Staying healthy as you age is very important to many aspects of your life. It affects everything from your emotional well being to your financial stability later in life. It is never too early (or late) to start taking steps to a healthier and happier life.
Before diving into what your patients can do to help stay healthy as they age, there is something I have to point out. You can’t wait until the signs of aging have caught up with you and hope for a 180-degree turnaround. I suggest that everyone start taking care of their health now, before the wrinkles and increasing age arrive, if they want to be healthier through the years.
Getting healthier once you have aged is possible. However, it is much more difficult than maintaining an already healthy body. If you were to actively take care of your body throughout your life, you are going to see better results than if you only take care of your body when problems arise.[i]
Start a Routine
For those who want to begin an exercise program, a good place to start is with a walking routine or any gentle aerobic exercise, which will increase the heart rate without inducing too much strain. The American Heart Association recommends working up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as brisk walking) every week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity (such as jogging, running) or a combination of both every week.[ii]
Focus on Your Brain
As we age, there aren’t many words as intimidating as “dementia” or “Alzheimer’s disease”. As many as 1 in 10 adults older than 65 in the United States are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Even without the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia, there is a natural cognitive decline that comes with aging.
The best way to prevent cognitive decline in yourself and your patients is to keep mentally active. Some choose to do this via puzzle games, but continuing to learn new things is also effective. Take some time to learn a new language or instrument, or read a book on a topic you love. Even something as fun as taking a dance class can help you stay on top of your game.[iii]
Kick Old Habits
Don’t smoke. Smoking constricts blood vessels and may decrease cognitive capacity. A moderate glass or two of wine, though, may be beneficial.[iv]
Loneliness is harmful to your health. If you feel lonely -- whether you live alone or with someone, have lots of friends or none -- you are more likely to get dementia or depression. Seniors who report feeling left out and isolated have more trouble with everyday tasks like bathing and climbing stairs. They also die earlier than less-lonely folks do. Researchers found that lonely people have higher levels of stress hormones that cause inflammation, or swelling, linked to arthritis and diabetes. Another study found more antibodies to certain herpes viruses in lonely people, a sign of stress in their immune system. So, stay or make friends. Do volunteer work or simply help someone in need. Just connect.[v]
Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
Weight loss can require more than daily focus on exercise and diet. Your lifestyle has a huge impact on your ability to lose weight. Here are a few healthy eating and lifestyle modification tips:
Always read labels. This way you know what you are putting into your body. Try to eat fresh whole foods and stay away from processed products. Look out for high sodium and artificial ingredients.
Reduce white starches like refined grains and refined sugars in your diet. These foods may cause an increased appetite and cravings. Try swapping them for whole grains.
One strategy is to eat a greater quantity of low-calorie density food, such as leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, fruits and soups. These foods contain a lot of water so there are fewer calories for the volume of food you are eating.
Cook more meals at home so you know exactly what is going in to your food. The tendency to eat pre-prepared meals outside of the home often increases as we age. Restaurant servings tend to serve us way too much food for one sitting, as well as adding excess sodium and sugar.
Just as important as it is to eat certain foods, it is equally important to avoid other foods. While many of these foods are an everyday part of most people’s diets, making the sacrifice to avoid them will be well worth it in the long run. Some foods to limit are ones that contain processed sugar like cookies, cakes, and candy.[vi]
When you were young, you were probably used to balancing a job, school and social life. Many college students are accustomed to staying up for long periods of time, balancing classes and employment with little-to-no sleep. This sort of bodily stress isn’t something that many older adults can handle.
As you get older, stressors and how you deal with them changes. Constant stress, even positive ones like a new job or spouse, can cause a number of health problems over time. If constantly in a state of stress, your patients increase their risk for memory loss, lower their ability to fight off illness and, of course, develop generalized fatigue. Stress isn’t something that can be avoided altogether. The goal is not to eliminate stress, but to minimize it and deal with the existing stressors in healthy ways. One of the best ways I suggest doing this is to set aside time during the day to relax in the way that makes the most sense for you – yoga, meditation, reading, napping, the choice is yours![vii]
[i] Samantha Rosario, Clinician Today, accessed 19 April 2019, < http://cliniciantoday.com/aging-well-how-to-stay-healthy-as-you-age/>
[ii] Quardio Editorial Team, Quardio, Inc, accessed 19 April 2019, < https://www.getqardio.com/healthy-heart-blog/happy-healthy-aging/>
[iii] Samantha Rosario, Clinician Today, accessed 19 April 2019, < http://cliniciantoday.com/aging-well-how-to-stay-healthy-as-you-age/>
[iv] Jeannette Franks, Ph.D., Yes Magazine, accessed 19 April 2019, < https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/respecting-elders-becoming-elders/how-to-stay-healthy-as-you-age-20190416/>
[v] WebMD Editorial Team, WebMD, accessed 19 April 2019, < https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/healthy-aging-secret#1>
[vi] Quardio Editorial Team, Quardio, Inc, accessed 19 April 2019, < https://www.getqardio.com/healthy-heart-blog/happy-healthy-aging/>
[vii] Samantha Rosario, Clinician Today, accessed 19 April 2019, < http://cliniciantoday.com/aging-well-how-to-stay-healthy-as-you-age/>