Ten Tips for Healthy Aging
1. Live an active life
Regular exercise is one of the greatest keys to physical and mental wellbeing. Living an active life will help you stay fit enough to maintain your independence to go where you want to and perform your own activities. Regular exercise may prevent or even provide relief from many common chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and arthritis, to name a few.
Tips: The key is to stay active, so do something you will enjoy. If you are not the type of person who will stick to a regular gym routine, go on a walk or ride your bike every day instead. Try to incorporate aerobic, balance, and musclestrengthening activities into your routine. Think about what works best for you, consult your doctor, and get moving!
2. Eat healthy foods
The majority of adults in the US consume more than double the recommended daily allowance of sodium, which can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular disease; most of this high sodium intake comes from pre-packaged foods and restaurants.
Tips: Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods. Avoid sweet, salty, and highly processed foods. Keep in mind that each person has different dietary needs – follow your doctor's suggestions regarding dietary restrictions
3. Maintain your brain
One in eight older adults (aged 65+) in the United States has Alzheimer's disease, and some cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. Studies have shown that a lifestyle that includes cognitive stimulation through active learning slows cognitive decline.
Tips: Never stop learning and challenging your mind! Take dance lessons, learn a new language, attend lectures at a local university, learn to play a musical instrument, or read a book.
4. Cultivate your relationships
Twenty-eight percent of older adults live alone, and living alone is the strongest risk factor for loneliness. Common life changes in older adulthood, such as retirement, health issues, or the loss of a spouse, may lead to social isolation.
Tips: Maintain communication with your family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change. Schedule regular time to meet with friends and family – over coffee, during a weekly shared meal, or around a common interest. Reach out to friends who might be isolated or feel lonely.
5. Get enough sleep
Humans can go longer without food than without sleep. Older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults – seven to nine hours per night – but often get much less. Lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased fall risk, and memory problems.
Tips: Develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine. Keep your bedroom dark and noise-free— avoid watching television or surfing the internet while in bed. Stay away from caffeine late in the day.
6. Reduce stress
As we age, our stressors change and so does our ability to deal with stress. 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.
Tips: We cannot entirely avoid stressful situations but we can learn better techniques to cope with stress. Take care of yourself when you are stressed by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating nutritious foods. Talk to a loved one or counselor about your stress, and try some relaxation techniques, such as circular breathing, yoga, or meditation. Remember to always keep things in perspective – try to accept and adapt to the things you cannot control.
7. Practice prevention
Many accidents, illnesses, and common geriatric health care conditions, such as falls, chronic illness, depression, and frailty, are preventable.
Tips: To prevent illness, get a yearly flu vaccine and wash your hands after using the restroom and before handling food. To prevent a fall, complete a home safety checklist, use assistive devices, wear appropriate footwear, get your vision checked, take vitamin D and calcium, and get some form of exercises into your routine.
8. Take charge of your health
Most of our health is not controlled by the health care system but by our own actions, our environment, our genes, and social factors. In addition, physicians are not perfect; medical errors do happen. The more patients participate in their own health care, the more satisfied they tend to be with the care they receive.
Tips: Think about the ways that your health can improve by changing your lifestyle, and make those changes. You are your own best advocate. Contact your primary care practitioner for an annual physical or whenever you have a concern about your health, and go to those appointments prepared. 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!
9. Make community connections
Older adults who engage in meaningful community activities like volunteer work report feeling healthier and less depressed. Tips: Join a planning committee, volunteer, take a trip with friends, play cards at your local senior center, or join a book club. Remember that participating in activities should be fun, not stressful!
10. Complete your Advance Directive
The Patient Self-Determination Act gives you the right to participate in your own health care decisions, but you may not always be in a position to make a decision for yourself. You can outline your health preferences and appoint somebody to make a decision in your place when you are unable to by completing your Advance Directive.
Tips: Take the time to understand all of the components of an Advance Directive. Stop by your local care management office or resource center to learn more and fill one out. Keep a copy of your Advance Directive and share one with your health care agent, close relatives, primary care provider, and the hospital where you are likely to receive care in an emergency. Some states and organizations allow you to upload your Advance Directive into an online database.
The Aging Resource Center offers free assistance to anyone wanting to fill out a New Hampshire or Vermont Advance Directive. Contact us for an appointment.