We all understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and the need for one doesn’t change as we grow older. If anything, it’s more vital than ever to maintain a healthy lifestyle as a senior. With a healthy diet, a robust exercise routine, and provisions made for mental health, seniors can live longer, manage emerging health conditions, and enjoy a happier old age.
As we age, it can become harder to keep up with the demands of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s essential that seniors protect their wellbeing to lower the risk of diseases like dementia. This contradiction—between the need for a healthy lifestyle and barriers to achieving one—can make things difficult for seniors, so it can help to have extra guidance to create a manageable health regimen.
While it may be a challenge to keep up a healthy lifestyle with age, it’s far from impossible. In this guide, we look at proactive ways to stay healthy. We offer healthy eating and exercise tips along with some ways to look after both your mental and physical health.
Healthy Eating Tips
Healthy eating is a complex topic that many people struggle to grasp. For seniors, it can be even more confusing because problems associated with old age can compound the difficulties of eating a balanced diet.
As we age, our metabolism begins to slow down. Studies show that seniors benefit from eating food with a lower calorie yet high nutritional content due to changes such as this. So while eating healthy is important, it’s also vital to consider the specific needs of an aging metabolism.
Of course, no one eats healthy 100% of the time. We all need to indulge now and then! As with exercise, however, even small steps toward a healthier diet can make an impact.
Here are a few ways seniors can take control of their nutrition and make a healthy diet practical.
Shop the Perimeter of the Store
When shopping, it can help to imagine the store has a kind of quicksand trap. The closer you stay to the edge, the safer you’ll be. That’s because stores lay out their fresh food at the perimeter. The deeper you venture into that proverbial swamp, the more processed, unhealthy food you’ll find. Make a game of it by resisting the “trap” and staying away from the empty calories. Never forget that while stores provide a service, they also tempt you to buy things you don’t need.
It’s also useful to make a shopping list and stick to it. Impulse purchases often favor unhealthy items, like those loaded with sugar or saturated fats. Making sure your stomach is full before you head to the store is a great way to resist temptation.
Eat More Veggies and Less Meat
Rebalancing your diet toward fresh vegetables and away from meat has many health benefits for seniors. A plant-based diet can combat diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. It’ll also provide a ready supply of fiber to keep your digestive system ticking along. It can even allow you to do your bit for the future of the planet, with plant-based diets having a lower environmental impact than meat-based ones.
A plant-based diet can also help you control your weight, bring up your energy level, and reduce blood pressure. Seniors are also more susceptible to food poisoning, which is less likely to occur on a plant-based diet. Even a lifelong carnivore can benefit from rebalancing his or her diet toward veggies in small ways.
Make it Social
Eating can become something of a chore, particularly if you suffer from poor physical health (and find cooking difficult) or a lack of appetite. Making food fun again is one way to tackle this problem, and you can do that by making it a social occasion. Throwing small dinner parties, meeting up with friends, or going to community gatherings can all help to put the fun back into food, which will encourage you to eat healthy and at the right times.
Try Something New
Mentally speaking, we grow old when we stop experiencing new things. Finding new experiences becomes harder as we get older for obvious reasons. Going out of your way to try something new can reinvigorate your interest in food and helps to remind your brain that eating doesn’t have to be a dull, routine activity. It’s easier than ever to try new foods from around the world, so you can even branch out to try foods you weren’t able to try before these items became locally available.
Talk to Your Doctor
Poor physical health can get in the way of healthy eating. Lack of appetite (perhaps as a side-effect of medication), IBS, food intolerances, and diabetes are all examples of conditions that can impact your diet and make eating a balanced diet harder than it needs to be. To resolve this, you should always speak to your doctor about any issues that may impact your diet. Your doctor will offer advice and guidance to help you mitigate the problem, keep your healthy diet on track, and help you enjoy food again.
Exercise for Seniors
Exercise can present some challenges as we age, and many people believe that it’s natural to slow down as we grow older. Yet staying active is as important as ever in old age, even if the form it takes sometimes needs to change a little.
For seniors, exercising is the key to maintaining cardiovascular health, reducing fracture risk, and even strengthening the mind. It’s also good for boosting serotonin and dopamine levels, which in turn improves your mood. Conversely, the risks associated with exercise are low and the benefits easily outweigh them.
Here are a few ways to make exercising practical for seniors.
One undervalued truth about exercise is this: some exercise is always better than no exercise at all. It may not feel like you’re doing much if you start slow, but you’re doing more than you were before, which prepares your body for future exercise and offers immediate benefits to your physical health and stamina.
For seniors, it’s important to consult with a doctor before beginning an exercise regime. This will help to minimize risk and target the exercise to achieving certain objectives. As you become fitter and more confident, you can increase the intensity of your routine.
