The topic of healthy aging is all over the news these days. We are here to set the record straight and give you a roadmap to improve your physical and mental health. Aging well is entirely achievable. Regardless of where you begin, even the smallest steps can make a huge difference. What better time to start then Healthy Aging Month?
The Benefits of Exercise on Aging
How important is activity? A Study in the Journal of American Heart Association states, “Exercise is being recognized as the closest thing to a miracle drug that we have. Not only does regular movement appear to benefit our mind and body, but it also seems to protect us from many aspects of aging's slow wear and tear.”
The word exercise can strike fear in many older adults and with good reason! If you haven’t had a consistent exercise routine it can be tough to get started. Let’s begin by replacing exercise with the word “activity.” For some of you, increasing your activity level is a good place to start when focusing on healthy aging. Others of you may want to take your activity/exercise to another level.
There are many benefits to exercising often. Increased activity:
- Protects against heart disease.
- Improves blood pressure.
- Increases strength and mobility. Everyday activities like dressing, bathing, walking, shopping, and playing with the grandkids require strength and mobility.
- Strengthens the heart.
- Strengthens the lungs.
- Improves balance reducing the incidents of falls, the leading cause of death and disability for adults over the age of 65.
- Improves mood.
- Improves memory and overall cognitive functioning.
How Much Exercise Should Older Adults Get?
The World Health Organization has some guidelines that we summarize below:
- Older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. Or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- Perform aerobic activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
- For additional health benefits, older adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week. Or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.
- Older adults with poor mobility should perform physical activities to enhance balance and prevent falls on three or more days per week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups, should be done on two or more days a week.
- When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
This can be a bit overwhelming. Bottom line: It is never too late to start. Have patience and you will see positive results!
Let’s continue with some practical tips on getting started:
- Start where you are, not where you want to be. We can’t emphasize this enough. Positive aging requires that safety be a priority. If you are new to activity, make sure you are supervised by someone. Start low and go slow!
- Attend group classes. These could be in an exercise class at the senior center or at your gym. Many gyms have group activities to suit a variety of functional levels from yoga to chair exercises.
- Hire a personal trainer. If you can afford it, hire a personal trainer who specializes in working with older adults. This person can monitor your progress and create a plan for you to achieve your specific goals.
- Use a physical therapist. If you are recovering from an illness or accident, use a physical therapist. Physical therapy is an underutilized resource to rehabilitate safely and more quickly.
- Bring someone with you. If possible, get a friend or family member to start with you. This will keep you accountable and improve both party’s health. There are benefits of weight training for seniors and their caregivers alike.
- Use a wearable fitness tracker. If you like tracking data, consider a Fitbit or Apple Watch to track your activity level.
- Make the most of your routine. Housework, gardening and playing with the grandkids counts as activity!
Positive Aging with Mindfulness
The term “mindfulness” may seem like some new-age concept for people who take yoga and go on meditation retreats. The fact of the matter is the concept of mindfulness is gaining traction as a mainstream practice important for all individuals as we get older.
What exactly does mindfulness mean? Psychotherapist Andrea Brandt says, “Mindful aging is aging in a way that doesn't deny the negatives of getting older but doesn't blow them out of proportion and dwell on them either. Instead, it turns the mind to the benefits of aging, of which there are many.” It means viewing changes, good and bad, without judgment and finding peace with them.
Some people seemed blessed with the ability to be resilient and calm in the face of adversity. For many of us, it can be a struggle. The good news is that mindfulness can be learned.
The benefits of mindfulness include:
- An ability to better manage stress and conflict
- Improved quality of life
- Improved cognition and memory
- Reduced depression and anxiety
- Reduced high blood pressure
- Reduced pain
- Improved motivation
Mindfulness takes practice and with that practice you may see dramatic results. Health problems may not seem so overwhelming and you will notice a renewed sense of confidence and control. Let’s look at the steps to becoming a more mindful person so you can reap the benefits outlined above:
- Put things into perspective. When up against a roadblock, think about the bigger picture. With a positive and “can do” attitude, most problems can be solved more easily than one might think.
- Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. An example: “I can do this. I am strong and capable.” Positivity has actually been shown to lead to a longer life!
- Practice deep breathing when you get anxious or stressed. You can find all kinds of instructions online or on apps.
- Try yoga or Tai Chi. Both require a present and calm mind.
