A poor diet can make one look older than their age, experts say.

However, it is not just about physical appearance; one can also develop health complications along the way.

As people age, experts say risks of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, and obesity, among others, are high.

Francis Kazungu, a general practitioner in Kigali, says this is so because of unhealthy lifestyles, which in most cases lead to poor health.

He says that smoking, poor nutrition, and excessive alcohol intake, are some of the practices that cause NCDs.

Also, Kazungu says, as people age, mobility is reduced, which also poses a risk.

He says that for this reason, it is essential to embrace a healthy lifestyle that will prevent ‘premature ageing’, as well as diseases brought about by an unhealthy lifestyle.

What characterises ageing?

Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist and dietician at Amazon Complimentary Therapy in Remera, Kigali, says nutrition and exercise boost one’s health.

He says that paying attention to these factors will reduce the rate at which one ages, more importantly, for people who tend to look older than they are.

“These two have major roles when it comes to ageing well, for instance, poor nutrition can affect the ageing process because of not observing what is good for the body,” he says.

He says that without exercise or good nutrition, one can lose some of the body’s structures, leading to quick ageing.

He notes that bone composition can be lost if a good diet is not maintained.

To avoid this, Kamanzi says, consuming foods rich in calcium and magnesium prevent the loss of body density, thus, evading bone diseases that affect health.

Kamanzi points out that if this is not observed, the probability of one ageing even at a young stage becomes high.

On the other hand, Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of the nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital Kigali (CHUK), says ageing fast is also caused by lack of micronutrients responsible for skin composition.

For example, he says, when one does not consume fruits and vegetables that are capable of maintaining the health of the skin, they tend to age fast.

Vitamins C and A are also important when it comes to ageing well. Kamanzi says lack of these vitamins in our diet can lead to wrinkles, dry and dull skin, which makes one look older than they are.

He adds that carbohydrates are also important as they help to produce the energy one needs.

“If one doesn’t get enough carbohydrates, they will be weaker, and look older,” he says.

Vitamins and minerals are mostly found in fruits and vegetables. / File 

What is needed?

Venuste Muhamyankaka, the president of Rwanda Nutritionists Society, says from the age of 50 and above, people should pay attention to non-communicable diseases, and try hard to prevent them.

“There are common measures which mostly involve consuming foods low in calories. Also, vitamins and minerals are essential when it comes to ageing healthily,” he says.

He notes that vitamins and minerals are mostly found in fruits and vegetables, and that people should also mind the quality of fats they take in.

Muhamyankaka advises against animal fats, and suggests that people consume plant-based fats instead, such as nuts and oils from grains and seeds.

He explains that this is so because fats from animal sources raise one’s cholesterol level which puts one at risk of developing heart disease.

However, animal protein sources such as fish, poultry and eggs, are recommended.

“As people age, the body starts to tire, and so animal protein becomes important in one’s diet because the body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Also, protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood,” he says.

Potassium serves as both an essential mineral and an electrolyte in the human body. It is a necessary component in all cells, tissues and organs. Potassium is also required for metabolism and normal heart, muscle and nerve function.

As an essential mineral, potassium is not produced within the body. In order to meet adequate intake levels, the body is required to get potassium from dietary sources. Many foods contain potassium; however, certain foods have a higher potassium concentration than others. Animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and soy products are all good sources of potassium.

However, fruits and vegetables have the highest concentration of potassium per serving. Broccoli, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, winter squash, apricots, citrus fruits, kiwi, bananas and melons are excellent sources of potassium, according to Healthy Eating, an online guide for overall health through nutrition.

Muhamyankaka says that potassium is essential for elderly people to maintain strong muscles and healthy blood pressure levels.

Low salt/sugar intake in foods can prevent one from developing cardiovascular diseases.

Unlike in children where sweetened food is sometimes needed, as people grow older, Celestine Karangwa, a physiotherapist at TCM Technology Clinic in Kicukiro, says they should increase consumption of citrus foods such as lemon, oranges, and grapes, among others.

“This is because such foods have flavonoids which prevent depression and stress that could accelerate ageing. They also reduce the risk of cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, which are common as one grows older,” he says.

Karangwa says people should avoid tobacco smoking, excessive intake of alcohol, and recommends one or two drinks a day.

He adds that research says that this can reduce the chances of type two diabetes.

Way forward

Kamanzi points out that engaging in exercise helps fight premature ageing. This is because exercise maintains and strengthens the bones and muscles.

Aside from that, he says physical activity also boosts one’s lifespan.

Karangwa says therapies, such as sauna, can boost health even at a mature stage.

“Sauna helps increase blood flow to the muscles, leading to more oxygen reaching the tissues. Through sauna, optimal circulation of blood is achieved which is good for cardiovascular health,” he says.

He adds that other services, such as reflexology, increase energy levels and induce relaxation. They also stimulate the central nervous system which is essential for relieving stress.

First Published by New times

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