Aging is a natural process that gradually stresses your gut function by impacting your colonic, gastric, and esophageal motility—essentially the body’s ability to move food.
Impaired digestion often forces you to eat less, which not only leads to nutritional deficiencies but also reduces immune function, wound healing, and overall quality of life.
What You Should Know About Your Gut as You Age
The worsening of gut function can occur in middle-age with a risk of incontinence, constipation, difficulty swallowing, postprandial hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure after a meal), or malnutrition. The impairment in gut function progresses with the shrinking of intestinal villi (the tiny finger-like bundles lining the small intestine that absorb digested food) and nerve cells. This shrinking potentially decreases the absorptive capacity of the small intestine. For some, a noticeable drop in your digestive capacity after the age of 40 can eventually develop into one or more gastrointestinal tract disorders.
Research published last year also suggests that a healthy gut can help lower the risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 in elderly people.
4 Steps to Curb Age-Related Gut Impairment
You can take appropriate steps to improve your gut function and not let aging damage your digestive ability. Keep in mind that a healthy digestive system can gradually be challenged by age-based issues, including gum disease, tooth decay, medication side effects, dehydration, and inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle also decreases the functionality of your gut and quality-adjusted life years.
The following practices can improve gut function, improve your digestive capacity, and minimize your predisposition to intestinal complications. Follow these steps if you find you’re experiencing indigestion, weakness, constipation, loose stools, or otherwise face difficulty with daily activities.
1. Regular Consumption of Probiotics
Probiotics, or health-friendly bacteria, effectively strengthen anti-inflammatory responses of your gut and improve your adaptive immunity.
Regularly consuming probiotics enhances the microbial balance in your intestine and reduces the risk of lactose intolerance. It also modulates your gut-brain and digestive tolerance. Most importantly, the hypocholesterolemic effect of probiotics means they deconjugate digestive juices and improve intestinal absorption, minimizing the risk and prevalence of an inflamed digestive tract.
If you aren’t already consuming probiotics as supplements or in cultured milk or fermented foods, consult your health care provider about recommended probiotic sources and dosage. [Read: “Feed Your Bacteria: 10 Foods for a Healthy Gut.”]
2. Healthy Eating
The consumption of a vegetarian diet will certainly increase your gut’s plethora of health-friendly microbes, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. (You may want to consult a dietician to learn your caloric and nutritional requirements.)
A Mediterranean diet that includes seafood, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil improves your blood sugar levels and gut health. And don’t forget to eat high-fiber foods to enhance the growth of health-friendly bacteria and therefore delay age-related decline in your gut function. This includes:
- Whole grains
- Beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- Green peas
Of course, these diets are recommended for all adults. As we get older, however, the fermentation
of dietary fiber inside the intestine improves its motility and ability to fight pathogens. Likewise, a high-fiber diet considerably strengthens the digestive system of the elderly and delays its age-related dysfunction.
3. Intermittent Fasting
The eating patterns you follow predominantly determine the health of your gut, specifically in middle age. Recent research confirms the potential of intermittent fasting to minimize intestinal inflammation and oxidative stress.
Intermittent fasting, which is typically 16 hours of daily fasting followed by eight hours of eating, produces the best results if followed by the consumption of satiating foods like avocado and nuts. And consuming spinach, brown rice, and popcorn immediately after the fasting hours controls appetite and improves digestion.
You can calculate your energy demand to estimate the right food-intake frequency and restrict extra calories. In other words, you can increase or decrease your fasting duration as per your eating patterns and physical activity levels.
4. Daily Aerobic and Relaxation Exercises
Aerobic exercise like dancing, swimming, biking, or walking improves the physiology of the gastrointestinal system and reduces the risk of stress-induced gut complications. It strengthens the function of the microbiota-gut-brain axis by activating healthy microbes and regulating the central and peripheral nervous systems. The exercise-induced activity of gut microbes reduces the risk of inflammation in your gut by increasing the accumulation of short-chain fatty acids.
Exercising daily for 30-40 minutes improves your intestine’s blood circulation and strengthens its waste-removing capacity. Relaxation exercises, meditation, and yoga detoxify the intestine and reduce the risk of indigestion, abdominal discomfort, gastric reflux, hyperacidity, and epigastric pain.
Keep going with your gut: “How Our Microbes Tie Us to Every Living Thing on Earth.”