People with good, healthy habits when they were younger tend to become healthy seniors, but it’s never too late to initiate a change to lead healthier lives. Seniors experience many changes in their bodies as they age, and they may need to alter their lifestyles to keep themselves healthy and live longer. They may need dietary changes, medications, supplements, physicals – the list goes on.
Here are some of the crucial healthy habits that seniors must consider implementing in their daily routines:
Eat a healthy diet.
Maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet is crucial for seniors to live healthy lives. As the digestive system tends to slow down with age, it is vital to incorporate high-fiber foods and essential vitamins like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Adding fiber to the diet helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Lack of appetite is a common problem among seniors, and it’s essential to first address the causes of that. There are many conditions or reasons why a senior experiences a decline in appetite, but for the most part, improving the mealtime ambiance and enhancing food flavor can work. Encouraging shared mealtimes with friends and family, offering visually appealing food, and suggesting a regular schedule for meals, snacks, and drinks can also support healthy eating habits.
A healthy diet does not have adverse health effects that can aggravate a senior’s condition, such as being prone to putting up extra weight, developing insulin resistance, or having uncomfortable symptoms in the bowels. If there are underlying health conditions to consider, a younger adult’s healthy diet may not be as healthy as a senior. Always consult the doctor for diet recommendations to suit their health condition.
A balanced diet with nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, can help maintain optimal health and prevent chronic diseases. Processed foods, sugary drinks, alcohol, and foods high in saturated and trans fats should be limited (and, for some, avoided).
Staying hydrated is another vital habit linked to having a healthy diet. Seniors are prone to dehydration as they tend to feel less thirsty as they age, so drinking plenty of water is essential to avoid constipation and urinary tract infections.
Seniors must try to drink at least eight glasses of water daily, and more if they live in a hot climate or are physically active. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, and soups can also increase fluid intake. They must also steer clear of sugary drinks, caffeine, and alcohol, as these can cause dehydration and lead to other health issues.
Stay physically active
Exercise and physical activity are immune system boosters. Keeping yourself moving and active is a way to fight inflammation, infections, and the risk of developing chronic diseases. Low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, and yoga, are great options for seniors as they are gentle on the joints and can be easily modified to fit different fitness levels.
Incorporating aerobic, balance, strength training, and other low-impact exercises into a routine can help seniors maintain a healthy weight, prevent falls and fractures, and improve energy levels, memory, and sleep. It is important for seniors to find an exercise routine that is safe and appropriate for their fitness level. Remember, even small amounts of exercise each day can bring health benefits, so it’s better to do a little than nothing.
Take supplements, if necessary
Supplements can be an effective way for seniors to support their health and well-being. Our bodies may require additional nutrients to function optimally as we age, and certain vitamins and minerals may be harder to absorb. Supplements can help fill in these gaps and support overall health.
For example, calcium and vitamin D supplements can help maintain bone health and reduce the risk of fractures, which is especially important for older adults. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help reduce inflammation and improve heart health, while vitamin B12 supplements can help support cognitive function and energy levels.
It’s essential for seniors to talk to their healthcare provider before taking any new supplements, as some may interact with medications or have potential side effects. A healthcare provider can also help determine which supplements are necessary based on an individual’s health needs.
While supplements can be helpful, remember that they should not replace a healthy and balanced diet. A diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is still the best way to get the nutrients our bodies need. Supplements should be used to complement a healthy diet, not replace it.
Regular preventive care visits, including health screenings for cholesterol levels, cancer, heart problems, and other conditions, can help seniors detect and prevent serious health issues. The American Cancer Society recommends that women over the age of 45 schedules annual mammography screening for breast cancer, while men over age 50 should consider regular testing for prostate cancer. In addition, seniors can receive regular vaccinations, such as for influenza and pneumonia, to prevent infections.
Take measures to prevent infections
Getting vaccinated annually is an effective way to stay healthy throughout the year. If you are 65 years or older, you should discuss the option of receiving a high-dose or adjuvant flu vaccine with your doctor. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, and when the vaccine strains match the circulating strains, it can reduce the risk of the flu by 40 to 60 percent.
