Choose Health: Be Active: A physical activity guide for older Australians

Balancing activity with healthy eating

Page last updated: March 2009

It is important to try to balance the energy being used for physical activity with energy going into your body (as food and drink). This will help you to maintain a healthy weight and will help to keep your body working well.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends twelve dietary guidelines for maximum vitality, energy and health in older people.*


Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods

Eat something from each of the five food groups every day.
  • bread, cereals, rice, pasts, noodles
  • vegetables, including legumes (beans and peas)
  • fruit
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese
  • meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts


Keep active to maintain muscle strength and a healthy body weight

Increase all activities and decrease sitting for long periods.


Eat at least three meals every day

Regular meals make it more likely that you will get the variety and amount of food you need. If you don’t enjoy cooking every day, buy some cooked meat or chicken and have it with bread and salad. Freeze meal sized portions of left-overs when you do cook. If you eat out, try not to over do it with portions.


Care for your food: prepare and store it correctly.

Avoid food poisoning by selecting, handling, storing and preparing your food carefully. Clean your fridge every week, and throw out anything that has been there too long.

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Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit

This means at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day (a serve is equivalent to a handful). Salads and legumes (beans) count as vegetables.


Eat plenty of cereals, breads and pasta

These foods are good sources of energy and fibre, as well as vitamins B and E and minerals like iron and zinc. Wholegrain breads have more fibre, vitamins and minerals.


Include foods that are high in calcium

Having plenty of calcium will slow bone loss as you age and help to prevent osteoporosis. The best sources of calcium are dairy foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt, custard and ice cream, canned fish and soy products. Choose low fat or calcium enriched skim milk products.


Eat a diet which is low in saturated fat

This will help to control cholesterol. Saturated fat is usually solid at room temperature – like the fat that collects in the tray when you grill sausages. It is easy to see on the edge of pieces of meat, but can be hidden in processed meats and cheese. Use canned fish instead of deli meat on sandwiches. Avoid lard and copha – they can be hidden in some biscuits and fast foods.


Choose food low in salt and use salt sparingly

This will help to control blood pressure. Salt is essential for life, but fresh food contains all the salt you need. There is no need to add salt to food. Try using herbs and spices to add flavour instead of salt.


Use added sugars in moderation

Sugars found in many natural foods such as milk and fruit are good for you. But some foods, such as soft drinks, cordial, lollies, honey and jam are almost entirely sugar. Try to eat these foods only occasionally, especially if you have glucose intolerance. Eating lots of high sugar food will cause tooth decay.

Read food labels to see what is healthy (this one is not healthy!!)

Try to choose foods with less than 10g of saturated fat in every 100g of food

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Drink adequate amounts of water and/or other fluids

If your urine is dark yellow (except first thing in the morning) you are not drinking enough.
Fluids are important because they:
  • Prevent dehydration
  • Quench thirst
  • Ease the burden on the kidneys
  • Help to prevent constipation
  • Help to prevent urinary tract infections and kidney stones
Water, soup, tea, coffee, juice, custard, milk, jelly and ice cream are all fluids.

If you are incontinent or sometimes leak a little urine, you still need to drink sufficient fluids, because concentrated urine increases the desire to go to the toilet. Make sure you have a night light if you have to go to the toilet during the night, and ask your doctor or physiotherapist about pelvic floor exercises.


If you drink alcohol, limit your intake

In moderation, alcohol can be a pleasure and can enhance a meal. Small amounts (no more than two standard drinks per day) can be beneficial, but too much will damage your health.

Example of one standard drink

As you age, your liver is less able to deal with alcohol. You will also be more likely to trip and fall (and maybe end up with a fracture) if you drink too much. Ask your doctor whether it is safe to drink alcohol if you are taking medications, and never ever drink and drive.

"Being active and good nutrition are vitally important for maintaining the best possible quality of life in older age."

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