food sources of calcium include dark green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli and okra. If meeting your calcium needs through food seems daunting, talk with your doctor about whether you may need a supplement.
Vitamin D, which you need to absorb calcium properly, is a unique nutrient in that it’s available only in a few foods: fatty fish, egg yolks and fortified milk. We get most of our vitamin D through sun exposure: when UV light penetrates skin, skin cells produce a compound that the liver and kidneys convert to vitamin D. But as you age, skin becomes less efficient at synthesizing D. To meet increased needs with age, many experts recommend a supplement. (The recommended daily intake for people aged 51 to 70 is 400 IU; those over 70 need 600 IU—but many medical experts say that these recommendations are outdated and that most people, particularly those aged 50-plus, should aim for 1,000 IU.) Talk with your doctor about what’s best for you.
As you age, your stomach produces less gastric acid, which makes it harder for the body to absorb vitamin B12—a nutrient that helps keep blood and nerves healthy—from natural food sources. (These include meat, fish, eggs and dairy products like yogurt and milk.) Since data suggest that up to one-third of older people can no longer absorb the vitamin from food, nutrition experts advise that people aged 50-plus get the recommended daily intake (2.4 mcg) of B12 from fortified foods, such as cereal or supplements. A multivitamin that supplies 100 percent the daily value should do you fine.
It's never too late to reap the benefits of exercise. Research shows that regular exercise—at any age—not only helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers, but also burns calories, gives you energy, relieves stress, helps you sleep better and improves strength and balance. What’s more, studies show exercise increases blood flow to the brain and may even help new brain cells grow, which keeps the mind sharp. The key to reaping the benefits of physical activity is sticking with it, so choose any exercise you enjoy and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day.
Studies show that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect against heart disease. But consuming alcoholic beverages may interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications. It also may increase the risk for some kinds of cancer. (The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding alcohol altogether.) It’s important to weigh for yourself the risks and benefits. If you decide to drink, limit alcoholic beverages to no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.
As you get older, your risk of foodborne illness increases (likely in part due to an aging immune system, say experts). Store and handle food properly (think: keeping your fridge at a safe temperature; avoiding cross-contamination in the kitchen). See more food safety tips.