Healthy aging tips for seniors
We have divided our healthy aging tips for seniors into categories. These include diet, sleep, mind & memory, exercise & balance, and the home environment.
There is some overlap between these categories but this is to emphasize important points. We start with the general and then get specific
What is healthy aging?
So what is aging in the first place? Is healthy aging possible?
As we point out in a companion post on reverse aging, we experience two types of aging: chronological aging and biological aging. There is nothing we can do about the first, because time does not stand still.
But there is plenty we can do about the second, which focuses on the biology of aging and the actual aging process. And that is the focus of our healthy aging tips for seniors.
Healthy aging is managing and enjoying the physical process of aging that all of us face if we are fortunate enough to get that far. And these tips are all about:
- Planning and preparing for a future of living with aging.
- Adapting to inevitable changes.
- Staying as happy and healthy as possible as we get older.
- Maintaining our functional ability both within and outside the home.
How to eat healthy as we age
We should restrict our foods to those that provide plenty of nutrients but limited calories.
- Vegetables and fruits. Select a variety and zero in on those with bright colors. These contain powerful antioxidants.
- Eat whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread. We personally like muesli, which is high in fiber and whole grains.
- Go for low-fat milk and cheese. You can use soy or rice milk but make sure it has added calcium and vitamin D.
- Eat poultry, eggs, lean meats, and seafood (especially the oil-rich type like salmon and mackerel)
- Consume nuts, beans, and seeds.
- Avoid empty calorie foods, which have plenty of calories but little nutritional value, such as candy, baked goods, and chips.
- Avoid saturated and trans fats, such as margarine., These are often found in fast food and baked goods.
- Physical activity. We talk about exercise later. But, for people who lose their appetite as they age, one of the effects of exercise is to enhance it.
Drink enough water to avoid getting dehydrated. As we age, some of us lose our sense of thirst. And some medicines have a dehydrating effect, making it even more important to drink plenty of fluids.
Hydration also helps our digestive systems, which tend to slow down as we age.
It’s important to make sure that you drink enough water, especially if you exercise, which you should.
Handy tip. It’s hard to keep up with good hydration practice. Because one just forgets to drink. So do what my wife and I do. Get a 64oz reminder water bottle to keep you on track for hydration.
Mind, mood, and memory
Make your mental well-being a priority. Improve your state of mind with meditation and relaxation techniques. These will help you manage stress, which is bad for the heart.
Practice gratitude. You will be amazed how it can change your life for the better.
As we age, our brain changes. And this can have some effect on our memory and thinking processes. This means that we tend to be forgetful of names and places. Our thought processes can slow up and multitasking becomes more difficult.
But don’t mistake this for the mental confusion and memory lapses that go beyond what can be explained by “senior moments.” You may be experiencing early-onset dementia or some other treatable brain condition. If in doubt, seek medical help.
So, what can we do about our memory?
- On a physical level, a healthy diet can help with brain function. Eat plenty of fish. And too much alcohol is not good for mental function.
- Also, on the physical side, get plenty of exercise. This stimulates blood flow to the brain. And it also reduces stress and alleviates depression. These are known to contribute to memory loss.
- On the purely mental side, we need to keep our minds active. We should read a lot, take up new hobbies, and add new skills. Perhaps we can learn to play a musical instrument, or learn a new language. And computer games (in moderation) have been found good for our mental health.
- Connect with people. Be sociable. It can help your mood. Social interaction can help reduce the stress and depression that can contribute to memory loss. If you are retired but have career skills, volunteer to put them in the service of a local non-profit. Spend time with friends and family. Attend social gatherings.
- Get decent sleep. Research indicates that sleep is required for sharpening the mind and the consolidation of memory.
Physical fitness for seniors
About 2,000 years ago, the Roman poet Juvenal wrote: “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sanum.” We should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Mental and physical health go hand in hand. We just covered the mental. Let’s now get into the physical aspects of our healthy aging tips for seniors.