- Try meditation. There are many methods and benefits of meditation. Again, you can try numerous apps and online instructions to get you started.
Healthy Eating for Healthy Longevity
There may be no other topic that has as much confusion surrounding it as nutrition. Every day it seems as though there is some new piece of advice that contradicts what was proposed just a short while ago! Sifting through all the science and research, there are tried and true fundamentals that most everyone agrees to.
The World Health Organization has some clear cut guidelines that we will summarize below:
- Eat a variety of fresh vegetables and f Try choosing what’s in season or picking a vegetable you’ve never cooked with before.
Why it matters: People with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables have lower incidents of chronic health problems. These include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some kinds of cancer.
- Eat moderate amounts of the right kinds of f This would include unsaturated vegetable oils like olive, soy, sunflower or corn oil. Stay away from animal fats or oils high in saturated fats like butter, ghee, lard, coconut and palm oil. Avoid trans fats which are found in processed and fried foods.
Why it matters: Eating too much of the wrong kinds of fat can be harmful to your health. It can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Eat less salt and s Limit salt in cooking and avoid high sodium condiments. Limit intake of soft drinks and other high sugar drinks. Choose fresh fruit over high sugar cookies, candy and other desserts. Look at the sugar content of what you buy. You will be surprised at how many foods contain high amounts of sugar. Limiting sugar can protect your brain as well as your body!
Why it matters: People whose diet is high in salt and sodium have an increased risk of high blood pressure. High sugar intake has been associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
- Make Sure You Get Enough Protein. Protein is important as you get older. Choose lean sources of protein like chicken and fish. Beans and nuts are also good sources of protein.
Why it matters: We need protein to build muscle. Muscle weakness and decline of muscle mass are serious problems for older adults.
- Watch Your Shopping Cart. What you buy is what you eat! Focus on fresh vegetables and fruit. Buy nuts for snacking which will fill you up.
Why it matters: Choosing food and snacks with care at the store sets you up for success when you get home.
- Plan meals ahead. Make extra to freeze for another meal.
Why it matters: Meal prepping can save you time and energy to spend on other areas of your life. It also helps you avoid the temptation of a last-minute fast-food pick up when you’re in a rush.
How Hydration Improves our Health
Also, as we get older our thirst center tends to decline. According to nurse, Anne Vanderbilt, by the time you are thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. Dehydration is a common cause of hospitalizations of older adults. Water is necessary for every bodily function.
For someone who lives alone, it can be a challenge to remember to drink, but we have some great suggestions!
- Start early drinking water. Drinking later at night means more trips to the bathroom!
- Avoid sugary drinks like juices and sodas.
- Try to drink between 6-8 glasses of water a day unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.
- Begin each morning with two large glasses of water. Carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go as a reminder to drink during the day.
How Social Engagement Helps You Age Well
Social isolation and loneliness have profound impacts on health. This includes a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s disease, according to The National Institute on Aging, as we get older, our lives change. Grown kids sometimes move further away. Retirement means losing the social connections of coworkers and their families. Losing the ability to drive can exacerbate the problem. The loss of social engagement can be insidious and maintaining strong relationships can help you age well and:
- Create a sense of belonging and connection
- Improve quality of life
- Improve self-esteem
- Improve cognitive function
- Bring a feeling purpose in life
- Prevent disease
Pay attention to the changing nature of your life and the “creep” of social isolation. Awareness is the first step to ward off social isolation. We have some great tips to get you going:
- Look for volunteer opportunities. Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose and belonging. It also connects you to others in a meaningful way. Start with your local Aging Services department.
- Stay connected on social media. Social media doesn’t give you personal face-to-face connection but it can be a great way to see what your children and grandchildren are up to!
- Consider the local senior center. Senior centers have come a long way. They offer clubs, outings and numerous activities for a wide range of interests.
- Join a book club. You may be surprised to learn that book clubs abound. Check with your friends who belong to see if there is an opening.
- Invite people over for dinner, or lunch. Inviting people over is a lost art! Whether you live in your own home or assisted living, take the plunge!
- Keep your expectations reasonable. Stay flexible as you make new friends. Resist the urge to find the perfect fit. Be open to new relationships.
Celebrating healthy aging month is the perfect time to focus on aging well. Small improvements in any of these areas will make a huge difference in your health and wellbeing.