Whether you’re young or old, the number of calories you should be consuming each day varies according to your gender, height, weight, body composition and perhaps most of all, activity level.
Calories are a measurement of energy in food. If you take in more calories than you expend through bodily processes (like digestion and breathing) and physical activity (everything from standing, fidgeting, or marathon running), you will gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than your body burns off each day, you will create a calorie deficit, and will subsequently lose weight.
As people age, they often need fewer calories, generally because they are less active. Basal metabolic rate also drops over time. It’s often been suggested that people who have more muscle on their body will burn more calories (even at rest) than someone who’s less muscular, because muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat -- though the degree to which metabolism may increase is a matter of debate.
How many calories does your body require to maintain your current weight? The National Institute on Aging offers the following general guidelines, for men and women over the age of 50:
- Not physically active: About 1,600 calories/day
- Somewhat active: About 1,800 calories/day
- Active lifestyle: About 2,000-2,200 calories/day
- Not physically active: About 2,000 calories/day
- Somewhat active: About 2,200–2,400 calories/day
- Active livestyle: About 2,400-2,800 calories/day
Shifts in Body Shape: You may be noticing a change in the shape of your body as you get older, even if you are not gaining weight. A shift of fat towards the mid-section is typical in women after menopause, and in men, due to dropping testosterone levels.
Nutrient requirements: Traditionally, people over the age of 70 find their appetite decreases, as their activity level and basal metabolic rate drop. This poses nutritional challenges since they need the same vitamins and minerals as younger people -- even more, when it comes to nutrients like vitamin D. To stay healthy and avoid disease, follow an anti-aging diet, made up of a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, healthy fats, and foods that are high in fiber. Since older adults with chewing or swallowing difficulties might steer clear of fresh high-fiber foods, nutrition researchers have modified the “MyPyramid” daily food recommendations to include stewed and canned fruits and vegetables (without added sugar or salt).
Age Page: Healthy Eating after 50. NIH National Institute on Aging Public Information Sheet. Accessed April 25, 2012.
Alice H. Lichtenstein, Helen Rasmussen, Winifred W. Yu, Susanna R. Epstein, and Robert M. Russell. "Modified MyPyramid for Older Adults." J. Nutr. January 2008 vol. 138 no. 1 5-11
Charles E Matthews et al. “Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults” Am J Clin Nutr February 2012 vol. 95 no. 2 437-445.