Gut health guide: Create a balanced belly in your senior years

Everything from our diet to our medications, exercise habits, sleep cycles, and age can have an effect on the gut microbiome. And in turn, the gut can have real effects on our health. 

A year ago we spoke to Registered Clinical Nutritionist, Jess Wharton of Key Nutrition about the secrets of longevity. Her knowledge and expertise were so insightful that we once again enlisted her help to discuss gut health. You’ll find a number of her tips and explanations throughout this article. 

Understanding gut microbiome

The gut is the common term for the gastrointestinal (GI) system. In other words, everything your food passes through, including the small and large intestines and the stomach. 

This system is filled with micro-organisms and bacteria, and together they are known as the gut microbiome. The bacteria’s job is to take the food you consume, break it down, and turn it into nutrients for the body. 

Many of these bacteria are essential and beneficial for the body, but there are some types that might contribute to disease. As science gains a greater understanding of this microbiome, we’re learning that the health of your gut can have real impacts on your mental and physical wellbeing. 

Why gut health is important in senior years

Gut health is important at any stage of life, but especially so during our senior years. 

“Over time our gut health can decline,” explains Jess. “This can lead to a variety of problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, and gas.”

Studies are ongoing as to exactly why gut health declines over time, but scientists have begun making breakthroughs in this area. 

It’s extra important to take steps to improve your gut health. By doing so, you may be able to mitigate some of the negative side effects of the natural decline of gut health due to age. 

Foods to include for better gut health

Jess Wharton shared the following advice for how seniors can improve their gut health. 

“One important step is to eat a healthy diet. This means eating plenty of vegetables, adequate protein, healthy fats and moderate whole grains. Foods rich in fibre prevent constipation,” she explained. 

And keep in mind, frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh, so you can take advantage of the lower prices and easier storage of frozen veggies while boosting your gut health.

However, Jess did add that consuming probiotics is also another important part of maintaining and improving gut health.

“They help to keep our gut healthy by fighting off harmful bacteria and promoting the growth of good bacteria. Probiotics can be found in yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods,” she said. 

Plus, probiotic supplements are always a secondary option if fermented foods aren’t your style. 

Other tips for improving gut health

Gut health isn’t all about the food you eat. Other aspects of your daily life may have an effect on your microbiome, so Jess added a few suggestions for non-food ways to boost your gut wellbeing. 

Decent sleep 

“When we don’t get enough sleep, it can disrupt our gut bacteria and lead to problems with digestion.” says Jess. 

For most people, this means anywhere from seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night. Even though our sleep tends to get lighter as we age, getting a good night’s sleep is still important. Age Concern New Zealand suggests setting up good bedtime habits to help promote sleep quality.

Stress management

Jess also explained that excess stress can contribute to gut problems, “so it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, yoga or meditation.” 

Regular exercise 

Regular exercise can be incredibly beneficial in more ways than one when it comes to boosting the gut microbiome. 

“Exercise keeps our digestive system healthy and can reduce stress, which can contribute to gut problems,” says Jess. 

Cutting out things that can damage the gut 

Finally, Jess recommends avoiding smoking altogether and cutting out excessive alcohol consumption. Both of these habits “can damage the gut lining and make it more difficult for our bodies to absorb nutrients.”

When you should consult a doctor

Knowing your body and its habits is the easiest way to identify if or when irregularities occur. In relation to bowel movements, if you notice any changes from normal in terms of frequency, texture or colour, it may be a good time to visit a doctor.

Other signs you might need to consult a doctor include bloating, pain, excessive wind or even a burning sensation under the stomach. Any of these signs can suggest something is amiss, so a doctor can chat through your symptoms and work to find the cause of the issue, and therefore determine a solution. 

Trust your gut 

If something feels off, there is never a more apt time to trust your gut. Those gurgles might be a cry for something green after a weekend of indulgence, or they might be the whisper in your ear to see a professional. 

As you take proactive steps toward a healthier future, this could be a great opportunity to consider exploring options that could provide further peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Learn more about how Seniors Funeral Insurance could protect your family’s finances or get a quote today.

This article is an opinion only, provided for general information purposes and should not be relied upon as personal advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional before starting any fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.