Why is a healthier lifestyle Important as we age?
Thankfully, in today’s world, people are living much longer than the generations before them. However, a longer lifespan isn’t just a given. Longer lifespan is connected to choosing to engage in a healthy lifestyle. Trying to maintain your health is important in all periods of your life, but a healthy lifestyle becomes especially important as we get older. According to seniorplanning.org, maintaining health for longer will allow you to age at home longer, independently, without the need for a long term care community. The good news? It’s never too late to start engaging in healthier habits.
What are the most common changes with age?
No matter the age, engaging in unhealthy habits has a negative impact on our happiness, physical health, and overall well-being. A bad diet and lack of exercise contributes to many chronic conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, poor mental health, and more. If these conditions are left untreated at a young age they will only intensify and worsen as we age. Of course, there are life changes that may make exercising more difficult in advanced years, but there are always ways to adapt healthy habits to any level of exercise ability.
The other changes that occur as we age are oftentimes internal. Many older people have to cope with the death of friends or loved ones, a loss of independences, waning physical ability, the loss of career-identity, and many more changes that are unique to each individual. Despite any changes a person might be going through, quality of life and healthier habits are always within reach. Even the smallest change can have wide reaching benefits.
Maintaining a Healthy Diet
For many seniors, maintaining a healthy diet is much easier said than done. For those who have diminished physical abilities, they often rely on prepackaged, pre-prepared food, which can be high in sodium, fats, and cholesterol. For some, prepackaged food is just easier to prepare and people become accustomed to the convenience. Also, a slowing metabolism and change in taste can affect a person’s appetite, decreasing their proclivity towards consuming healthy foods.
Despite the inconvenience, if you have the ability to prepare your own food from fresh ingredients, you should try to aim for freshly prepared meals. Fresh meals are more likely to be high in fiber, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Packaged meals often do not have a balanced ingredient list. Fresh prepared foods will give you more energy and help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Staying Active Physically
When we’re younger, the primary motivation to work out is for the aesthetics of weight loss or muscle gain. But as we get older, physical exercise has many more uses. Physical activity improves balance, bone density, stops muscle atrophy, helps stabilize moods, and even improves cognitive health in regard to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Also, exercise is extremely good at preventing illnesses, pain, chronic physical conditions, and many diseases.
Regular exercise will also improve reflexes and balance if dizziness or vertigo is a problem. Yoga, which can be done from home, may help you improve your leg strength and balance. Ask your doctor what physical activity would be best for you, as some types of exercise may not be feasible and might even be dangerous. Swimming is another activity that is easy on the joints while improving leg strength.
Beyond exercises, your doctor may suggest vitamins or other dietary supplements such as calcium or vitamin D to help strengthen bones. This way, if a fall does take place, you will hopefully avoid bone fractures and most dangerously, a broken hip. Make sure to wear shoes that are not only comfortable, but easy to walk in as well. Shoes should be the proper size for your feet and should include non-slip tread on the bottom. Loose shoes, high heels, and shoes with little or no grip can cause you to fall when you are out walking. Shoes that are lace up with treaded soles are recommended to avoid falling.
Staying Active Mentally
Along with physical exercise, older people should also aim to keep their minds active. This helps stave off boredom, loneliness, and certain forms of dementia. Some ways to keep the mind sharp include puzzles, reading new books, learning a musical instrument, or even learning a foreign language. It’s never too late to learn something new, every day should be a school day!
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep affects our physical health as well as mental health. Every day it feels like new studies come out about the connection between sleep and Alzheimer’s. Lack of sleep over a lifetime has been found to be a direct contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. Not sleeping creates plaques in the brain called beta amyloids that coat the neuropathways and reduce brain function. Sleep essentially washes these plaques away. Over time, these plaques accumulate and scientists have found that for people who have Alzheimer’s, they also have a higher amount of beta amyloid plaques in their brains than those without Alzheimer’s.
Aim to Prevent Rather than Simply Hoping for a Cure
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true as we get older. Preventing sickness is much easier than dealing with it after the fact. Also, along with prevention comes early detection. This is why it’s essential to see your doctor on a regular basis and follow any recommendations they give you. This includes yearly physicals, screenings for certain cancers, flu shots, and checking weight and blood pressure. Also, pay attention to your body and if you notice anything different, go to the doctor sooner rather than later. Don’t wait 6 months to see a doctor, schedule an appointment as soon as possible if you notice something is off.