The benefits of a plant-based lifestyle for the environment and animal welfare are manifold but one of the lesser-known advantages of adopting a vegan diet is the positive effect it has on our long-term health.
Diana, a wellness director for a senior living community, talks us through how our diets impact our well-being as we age and how we can promote sustainable health by eating plant-based food.
An Ageing Population: The Pursuit of Immortality
Most of us don’t ponder the prospect of getting old. But with the ever-rising cost of health care, pandemics, climate disasters, and political upheaval, we should.
The World Health Organization reports:
- The global population will double by 2050 and many people will live well beyond 60 years of age.
- In the coming years more than 125 million people will be 80 and over.
Humans have always been fascinated by living longer; in doing so, it may mean we can spend more time with family or do the things we’ve always hoped for. Not everyone wants to live forever, but important perspectives we tend to dismiss are our quality of life and surroundings.
To support our health as we age, we need a healthy environment, drinkable water, clean air, and healthy food.
Common Senior Ailments
As a wellness director for a senior living community, I see the devastating effects of our health choices that we make when we are young. My senior living community houses around 200 seniors ages 70 and up and there is nothing unique about it. In all communities like this, the health statistics reflect the same story: about a quarter are of average weight while the vast majority are overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.
Most residents rely heavily on healthcare and prescription drugs. Obesity exacerbates many health problems. Moving is hard and arthritis is common, sometimes debilitating. More than half have had at least one cardiovascular event of some sort in their life. Heart valves, stints, and other cardiovascular support are endless. Diabetes is common. And brain fog, either due to medication or other ailments, is also common.
Balance issues and falls are pervasive. Falling for a senior can trigger a downward life spiral from which there is no recovery. Dementia is standard, with most having no energy and vitality. Even the healthiest seniors have medicine cabinets full of prescriptions and many admit they can’t function without big pharm.
The Best Diet to Promote Healthy Ageing: Meat Centric Vs. Vegan
These problems are so common and prevalent that we don’t question them anymore. We accept them as part of the aging process. Many of the diseases and ailments that plague seniors are a direct reflection of a meat-centric diet. Our Standard American Diet is a significant contributor to many of the diseases and ailments that make our seniors overly reliant on health care.
These diseases undermine our health over time, leaving us vulnerable to deadly diseases such as COVID. The most direct and immediate way to reduce our chances of contracting an infectious disease while promoting a healthy environment is to transition to a plant-based diet.
5 Benefits of a Vegan Diet for Seniors
Here are five ways in which a plant-based vegan diet will help you age salubriously and gracefully.
- A plant-based diet reduces obesity and arthritis
If you are overweight or obese, choosing a plant-based lifestyle can assist in weight loss and maintenance of a healthier weight throughout your years. Plants offer more fiber, nutritional density, and energy.
Osteoarthritis is considered an old age disease, but 60% of US adults who suffer from the condition are between the ages of 18 and 64. In older people, osteoporosis increases the likelihood of a fall. The dairy industry keeps marketing dairy as the only source of calcium, but the jig is up. If this were true, wouldn’t we see less osteoporosis and fewer fractures from falls?
Switching to plant-based “dairy” reduces inflammation of joints and helps with bone density as you age.
- Veganism lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease
Heart and artery disease strike in many forms, it can go undetected for years. Choosing a plant-based diet eliminates saturated animal fat, while enhancing vitamin and mineral intake. It also increases nitrogen for free, clear arteries.
When we are young no one thinks of accumulated plaque until it is too late. By transitioning to a vegan lifestyle now, you could avoid costly surgery in your senior years. Even if you’ve already had heart disease, studies show that eating plant-based can manage and even reverse damage done.
- A vegan diet reduces the likelihood of diabetes
Diabetes is an epidemic for all people worldwide and worryingly, rates of pre-diabetes in younger people are growing. Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes go together. Like obesity, switching to plant-based eating can reduce your chances of developing this disease.
Biomarkers such as elevated glucose in the bloodstream mean your body isn’t using insulin properly to fuel cells. Deciding to transition to a wholefoods vegan diet means adding fiber and less processed foods to keep glucose out of the bloodstream.
- Adopting a plant-based diet can halve your risk of developing dementia
Dementia and all its forms are a significant health threat on a different level, and one of the scariest. As humans, we rely on our brains to survive and thrive but many seniors experience cognitive decline. It’s a heartbreaking disease. If you are unable to function because your thinking is disabled, then what do we have left? Sometimes our health, but that only turns out to be more of a burden than a boon with this disease.
It’s an impossible disease to live with, and equally impossible to cure; memory care units are booming for this reason. Healthcare companies are Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), which depend on two factors to turn a profit: the level of dependence the senior is to healthcare, and how wealthy they are to afford the high price of living. With any of these health problems you are very dependent on healthcare, regardless of your tidy savings.
Dr. Greger, a plant-based physician, tells Vegan Life, “In the U.S, those who don’t eat meat (including poultry and fish) appear to cut their risk of developing dementia in half. And the longer meat is avoided, the lower the risk may fall. For example, compared with those who eat meat more than four times a week, the dementia risk of people who have consumed vegetarian diets for 30 years or more is three times lower.”
- A vegan diet can fight depression
The World Health Organization reports that dementia and depression are critical factors that determine the quality of life we have as we age. Several studies indicate plant-based eating can help fight depression; eliminating toxic chemicals, processed foods and increasing the nutritional value of our food empowers our body and our brain.
What’s more, establishing a connection to the natural world, planet and animals promotes a higher purpose. Depression is an overwhelming, hopeless state of being that can ruin our mind unless we find purpose, and what better purpose is there than helping our planet? Plant-based eating can be a practical, spiritual path toward healing.
It’s Never Too Late to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet
Regardless of the inevitable aging process, it is never too early to transition to a vegan diet to protect your health and the planet. The earlier in life you make the switch, the better your quality of life as you age. Plant-based eating not only saves your health, but it also helps protect our environment.
If you are thinking about plant-based eating, now is the time, not the future, because there may not be a future.