Regular exercise helps with weight maintenance and the avoidance of chronic health issues. It also helps ward off a condition known as sarcopenia, the progressive loss of muscle mass as we age. This is a major contributor to falls.
More to the point, specific types of exercise can help overcome age-related problems like maintaining balance and staying flexible. For example, balance exercises, such as the Otago program are designed to help prevent falls.
Falls are a major cause of serious accidents among the senior population. In fact, one out of five falls results in injuries like broken bones and head trauma.
So, consciously devise an exercise program that includes the following elements.
- Aerobic or endurance exercise. These activities increase heart rate and breathing capacity. They could include jogging, brisk walking, biking, or swimming.
- Resistance or strength training exercises. You can lift weights or use resistance bands for this.
- Flexibility exercises to stretch muscles and keep the body limber.
- Posture: Maintaining proper posture is important for keeping our backs strong and straight. Everything is connected. So a good posture will help in all areas of our well-being. And it is especially helpful for maintaining our balance.
Here is what we personally like to do for exercise:
- Kettlebells: We like using kettlebells. These combine upper and lower body resistance training with flexibility training.
- Maxiclimber: We also like using a Maxiclimber. This gives a great aerobic workout and also exercises the arms and core. It’s very convenient to have around. More importantly, there is none of the joint impact associated with jogging or walking.
- Tai chi: This ancient system of fluid movement is an excellent way to exercise and maintain balance control and posture. Find a tai chi class near you and also benefit from the socializing involved.
Getting enough sleep as we age is just as important as diet and exercise. The experts tell us that between 7 and 9 hours of sleep is optimal for our health.
Lack of sleep is linked to an increased risk of chronic disease. It is also linked to premature increases in biological age. In fact, severely disturbed sleep may be a sign of the onset of dementia.
So how do we get better sleep as we age? Here are some tips.
- Keep a regular bedtime schedule. Your body and mind will develop a sleep habit,
- Wear yourself out. Yes. Just because you are retired doesn’t mean you should be lazy. So get plenty of exercise and keep your mind and memory busy, as we discussed earlier.
- Don’t take afternoon naps. Save your sleep time until you really need it.
- Cut back on fluids in the evening to reduce those sleep-disturbing bathroom trips.
- Take a warm bath before bedtime.
- Take a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is the natural hormone that tells our bodies when it is time to sleep.
Now that we have covered the main overall healthy aging tips for seniors, we’ll touch on some really important specific topics.
Maintaining bone, joint, and muscle health
What happens to our bones with age
As we age, our bones tend to shrink in density and size. This weakens them, making them more vulnerable to fracture.
And our muscles lose mass, strength, and endurance. These affect our stability, coordination, and our oh-so-important balance.
Of course, both bone and muscle are important for our posture.
Here’s what we can do to promote bone, joint, and muscle health
- Make sure to consume calcium in adequate amounts. Do this by diet and with calcium supplements. As for diet, you will find calcium in dairy products, kale, broccoli, tofu, and salmon. And there are plenty of calcium supplements on the market. According to the Institute of Medicine, older people should get 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium daily
- Make sure to consume vitamin D in adequate amounts. Many people get this from being outside in the sunlight. But dietary sources include D-fortified milk, salmon, eggs, and tuna. And you can also find vitamin D supplements.
- Stay physically active. We discussed this earlier.
Maintaining heart health
Be conscious of your heart health. As we age our arteries stiffen (arteriosclerosis). This leads to higher blood pressure. And the walls of the arteries gather plaque in the form of a buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis).
We can’t control all of this but a healthy diet and physical activity will certainly help keep our arteries healthier longer. And, of course, we are blessed with medications that can help too.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Most people are concerned about being overweight. But being underweight can lead to health problems too. So weight control is an essential part of healthy aging.
As we age our metabolism slows down. The metabolism controls the way we burn calories.
