Today 12 out of every 100 people in the U.S. are age 65 or older, and older adults make up the fastest-growing part of our population. As we get older, we gain experiences and insights that move us forward and help us build our families and communities. Seniors often have a unique opportunity to share knowledge along with our free time with those around us. Staying healthy is the key to aging and enjoying those seniors years--or the second half as some call it.
Research has identified action steps we can take to maintain our health and function as we get older. From improving our diet and levels of physical activity to getting health screenings and managing risk factors for disease, these actions may influence different areas of health.
Eat Whole Foods
It’s more a way of eating than a formal diet. You load up on veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy. You eat less fatty meats, butter, sugar, salt, and packaged foods.
Many studies have found that this diet can help you live longer and protects against heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe one way it works is by physically changing parts of your chromosomes linked to age-related diseases.
Many of us dislike exercise yet it can come in many enjoyable forms--it might just be a matter of thinking about it differently. Walking, biking, yard work are all different types of exercise along with gardening and a game of catch. You can even watch video on your laptop, tablet, or other device and get senior-specific fitness programs like this.
There are four basic types of exercise we should be looking for:
Doing these activities you get both immediate and delayed benefits. All exercise helps reduce pain and improve your mental state by quickly releasing endorphins into your body. When you increase your endurance and strength there is the added benefit of increasing your muscle mass, even if it’s ever so slightly, that your body will burn more calories even when resting. Adding balance and flexibility can make it easier to get around and at the same time can reduce fall risks. Falls are the biggest reason for senior fatalities related to injuries.
Loneliness is defined as a feeling of emptiness, deprivation, or sadness. As our population ages, more and more senior citizens suffer from loneliness. COVID-19 has made this even worse. This sense of isolation is felt even more during holidays (December, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc.), although it can also be present on a daily basis. Loneliness should not be taken lightly since it can lead to serious consequences. Depression, chronic disease, eating, and sleep disorders to name a few. Here are some ideas on how to stay connected.
Insomnia is common in older adults. It’s when you have a harder time falling and staying asleep. It helps to wake and sleep on schedule every day. That can help keep your body clock in sync so you get the sleep you need. Some things to consider, no caffeine or alcoholic beverages in the evening, no bright lights in the bedroom, have a relaxing bedtime routine, ask your doctor if any of your medications might be keeping you awake.
Positive Mental Attitude
All of us face many obstacles in our lives. Loss of a job, loved one, or a major health problem can cause negative feelings in general. It is vitally important to work on an optimistic attitude. People that approach life with a rosier outlook have fewer heart attacks and depression than more negative people. You can learn to be optimistic. It just takes time and practice. Try smiling more, keep a journal of things you are thankful for, say hello to more people, do things for people (even simple acts like opening a door) and try to surround yourself with positive people.
It’s normally better to get your nutrients from food, not a pill. Healthy seniors usually don’t need special supplements aimed at seniors and are often more expensive. However, after age 50 your body does need more of some vitamins and minerals from foods or supplements than when we are younger. Some supplements to discuss with your doctor are B12, D, B6, and calcium. It’s always important to discuss these with your doctor or pharmacist to look for any interaction with medications you may take.
If this list looks daunting, start out by following a few of these tips and then adding in one a month--create a routine! If you do this successfully, you will feel better and enjoy the second half all the more!
National Institute on Aging