How Digestion Changes As We Age
And how you can take action to keep it running smoothly.
Digestive health probably wasn't something you were worrying about when you were younger. But as you've gotten older, you've likely experienced digestive discomfort at one time or another. So what can you do to help keep it running smoothly?
Digestion and Aging
As we age, there are factors that contribute to the slowing of the digestive system. Occasional constipation is more common because of low-fiber diets, sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, and not drinking enough fluids.1 Medications can also affect the digestive system, especially as people grow older and establish new medication routines.
Though there's nothing we can do to prevent aging, eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular exercise are some of the things we can do to prevent digestive problems.
Tracking Your Fiber Intake
A healthy diet that includes enough fiber is good for your overall health, and it's especially important for digestion. But how much fiber do you need? It's recommended you aim for 21 to 38 grams of fiber from food per day.2* You can find fiber in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. You should also be keeping track of the amount of fiber you're getting because if you're not getting enough fiber, you may not be getting enough of other nutrients as well.
If you increase your fiber intake, be sure you're drinking more water to go with it.3 Fiber absorbs water—just like a sponge—and the water helps keep your digestive system moving along. If you don't have enough water in your digestive system, then you may experience uncomfortable gas and bloating.
As people get older, they can actually lose their sense of thirst, making it easier to neglect water intake.4 That's why it's important to maintain good hydration habits throughout your life, and regularly drinking enough water can help establish those habits.
Regular physical activity and exercise are good for you and your digestive health, so it's crucial to make time for this—especially as you age. You don't necessarily have to spend hours exercising at the gym; being active can mean just spending time outside gardening or walking. Physical activity, staying hydrated, and paying attention to your fiber intake are all great ways to make sure you can maintain good digestive health as you get older.
*According to the Institute of Medicine, it is recommended that, in adults 50 or younger, women should consume 25 grams of fiber daily and men 38 grams. In adults 51 or older, women should consume 21 grams of fiber daily and men 30 grams.
- "Aging: What to Expect." Mayo Clinic. 24 Nov. 2015. Web. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/aging/art-20046070.
- "Increasing Fiber Intake." UCSF Medical Center. Web. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/increasing_fiber_intake/.
- Larson, Holly. "Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet." Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/ways-to-boost-fiber.
- WL, Kenney, and Chiu P. "Influence of Age on Thirst and Fluid Intake." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2001. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11528342.