Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop living! By keeping these healthy tips in mind, aging doesn’t need to translate to “getting old.”
As we age, it’s inevitable that our lives and our bodies change. That’s why it’s important to keep taking care of yourself and your loved ones to stay healthy and live the best life possible. For seniors, especially those who live alone, maintaining good habits are a crucial part of staying healthy and independent, even into your golden years.
Change can feel scary – but you don’t need to change your entire world to practice better habits. Even making small changes to your health can have a large impact and allow you to live a longer, healthier life.
“Today, we are living longer than ever,” says Dr. James Tricarico, a family medicine physician at Geisinger’s 65 Forward Health Center in Kingston. “We owe it to ourselves to take the best possible care of our bodies and our minds. Healthy changes, even minor ones, can make a big difference in the lives of seniors and their families.”
Healthy habits for seniors
Whether you are a senior yourself or care for an older loved one, these tips can help you get started:
- Proper nutrition: If you want to live longer, eating healthy is key. A good place to start is by eliminating processed foods from your diet. Processed food includes those that have been cooked, canned, packaged, frozen or modified in some way. Some examples of processed foods are “convenience foods” such as cereals, chips, cookies, frozen dinners and deli meats. Start adding more leafy greens, lean meats and plant-based protein to your diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
“Focus on whole foods. And, if possible, ones grown locally from your local farmers market. Avoid those that come from a factory as best you can,” says Dr. Tricarico. “This will also help you maintain a healthy weight.”
- Exercise regularly: Exercise offers many physical benefits, as well as mental ones. Not only does exercise reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and chronic health conditions such as diabetes, it can improve your emotional outlook as well. Regular exercise can even reduce chronic pain and boost immunity. Just 30 minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times a week can have you feeling (and even looking!) better. Gardening, dancing and swimming are all great ways to get moving! Add in a few minutes of light weight training to improve your stamina and build lean muscle mass.
- Get enough rest: You don’t feel at your best when you’re tired. Aim for between 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and rest throughout the day if you’re feeling tired. Studies reveal that sleep deprivation, or sleeping less than five hours a night, can contribute to major health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
- Spend time with family: As you age, you may find it’s harder to connect with people as you once did. Reach out to friends and family—spend time nurturing those relationships as best you can. Physical, face-to-face interactions can ward off depression and are much more beneficial than sending texts or emails.
If you have grandchildren or great-grandchildren, spend time with them when you can. A recent study finds that women who spend time taking care of grandkids lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Staying socially, mentally and physically active can help reduce the amount of brain cell damage that’s linked to Alzheimer’s and even promote the growth of new, healthy brain cells. Stay connected to others. Find activities to do with other people, such as volunteering or going for a walk.
- Manage stress: With age can come new stresses, from health issues to finances. Increased stress has been linked to health issues including heart attack, stroke and other medical conditions. Find ways to control your stress levels through exercise, meditation and by having a strong support network.
- Keep your mind sharp: Brain health is as important as any other healthy habit, especially as you age. Learning a new skill, practicing word or number puzzles or reading an interesting book can all help keep your mind sharp.
“When it comes to living longer, there is no magic bullet,” adds Dr. Tricarico. “However, practicing good habits can make a difference and give you a better shot at living a longer life.”
Healthy living matters more than you know
You may have heard the old sentiment that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By getting yourself or your loved ones into the practice of good habits now, you’ll help those habits become routine.
“The days of older people being too ‘fragile’ to do anything are over. More and more, we’re hearing stories of people running 5k races and staying active well into their 80s and beyond. Life doesn’t stop because you have more candles on your birthday cake!” advises Dr. Tricarico.
At Geisinger, we’re helping seniors live better, healthier lives. Through programs like Geisinger 65 Forward, we’re delivering more patient-centered care, designed with seniors’ needs in mind.