Aging is a fact of life whether or not you believe “age is just a number” or “70 is the new 50.”
Healthy Aging Month—celebrated every September—was actually created more than 25 years ago when Baby Boomers started to turn 50, and no one wanted to discuss aging. Those boomers are now seniors, and there’s a wealth of evidence-based research demonstrating that lifestyle choices—often simple ones—can make a difference in preventing illness, maintaining health, and controlling chronic conditions.
Adults today are living longer, more active lives. And according to AARP, many seniors report following diet, exercise, and social habits that help maintain physical and mental health. With the firm belief that everyone can do better, Capital Caring Health offers our top 10 tips to help you and your loved ones celebrate health aging this month and every day of the year. Also, at the risk of repeating ourselves, many of our tips have a similar positive impact on major health problems, so they’re included multiple times. Read on:
- Eat Well
Eating a balanced diet plays a major role in maintaining your health, especially if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease. By including fruit and vegetables, you’ll improve your energy and mood; adding high fiber foods help digestive and heart health.
An unhealthy diet can actually make your chronic conditions worse, along with stress and depression, so avoid eating too much processed food, saturated fat, sugar, and salt.
- Sleep Better
Sleep is essential to good physical and mental health and the converse is also true: being sleep deprived can affect weight, mood, stress, and cognitive health. Getting six to eight hours of sleep each night is important, but the quality of sleep also matters. You can improve your ability to get a good night’s sleep by not eating or drinking caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime, by placing your phone out of reach and making your bedroom dark. And naps are best taken after lunch, for only twenty minutes or so.
- Just Move
Exercise boosts energy, reduces stress, helps improve mood and sleep and may also help control chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It can also help maintain muscle strength, flexibility and balance, all necessary for activities of daily living. Whether you walk or bike ride, have a seated exercise program or garden – it all adds up and helps. Older gardeners, for example, report better health status, increased physical functioning, reduced pain, and more.
- Go Outside
Getting fresh air and spending time in nature has clear benefits. Being outside—especially in green spaces—is a mood enhancer, increases energy levels, boosts the immune system and memory. Just 15 minutes outside improves vitamin D levels—often low in seniors—to benefit muscles, the colon, brain, and the immune system. Insufficient levels may cause muscle weakness and lead to falls. Also, older adults who exercise in green space have a lower stress level and likelihood of depression, plus improved mental function. Even watching nature—bird watching from your window, looking at a garden, or viewing a wildlife video—can deliver many of the same positive health benefits.
- Control Stress
Taming stress is essential to good physical and mental health; stress may worsen some chronic conditions. It has been linked to high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, insomnia, heartburn/indigestion, and an increased risk for heart disease. Managing stress is also key to avoiding unhealthy eating or drinking. Exercise, proper sleep, and mind-body practices all help as can talking to a friend or a professional. Choose activities that work best for you: walking your dog, listening to music, gardening, or Zooming with your grandchildren.
- Be Mindful
Learning to be mindful has a positive effect on a variety of health issues as it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, reduces chronic pain, and alleviates gastrointestinal problems. The technique also improves sleep and mood, and is even used to treat heart disease. There are a variety of mind-body practices to try such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. Additional activities that trigger your relaxation response include guided imagery and tai chi. You can learn more and develop a practice through the many video and audio options available online.
- Stay Connected
Social connection has a profound impact on many aspects of health — it strengthens the immune system, promotes a faster recovery from illness, and often, a longer life. People feel less anxious and depressed when they’re social. Conversely, a lack of social connection may have a greater impact on health than obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure. Staying in touch with family, friends and your community may be more challenging these days, but it will make you feel better. AARP recommends scheduling a phone call or online meet-up at least once a week.
- Find Purpose
Having purpose in your life makes a difference in how you feel. That might involve reading to your grandchildren, cooking a meal for a neighbor, or staying in touch with those feeling isolated during the pandemic. Many also find purpose in volunteering, along with physical and mental health benefits such as reduced stress and the likelihood of developing high blood pressure, and improved coping and thinking skills. Volunteers also report feeling healthier and better able to manage a chronic illness such as depression.
- Be Positive
Being positive about aging not only helps get you through the day, it improves health and longevity. There’s evidence it reduces stress, lowers your risk for heart disease, and may even reduce the risk of dementia. A good attitude about aging also leads to being more proactive about healthy choices and builds resilience against illness. Maintaining a positive outlook also calls for spending time with others who share your perspective.
- Get Care
Getting timely health care—even if you’re busy caring for others—is critical. The consequences of neglecting your health may result in an otherwise unnecessary trip to the emergency room or a hospital stay. While many patients are skipping doctor’s office visits during the pandemic, CCH’s Primary Care at Home (PCH) program assures you and your loved ones never miss needed services. The PCH program is designed to help elders maintain their dignity and independence by bringing full medical and social services to the home. The care team offers check-ups, real-time monitoring to control chronic conditions, and diagnostic testing—all using advanced mobile technology right in your own home.
Nobody ever said getting older was fun, but by following the CCH care tips, aging can be easier, healthier, and a lot more rewarding!
To learn more about PCH, or if you need advanced illness/palliative care or hospice services, call our 24-Hour Care Line at (800) 869-2136.