Since the flu virus changes each year, it is recommended that you get vaccinated annually. You can also consult with your doctor about receiving pneumococcal vaccines to protect against pneumonia and meningitis.
It is important to avoid smoking, as it is detrimental to one’s physical health in many ways. Smoking can cause serious damage to the lungs and increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and various forms of cancer. Even after a senior has developed smoking-related health problems, quitting smoking can improve symptoms and reduce the chance of premature death. While quitting smoking can be challenging due to the physical and psychological addiction to nicotine, medications, and counseling have been proven to be effective in helping people quit. It is important not to let a past failure to quit deter you from trying again.
Ensure adequate rest and sleep
Sleep is essential for maintaining good health and cognitive function. Sleep Studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, decrease immune function, and increase levels of inflammatory blood markers. Not getting enough sleep can also cause fatigue, making it challenging to be physically active and negatively affecting mood. Seniors must aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night and establish a consistent sleep routine to help improve sleep quality. Factors such as pain, medication side effects, and sleep disorders can all affect sleep quality in seniors.
To maintain good “sleep hygiene,” wake up and go to bed at the same time, avoid taking daytime naps, and steer clear of alcohol or caffeine in the evening. Ensure that your loved one’s bedroom is comfortable, cool, and quiet. If they are living in a senior home or an assisted living facility, make sure to place “homey” accents in their bedroom to make them feel at home.
Keep the mind active
Just as physical exercise is important for seniors’ health – so is a mental exercise. Seniors need to maintain their cognitive health by staying mentally active and learning new skills. While it’s common for seniors to lose mental agility and become more forgetful as they age – it doesn’t have to be the same for your loved one. Engaging in brain games, completing crossword puzzles, reading, writing, and trying new hobbies can help stimulate seniors’ minds and keep them mentally sharp. Staying mentally active may even improve thinking ability.
If they have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive-related disorders, engaging their minds must be a priority. One way to help is to give them fidget toys, which can offer them a lot of benefits:
Managing stress is important to maintain both physical and mental well-being. Chronic stress can increase the production of cortisol, disrupting various bodily functions, including the immune system. To manage stress, seniors can try increasing physical activity, getting enough sleep, setting realistic expectations, and engaging in relaxing activities that they enjoy.
It is essential to avoid chronic stress as it has been linked to health issues such as cardiovascular disease, decreased immune function, and insulin resistance. It can also accelerate cellular aging and promote inflammatory markers in the body. Older adults can reduce chronic stress by implementing general stress-reduction techniques such as exercise, meditation, and relaxation strategies combined with approaches targeting their specific stress source. This may also help reduce their risk of diseases or prevent their condition from worsening.
Socialize and stay connected
The lack of socialization and isolation among seniors can lead to adverse health outcomes, including low self-esteem, difficulty coping, and increased levels of stress hormones that could trigger inflammation and related diseases. That’s why seniors need to stay socially active.
There are many opportunities for seniors to engage with their communities, such as attending local senior centers, participating in community activities, and volunteering. Spending time with family and grandchildren can also help seniors combat loneliness, especially if they have mobility issues. Seniors with difficulty leaving their homes may benefit from connecting with others through in-home care services.
Social activities can help promote cognitive function, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. By staying socially connected, seniors can enjoy a more positive outlook on life, leading to better health outcomes.
Maintain a healthy weight
Seniors must maintain a healthy weight, as obesity can increase the risk of disability in later life. While the link between obesity and premature death may weaken as people age, it can still worsen arthritis and increase the risk of various health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sleep-related breathing disorders. Losing even a small amount of weight (around 5-7% of one’s current weight) can significantly improve physical health and associated symptoms.
However, unintentional weight loss can be a red flag and should always be discussed with a healthcare professional. While a low-fat diet has traditionally been recommended for weight loss and health, some research suggests that high-carbohydrate foods can increase insulin levels and hunger, making weight loss more difficult. Seniors should research and consult a doctor before deciding on a weight-loss strategy. It’s crucial for older adults to be cautious about not losing too much lean body mass during intentional weight loss.