How our body burns calories (metabolism) slows down as we age. So, if we become less physically active as we age, but continue to eat the same amount as usual, we will gain weight. So to maintain a healthy weight, we must stay active and eat healthy.
Here’s how to maintain a healthy weight (I know, easier said than done!)
- Your daily routine must include at least some moderate physical activity. We have already provided some tips on this.
- Eat a healthy diet. We talked about this but it’s worth repeating. Choose high fiber foods, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein, such as fish. Avoid sugar and foods with saturated fats.
- Watch your portion sizes. Here is the brutal and inescapable fact. To lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit. It doesn’t matter what kind of diet you are on. So watch portion sizes. By the way, here is an interesting calorie deficit calculator.
The digestive system
As we age, the digestive tract, which propels our food from ingestion to excretion, slows down because it does not contract the way it did when we were younger. This can lead to constipation. And this problem can be exacerbated by some of the medications we take.
According to the Mayo Clinic, diet and lifestyle are key to maintaining the digestive tract in good working order, This includes a diet that is rich in fiber and regular exercise. This regimen can be supplemented by over-the-counter laxatives.
All this can go a long way in heading off a medical intervention.
Our Digestive System
As we age, our digestive tract gets sluggish. It does not contract as often or as strongly as it did when we were younger. This can lead to constipation, stomach pain, and feelings of nausea. Many medications also cause or contribute to constipation.
To head off these digestive problems, the Mayo Clinic recommends a diet that is just like what we discussed earlier. That is a diet rich in fiber accompanied by drinking plenty of fluids. This along with keeping as active as possible, and doing our best to manage stress.
Aging and skin
As we age our skin gets thinner, less elastic, and more fragile. And a decreased production of natural oils tends to make the skin drier. So what to do?
- When outdoors, we should use sunscreen and wear a wide-brimmed hat. This will reduce our chances of getting skin cancer.
- Use mild soaps and moisturizer.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is associated with wrinkly skin.
Teeth and gums
As we age the enamel that protects our teeth wears away, leaving us susceptible to cavities. Also, the nerves in our teeth lose sensitivity to pain, meaning that a diagnosis of cavities can get delayed.
On top of that, many of the medications we use can cause dry mouth, which increases the risk of oral disease. So what to do? It’s really basic and no more than what our mothers taught us.
- We need to brush twice a day. And then clean between the teeth with floss. We also like to use those plastic toothpicks with a brush at one end.
- Regular visits with the dentist and hygienist.
The home environment
Finally but not least, we come to the maintenance of a senior-healthy home environment. This is actually one of the key healthy aging tips for seniors. And it is often overlooked.
We have written quite extensively on this elsewhere in our pieces on aging in place.
But here are some important highlights.
- Checklist for aging in place remodeling. This focuses on all the safety measures one should take when renovating a home with aging in place in mind.
- Bathroom remodeling for aging in place. This goes into depth on bathroom safety measures for seniors.
- Kitchens for the elderly. Here too there are safety precautions to take. .These include the benefits of induction cooktops over radiant electric cooktops
- Remodeling for visual impairment. Failing eyesight can afflict the elderly but there are things we can do about it in the home.
- The healthy house. This isn’t just for seniors. But there are many things we can do to maintain a healthy home environment that are often overlooked. Examples are the benefits of the bidet, circadian light therapy, and indoor air quality.
We would sum up by saying that aging in place is the very epitomy and proof of successful aging.
Healthy aging tips for seniors – conclusions
Healthy aging is an increasingly trending topic. And this should be no surprise because, according to the United States Census, by 2035 the number of people aged 65 and older will be greater than the number of people 18 and younger.
There is no magic bullet when it comes to managing healthy aging. And be very suspicious of any so-called “anti-aging therapy.”
As you can see from our tips, we have to adopt an “all of the above” approach. The key is a healthy lifestyle that includes a variety of nutritious foods, physical activity, and mental and social stimulation.
Here’s to your successful aging!