Q. “Over the past few years, I’ve noticed I often feel uncomfortably full after I’ve eaten a big meal. Does our digestion change as we get older?”
Kristin, via email
A. Dietitian Brooke Longfield, APD, responds:
Yes, it’s true. Just as our muscle mass declines with the passing years, our digestive tract loses muscle tone. We digest food through a series of muscle contractions, so as these muscles weaken, this process becomes less effective, slowing digestion.
Other common age-related factors that can have an impact on our digestion include being less physically active, drinking less water (as our thirst response decreases with age) and taking more medication.
Avoiding rich, fatty foods can also help. We digest these foods at a slower rate, which can leave us feeling overfull and bloated. It’s a good idea to have a light dinner, such as salad, soup or a smaller main meal than usual, and to eat it slowly, making sure to chew each mouthful well. To minimise belly bloat, include a little gentle exercise in your day, especially after main meals.
Some older adults suffer from constipation, which often causes abdominal discomfort. To keep your bowels regular, eat plenty of fibre-rich wholegrains, fruits and vegies. Water is also essential to a healthy bowel, so aim to drink plenty — at least two litres, or about eight glasses, a day.
If you’re concerned about your digestive health, or have recently experienced a change in your bowel habits, see your doctor.