There’s no denying it—as we age, our bodies and minds just don’t work quite as well as they did when we were younger.
How we feel mentally doesn’t quite match up to how we feel physically.
It becomes more difficult to recall names or ideas, our balance becomes less sturdy, chronic age-related diseases or conditions may begin and—despite feeling 25—changes from our true age are difficult to deny.
There is good news, though. Incorporating these five lifestyle choices as the foundation of your retirement can significantly reduce aging-related issues by preventing disease, lowering depression, increasing cognitive abilities and avoiding injury. They also help you age as the very best you, for optimal wellness and vitality.
1. Get Connected
The absence of social activity and connections can lead to a range of issues for seniors, according to Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago. James followed 1,100 people over 12 years and found that the rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent lower in people who had frequent social engagements.
A study conducted by Yvonne Michael of the Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia found similar results. Michael, an epidemiologist who studies social capital and seniors, found that seniors who lived in more involved, participatory neighborhoods had greater mobility and improved health.
Remaining social is also a key component of Masterpiece Living – a philosophy supported at our retirement communities that focuses on four key dimensions proven to contribute to successful aging: physical, social, intellectual and spiritual.
Learn more in our free eBook, Defining the New Older Adult.
For most, it’s fairly easy to incorporate social connections into their daily routine. Some seniors choose to make plans with friends or take a class, some join groups or volunteer, while others choose to live in a senior community like Sun Health’s Grandview Terrace in Sun City West, where social connections and proactive wellness are part of the culture.
2. Eat For Your Health
Eating a well-balanced diet is an important part of remaining healthy at any age, and we each make small choices throughout the day about what we consume and how much. For many, it’s done casually without thought. Yet monitoring portion sizes, reducing processed foods and eating more vegetables daily are the most influential changes you can make to improve health and wellness.
Choosing to eat for health purposes, instead of convenience, speed or habit, is pivotal.
In addition to watching how much you eat to remain a healthy weight, eating the right foods can lower your risk for developing chronic conditions more prevalent in older adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with a medical condition, your doctor may recommend specific changes to your diet. For example, choosing foods low in carbohydrates and processed sugars is important for diabetics. If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it may mean choosing foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D.
It’s also important to nourish your body with the right nutrients to keep it healthy and fit. Malnutrition can lead to bones that break easily, unintentional weight loss or gain, delayed wound healing and rapid cognitive decline—even hospital visits due to severe vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
3. Get Enough Exercise
Physical activity offers a host of long-term benefits, including lowering the risk of chronic diseases (such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, dementia and cancer, to name just a few!), improving mood, boosting the immune system and lowering risk of injury.
It can also increase a person’s lifespan. A study of 5,700 elderly men in Norway, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found those who exercised three hours a week lived approximately five years longer than those who were sedentary.
The three types of exercise to incorporate into your routine include aerobic and endurance exercises such as walking, swimming or biking; strength and resistance training, which utilizes items such as weights or resistance bands; and stretching and flexibility exercises, such as yoga and Pilates.
If 30-minute sessions are too long, you’ll get similar benefits from three intervals of 10 minutes daily.
4. Don’t Forget Health Screenings
Being proactive with health screenings allows developing conditions to be identified in their earlier stages, while it still may be possible to correct or prevent them, or reduce complications.
Some preventative health screenings recommended for those over 50 include blood pressure and cholesterol checks, vision and hearing tests, colorectal and prostate cancer screenings, depression evaluations, osteoporosis checks and mammograms.
5. Reduce Your Risk of Falling
According to the Center for Disease Control, one out of three adults aged 65 and older falls each year. Falls are the major cause of hip fractures and more than half of fatal head injuries.
To reduce your risk of falling, first create a safe living space. Make sure the area is free of clutter and tripping hazards, such as loose rugs or electrical cords that stick out. Install grab bars and handrails as needed to assist with toileting and showering.
Another fall prevention step is to incorporate exercises into your daily life that promote better balance. Look for moves that help strengthen the core and lower body muscle, such as standing on one leg, or side leg raises.
To assess your risk of falling and to learn prevention strategies, register for Sun Health’s free Stand Up To Falling Down, the annual fall prevention screening and awareness event typically held in September at The Colonnade in Surprise, AZ. Subscribe to LiveWell magazine for the monthly event calendar.
(Originally published Sept. 1, 2017; last updated Jan. 6, 2019.)