Staying healthy and feeling your best is important at any age. Healthy aging means adapting to the needs of a changing mind and body head-on, and making your well-being a top priority. Getting older is not a one-way ticket to disability and poor health. You can make choices that will help you age well as you transition through your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond.
Here are ten tips that will help your body and mind age well.
1. Eat Healthy
Adults over the age of 50 have different dietary needs than younger adults. As you get older, your body needs fewer calories but just as many - if not more - nutrients.
As your metabolism slows and your calorie need decreases, be sure that you’re eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods. According to the National Council on Aging, your plate should look like a rainbow - bright colored foods are always the best choice!
Your healthy meals should include:
- Lean protein (lean meats, seafood, eggs, beans)
- Fruits and vegetables (think orange, red, green, and purple)
- Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta)
- Low-fat dairy (milk and its alternatives)
Remember to choose foods that are high in fiber and low in sodium or salt. Also, look for Vitamin D, an important mineral for aging bodies, and be sure to drink plenty of water.
2. Stay Active
Regular exercise is one of the greatest keys to physical and mental wellbeing as you age.
Living an active life will help you stay fit and maintain your independence, allowing you to perform your own activities. Regular exercise may prevent – or even provide relief from – many common chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and arthritis.
Find something you enjoy! Go on a daily walk with friends. Swim in a pool. Try yoga, dancing, or even weight lifting. The best physical activities for aging adults will incorporate balance, aerobic, and muscle strengthening. Talk to your doctor about the best ways you can get moving.
3. Keep Connected
Loneliness and isolation is a serious health concern for aging adults.
Associated with higher rates of depression, loneliness and isolation can also lead to a weakened immune system, heart disease, dementia, and early death.
Seniors are at bigger risk for isolation than others include those who:
- Live alone or can’t leave home
- Suffered a sudden life-altering illness or injury
- Recently lost a spouse or close connection
- Feel alone or disconnected from others
Twenty-eight percent of older adults live alone, which is the strongest risk factor for loneliness. Aging adults who live alone may consider a move to a senior living community, where much of the “work” is taken away from meeting and engaging with your peers.
You don’t have to necessarily make a big move to stay connected. Maintain your close connections by scheduling time to meet or talk with friends and family members regularly to combat isolation and loneliness.
4. Train Your Brain
One in ten people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s dementia. Although some cognitive decline is a natural part of aging, studies have shown that cognitive stimulation, such as active learning, can slow the onset.
Think of your brain just like your body - it needs the right foods and regular exercise to stay healthy.
So take a class, learn something new, try something different and challenging. Not only can you help keep your brain healthy, but new classes and lessons give you the opportunity to meet new people and forge new relationships as well.
5. Sleep Well
Getting a good night’s sleep can get more difficult as you age. Up to 40% of seniors can suffer from sleep issues such as light sleep, frequent waking, decrease in deep-sleep, and daytime fatigue.
To get a better night’s sleep, experts recommend:
- Sticking to a regular sleep- wake schedule
- Establishing pre-bed rituals, such as bathing or reading
- Exercising regularly (earlier in the day)
- Avoiding TV or computer/ phone/ tablet screens prior to bed
- Refraining from caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime
- Avoiding mid-to-late afternoon naps, alcohol, and sleeping pills
Sometimes prescription medications can help in the short-term, but all too often, prescription sleep aids come with their own side-effects, which can include drug-dependency and rebound insomnia. Be sure you talk to your doctor about the possible side-effects and appropriate use of over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills.
6. Practice Prevention
Many accidents, illnesses, and common health care conditions faced by aging adults are preventable. Issues such as falls, chronic illness, and depression can have a major impact on a senior’s quality of life - and these things are preventable.
- Healthy eating and exercise can help combat chronic conditions such as heart disease.
- Good hygiene and regular doctor’s visits can help prevent illnesses.
- Falls can be prevented by ensuring your home or environment is safe.
- Even appropriate footwear can go a long way to prevent trips and falls. A little prevention can go a long way toward keeping you healthy and well.
7. Reduce Stress
Stress isn’t just an emotion; it can have real effects on your body and brain.
Long-term stress can damage brain cells and lead to depression. Stress may also cause memory loss, fatigue, and decreased ability to fight off and recover from infection. In fact, it is estimated that more than 90% of illness is either caused or complicated by stress.
As you age, your stressors change as does your ability to deal with stress. Avoid stressful situations whenever possible. Eat well, get exercise, and talk to a loved one or professional about your stress.
Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga have been shown in studies to ease stress. Take part in yoga, tai-chi, or other mindfulness-type classes to help keep your mind and body well.
8. Get Involved
Give back to the community and forge new relationships by volunteering in your community. Engaging in meaningful activities is important for improving a sense of independence and positive self-image in aging adults.
According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering your time, skills, talents, and resources offers many health benefits by helping to:
- decrease risk of depression
- provide a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills
- stay mentally and physically fit and active
- meet new people
- possibly reduce stress levels
Volunteering in your community may even help you live longer.
An analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. In addition, several studies have shown that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain.
Taking part in community activities - particularly intergenerational activities that bring older and younger adults together - offers tangible benefits on your health and wellbeing.
9. Take Control of Your Health
You are your own best health advocate.
Schedule an annual physical. Whenever you have a concern about your health, make an appointment to see your primary care practitioner. Don’t let a small health concern turn into a big issue due to neglect.
When you see your doctor, bring a list of your current prescription and non-prescription medications, including herbal supplements. Keep a list of your health concerns and, most importantly, ask questions.
If you’re not able to travel to appointments, have difficulty keeping track of or remembering to take medications, or feel like you need help managing your health issues - get assistance. Enlist the help of a willing family member or consider assisted living help (either in-home or in-community).
10. Be Good to Yourself
Coping with change can be difficult, no matter what age you are. As you go through the aging process, you’re sure to face transitions, changes, and losses that can feel frustrating. Don’t let these feelings overpower you.
Balance these changes out with positive things - make your own well-being a priority.
The truth is you are strong and resilient. Aging changes your body and mind, but you can take some control over the changes by treating yourself with compassion, patience, and a dedication to aging well. Be good to yourself, because you deserve it.