As we age, our digestive system changes. In later life, gut muscles tend to weaken, whilst levels of good bacteria in the intestines may decrease. This, combined with changes in diet, exercise and general lifestyle, can leave us more susceptible to a number of digestive complaints.
However, there are plenty of small steps that can be taken to help take good care of your digestive system. Follow our experts’ top tips for maintaining good gut health into older age:
Nutritional therapist Melanie Flower offers some dietary advice:
- Fibre provider: A dry mouth or tooth loss can make it harder to eat fibrous foods as we get older – but dietary fibre is essential for good gut health. Softer versions of high fibre food such as porridge, fruit smoothies and hearty soups packed with vegetables and lentils are still great sources of fibre.
- Good bacteria: Aim to consume ‘probiotic’ and ‘prebiotic’ foods. Probiotics place high numbers of ‘good’ bacteria directly into the gut; prebiotic foods (such as onions, asparagus and garlic) ‘feed’ these bacteria. Probiotics and prebiotics can help to improve the transit of food through the intestines, which may help ease constipation.
- Stay hydrated: Water is vital for good gut health – it helps food pass through the digestive system and helps to soften stools. Aim to drink eight glasses each day.
Personal trainer Sophie Christy shares a few easy exercise ideas:
- Keep it light: We should all aim for 30 minutes of exercise – but this need not be overly strenuous; anything that gets the heart pumping is good for you. Build exercise into your daily routine with a lively housework or gardening session!
- Club together: Exercise can be easier when enjoyed as a group – so why not set up an activity club with friends? Opt for gentler options such as swimming, yoga or Pilates – they’re still great exercise and a good excuse for a chat too!
- Walk the walk: It may seem an unusual connection, but walking can have a positive impact on stomach muscles – and therefore overall gut health. Walk with your chest lifted, back upright and tummy pulled in, and you should find that your abdominal muscles contract. Set up a manageable walking schedule, increasing distance and frequency gradually, and you will find that these muscles strengthen over time.