Go for a Walk
While seniors inevitably lose some spring from their step, walking remains accessible to most, even into advanced age. As an exercise, it’s low-impact yet offers great rewards, and it can be tailored to suit a given fitness level. Walking is a holistic workout that boosts heart health, muscle strength, physical coordination, and mental health.
Another trait that makes walking so accessible is its low investment. There’s no special equipment needed, no memberships to pay, and most people only need to step outside to begin the habit.
Aim for a Mix
As with most things health, diversifying is the smartest way to achieve results. Developing an exercise regime that features a mix of cardio workouts and targeted exercises will give you the widest range of benefits and ease fatigue associated with focusing on a single activity. Each workout can focus on a different objective, from building joint and muscle strength to enhancing flexibility and coordination. Rotating through these workouts will ease the strain of repetition on any one part of your body.
The National Institute on Aging offers some excellent resources on specific workouts, including some videos.
Find a Workout Buddy
Science says that we’re more likely to stick to a workout if we share it with somebody else. Having a workout buddy can make exercise more fun and adds an element of accountability—there’ll be someone there to notice if you fall out of the habit. Consider finding a friend, joining classes, or getting a gym membership to help you stay engaged with your exercise routine. The exercise community tends to be supportive, so don’t let embarrassment stop you. Everyone is there to get healthier, after all.
Maintaining Physical Health
Age comes with a list of potential health conditions. While these health conditions can be a challenge, seniors can still live full, healthy lives by catching conditions early and managing their progression. The best way to do that is by keeping a keen eye on your physical health.
Here are a few things you can do to develop a mindful attitude to your health.
Catch Some Z’s
A lack of quality sleep is one of the most insidious health threats today, given the scale of the problem. Our modern lives often disrupt our sleep cycles and, as we age, getting a good night’s sleep can become even more difficult. Seniors can struggle more than most with disruption to sleep patterns as a direct result of aging. Physical problems such as fatigue and pain can make sleep unpredictable, as can emotional problems and mental health conditions.
Catching some Z’s is a matter of taking steps to ensure your physical and mental well being while also practicing good sleep hygiene. That means going to bed and waking up on a regular schedule, limiting daytime naps, and restricting bedtime activities to those that actually belong in bed.
Get an Ounce of Prevention
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s not a cliche but a truism. Catching problems early through regular visits to your doctor can help to resolve them or manage their development. Over time, this keeps you in the best possible physical shape, which makes you better able to manage your healthy habits.
Ask for Help
Seniors need to be able to talk openly with their doctors about their health. This allows you to get help early for emerging conditions, which can help to prevent or manage symptoms. It’s also vital for managing existing conditions, particularly for chronic conditions or when there are multiple medications to manage. Knowing how and when to seek help are important for dealing with the former, and medication trackers can help with the latter issue.
Many older people have experienced the benefits of working with a healthcare manager. These healthcare managers are qualified to offer advice and guidance on issues associated with aging—a kind of personal trainer for aging.
Mental decline in old age is partly correlated with a lack of mental stimulation. Challenging one’s mind daily and seeking out new experiences form the mind’s version of exercise. Engaging in regular mental exercises can help you stay sharp and fight age-related cognitive decline.
Mental exercises can be as simple as an in-depth conversation, a crossword, or a game. These all force the brain to engage, stretching the “muscles” associated with memory and cognition. There’s evidence that activities like these can help to delay the onset of age-related cognitive decline.
Cultivating Emotional Health
Emotional and mental health shouldn’t take a backseat to physical needs. In fact, there’s a strong correlation between mental and physical health, suggesting that both are vital to overall health. Seniors face many emotional challenges that can put them at risk, so here are a few ways of tackling those challenges.
Many seniors report feeling isolated and bored. These emotional states can easily lead to severe mental health conditions over time. Staying in contact with friends and family is vital to maintain social bonds, reinforce mental health, and to access a support network that can impart a feeling of security.
Not everyone has friends and family within easy reach. For these people, reaching out to find new social opportunities is vital. This might mean finding like-minded peers, attending community events, or volunteering.
Seniors increasingly report feelings of isolation. On top of losing family and friends, they can also feel like the world has moved on, leaving them behind. It’s important to find ways of reconnecting, along with ways to maintain a sense of self-worth. By volunteering in community projects, you can reinvigorate your social life through contact with people from a range of ages and backgrounds, all while giving something back.
Ask for Help
Asking for help is a life skill that even many adults have failed to master, but it’s one of the most powerful things we can do. For seniors, it could be a literal lifesaver. Talking to friends and family and to a professional therapist can help to offload some of the stresses of senior life. Many older people can struggle to reach out due to generational differences, with mental health issues often being a taboo subject among older generations. Even today, it’s common to trivialize and even infantilize the mental states of older people. But a senior’s emotions are just as valid as anyone else’s, and it’s vital to understand that support networks are available to those who ask for help.
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