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Eating for Longevity

Foods to keep your heart, brain, and bones healthy.

Foods for a Vital Brain

The basic advice is simple: What’s good for your heart and blood vessels is also good for your brain. That means eating a diet centered on fruits and vegetables with plenty of unsaturated oils, such as olive oil, and plenty of whole grains. Foods that may add extra protection include:

Blueberries and other antioxidant-rich fruits: Ongoing research at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University suggests that foods especially high in antioxidants, including blueberries, grape juice, and walnuts, protect against age-related changes in the brain that lead to memory loss and even dementia.

Fish: High in omega-3 fats, fish and shellfish have been shown to protect against irregular heart rhythms than can lead to heart failure. New evidence suggests that in addition to heart protection, the fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, found in fish oil (and ALA found in flaxseed) may offer a defense against depression and age-related memory loss.

Low-salt foods: Researchers have known for years that less salt in the diet means lower blood pressure. Now new evidence suggests that keeping blood pressure down may also protect brain cells and decrease the risk of age-related memory loss and even dementia.

“High blood pressure can damage the vasculature that supplies the brain with oxygen and nutrients,” explains Tufts University neuroscientist Aron Troen, PhD. That may explain why people with chronic hypertension seem to be at higher risk of developing age-related cognitive impairments.

Coffee: A growing number of studies suggest that coffee has several surprising health benefits. In addition to potentially lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, drinking coffee may reduce the risk of age-related mental decline.

The latest evidence comes from a Finish study of 1,409 volunteers published in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease in 2009. It found that people who regularly drank coffee during their middle-aged years were significantly less likely to suffer dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life. Those who drank three to five cups daily had a 65% reduction in risk.

Foods for Strong Bones

Bone loss and osteoporosis are among the leading reasons for disability in later life. And once seniors become disabled, their health often declines in many other ways. Although some bone loss with age is inevitable, eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D can slow the process and prevent disabling fractures. Among the top choices: 

Low-fat dairy products: “The body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium,” says Robert P Heaney, MD, a leading expert on osteoporosis. “But adequate levels of protein are also necessary to keep bones strong.” For that reason, he argues, dairy products like milk and yogurt are the best sources of calcium because they contain the full array of nutrients needed for healthy bones. 

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