Dietary behavior and body composition parameters among self-reported exercising and non-exercising elderly women Public Deposited


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  • The percentage of the American population who are 65 years old or older is rapidly increasing, especially the proportion of women. It is becoming crucial to encourage lifestyle behaviors that will enable senior women to remain in optimal health. Following the 1990 Dietary Guidelines' recommendations to limit fat intake and consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber has been shown to positively impact longevity and health status in the elderly by decreasing risk factors for chronic diseases. An expected outcome of engaging in regular exercise is a reduction in body fat, which is also associated with a lowered incidence of several chronic illnesses. However, the literature clearly indicates that nutritional quality of the diet and involvement in regular exercise decrease with increasing age. There is evidence that, with the adoption of one health enhancing behavior, there is a greater tendency to engage in other health promoting behaviors, but little data exist on the healthseeking behaviors of older adults. The purpose of this study was to ascertain if there were identifiable differences between self-defined exercising and self-defined non-exercising elderly women with respect to their nutrient intake, food sources of dietary fat and fiber, dietary change behavior, and body composition parameters, considering their age and education and income levels. The objective was to determine whether those women who had consciously undertaken a regular exercise program would also have higher micronutrient intakes, make lower fat and higher fiber food choices, report having made more dietary changes in the direction of the 1990 Dietary Guidelines, and have leaner body compositions than those who had not undertaken such a program. Thirty-three elderly women self-reported exercisers (mean age 74.1 years) and 30 self-reported non-exercisers (mean age 71.3 years) were enrolled in a 14 week study. Exercisers were defined as those who reported having engaged in a regular program of planned exercise a minimum of 15 minutes per session, 2 times per week, for at least the last year, and non-exercisers were those who had not. They kept three, 7-day food records at 5 week intervals. Nutrient intake was estimated from 9 days of food records, 3 predetermined days from each recording period, using the Food Processor n software. Dietary intakes were analyzed for energy, macronutrients, dietary fiber, and selected micronutrients. Food sources of dietary fat and fiber were determined using a food categorization adapted from Popkin and coworkers (1989). Information concerning dietary change behavior, obtained from questionnaire responses, was compared between groups using chisquare tests. Body composition, assessed through repeat measurements during each dietary recording period, included determination of percent body fat through skinfolds, waist-to-hip-ratio and body mass index. Average 9-day nutrient intakes and anthropometric measures were compared between groups using t-tests or Mann- Whitney U tests. Both elderly women exercisers and non-exercisers had similar energy, macronutrient, and dietary fiber intakes based on 9-day means. Their total fat intakes, expressed in grams and as percentages of energy, were not significantly different. Both groups consumed a lower percentage of their daily kcalories as total fat (32%) compared with national surveys of women over 65 (36%). Exercisers consumed more total vitamin A (p=.03) and carotene (p=.00) than the non-exercising women. A great proportion of both groups did not meet 75 % of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for calcium and zinc. A larger proportion of the exercisers than the non-exercisers reported using lower fat cheese (p=.02) and green and yellow vegetables (p=.03), which partially explained their higher total vitamin A and carotene intakes. Exercisers obtained less of their total fat intake from lower fat milk (p=.02) and more of their fat intake from lower fat lunch meats (p=.04) than the non-exercisers. The categories of legumes (p=.02) and lower fiber vegetables (p=.05) supplied greater amounts of dietary fiber for the exercisers compared with the non-exercisers. When asked about dietary changes made over the past decade, a greater percentage of the exercisers than non-exercisers reported having decreased red meat intake (p=.05) and increased consumption of cereals (p=.05) and legumes (p=.00). Actual intake data showed that the legume food category contributed more dietary fiber to the diets of the exercisers than the non-exercisers (p=.02). No differences were found in body fat measures between the exercisers and non-exercisers. The lack of observed differences between the two groups reinforces what other researchers have found, that a large number of factors influence body composition, of which exercise is only one. More research is needed to distinguish the interactions of age, energy intake, and physical activity on the body fatness of elderly women, as well as the most accurate instruments for assessing body composition for this age group. Exercise participation among elderly women in this study appeared to be associated with several positive dietary behaviors. Elderly women exercisers compared to non-exercisers made food choices leading to higher total vitamin A and carotene intakes, and also reported making more changes in food consumption behaviors in the direction of current dietary recommendations. These observed outcomes provide support for designing health-promotion programs for elderly women which include both nutrition education and exercise components.
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