Every day, some 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “The population of older Americans is growing and living longer than ever,” the CDC says. “As a group, they are living active lives and contributing to the economy.”
That’s great news for seniors as a whole. On an individual basis, however, it’s up to each older adult to embrace habits that promote good quality of life to enhance those extra years. Here is a list of essential lifestyle behaviors to help achieve that goal.
Kick the smoking habit. Virtually everyone acknowledges today that tobacco consumption is bad for your health. In general, we know that it can lead to heart, lung and neurological disease, as well as other ailments. However, consider also its other effects on quality of life, not the least of which is the strain the habit places on your finances. Moreover, the Mayo Clinic points out that smoking can adversely affect stamina and the ability to appreciate tastes and aromas. In addition, older adults who smoke sometimes indulge the habit around their children and grandkids. They may live with the guilt of spreading second-hand smoke. Overall, this is one of the most major steps one can take to improve quality of life than to stop smoking. For help in quitting, consult www.smokefree.gov/build-your-quit-plan or talk to your doctor.
Get active. Although it may sound like glib advice, “use it or lose it” is an important principle for staying independent and maintaining enjoyment in later years. The muscles and joints that we no longer put to work become less capable of working, and the bones that we don’t ask to bear weight grow brittle and less able to support us. The U.S. Surgeon General neatly sums up the facts in this report. The simple act of walking whenever possible can contribute significantly to the health and independence of older adults. More strenuous exercise may be beneficial, too. However, be sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Be active mentally. “Being intellectually engaged may benefit the brain,” says the National Institute on Aging (NIA). “Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability too,” the NIA adds, recommending that older adults take classes, start new hobbies, read fiction and non-fiction, and play games, among other things. The point is that researchers think such activities may build “cognitive reserve,” which may help “compensate for age-related brain changes and health conditions that affect the brain.”
Eat healthy foods. Older adults need fewer calories than before, in part because their metabolism slows down, explains the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
Also, seniors need more of certain nutrients. “That means it’s more important than ever to choose foods that give you the best nutritional value,” says the NCOA. This does not mean it’s necessary to give up all the foods you love. Healthy eating, however, does require a balanced approach to eating, as well as a focus on proper portion sizes. Add lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet. They are rich in nutrients and fiber. Nuts are an excellent source of protein. It helps to lower your intake of processed sugar and of salt. Pay attention to labels. Canned vegetables and soups often contain inordinate amounts of salt. For an extensive list of good nutrition sources for seniors, visit https://www.nutrition.gov/subject/life-stages/seniors.
Prevent falls. As older adults, we tend to grow more vulnerable to falls. However, there are two types of positive action we can take to minimize the chances of falling. The first is to identify potential hazards, especially around the house or apartment, and eliminate them. These include securing loose carpet and throw rugs with adhesives, clearing paths cluttered with electrical cords or small objects, and illuminating dark hallways and bathrooms with night-lights. Also, wear shoes with good support. Become hazard conscious when outside the home as well, taking careful note of sidewalk obstructions, broken walkways, potholes and ice patches.
The second form of action to lessen the chance of falls is to improve one’s sense of balance. The Harvard Medical School recommends the ancient Chinese form of exercise known as tai chi as a good way to help older adults improve their balance. The exercise “uses a series of slow, flowing motions and deep, slow breathing to exercise the body and calm the mind.” The AARP suggests yoga as a good way to improve balance, among other benefits, and offers specific exercises for people in their 60s and 70s. Because seniors may be prone to certain physical conditions and limitations, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know before starting a tai chi or yoga program.
Manage stress. Stress is not conducive to good health at any age. It can cause headaches, stomach upset, poor sleep, and even impede resistance to disease. Stress “can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior,” says the Mayo Clinic, which offers a variety of strategies to control stress. Among them are tai chi and yoga, as discussed above as ways to improve balance. For your long-term health and well-being, pay attention to relieving stress, and make an effort to have fun. Spend time with friends, pursue a social life and embrace the power of positive thinking.
We have every reason to stay healthy in our older years. Make a habit of healthful behaviors to make the most of life.