First things first, what is healthy ageing? This term is defined as creating conducive environments and providing opportunities to allow people to pursue what they find valuable and be active throughout their lives. These goals are achievable by everyone. However, there are a lot of factors that can influence healthy ageing. While we have no control over such factors as genetics, there are other things we can do to improve our health like engaging in physical activities, eating a balanced and healthy diet, taking care of our mental health, and going to the doctor regularly.
As an older adult, there are steps you can take toward managing your health, maintaining your quality of life, and living as independently as possible. We can divide these into three easy-to-remember areas: your physical, mental, and cognitive health.
Caring for your physical health
The exercise prescription applies to everyone regardless of age but becomes even more significant as you age. Physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are causes for concern as statistics show some interesting findings. First, over half of adults in Australia do not meet the physical activity guidelines. Secondly, close to half of all working-age adults spend most of the day sitting down. And thirdly, physical inactivity accounts for 6% of the cancer burden in Australia, second only to smoking.
So how does exercise affect ageing? Exercise reduces the risk of diseases such as cancer, heart conditions, and other chronic issues as well as helping you maintain a healthy weight. Physical activity can also bring down your anxiety levels, make you sleep better, and improve your balance. Research has shown that exercise and physical activity not only help people live longer but also lead to a better quality of life. So, if you’re not already exercising, now is a good time to start.
But how much exercise do you really need? For people 64 years or older, the Australian guidelines call for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or exercise on most days, but preferably on a daily basis, totalling 2.5 to 5 hours weekly. For vigorous-intensity exercise, the recommendation is a total of 1.5 to 2.5 hours per week.
If you haven’t been exercising lately or have been sedentary, it will be prudent to first consult your Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist before embarking on an exercise program. These health experts will assess your health condition and determine what type of exercise suits you and your goals. They can also guide you on how to do the exercises correctly so you can derive maximum benefits and avoid injury.
Here are some examples of moderate-intensity activities and healthy ageing exercises you can do to improve your health:
- brisk walking
- aerobics (gym or water aerobics)
- tennis and other racquet sports
- house chores such as vacuuming and mopping
You can balance your exercise routine with strength training activities at least two times per week:
- resistance training (using free weights, resistance bands, or machines)
- climbing the stairs
- lifting the groceries
- doing yard work or chores that require lifting and carrying
- calisthenics such as push-ups
For optimal mobility, try to incorporate flexibility training into your routine such as yoga, tai chi, and stretching exercises. To help prevent falls, adding balancing activities to your regimen is also essential. These can include such activities as bodyweight half-squats, heel raises, and side leg raises.
5 Easy Ways to Move More Everyday
Research reveals that almost half of working-age Australians spend their workday sitting behind their desks and only a small percentage of the population even comes close to the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activities. So, how do you move more when the day seems to get busier by the hour?
1) Be more active at work – Instead of spending lunch break in front of your computer, why not take an occasional break? Go outside and walk around. Take your lunch to the park. Use the stairs instead of the lift. Or have phone meetings while walking around the block.
2) Make it social – Doing things with a friend or companion may make it easier to find the time to exercise. The next time you catch up with a buddy, talk it out while taking a walk. Before you know it, you’ve already notched up 30 minutes to an hour of exercise.
3) Use a wearable device – An effective way to encourage exercise is to use a wearable fitness device or tracker such as FitBit. It’s a convenient way to monitor how many steps you do in a day and keep track of your fitness goals.
4) Do an active commute – Getting from point A to B doesn’t always have to be done seated. Walk or cycle to work. Park the car some distance from the bus or train stop so you can put in some extra time for walking. Burn calories while you commute instead of sitting down in daily traffic.
5) Take a technology time out – It’s fairly common to see families huddled around the TV for Netflix binge-watching or endlessly scrolling through their mobile devices. Break the habit and go outdoors. Have a group walk. Head down to the local park and play soccer. Taking a break from your smartphone is always a smart move.
Eating healthy for your physical health
Healthy eating is one of the cornerstones of healthy ageing. Making smart food choices may help you ward off potential health problems associated with ageing. Healthy eating involves more than just skipping dessert or cutting off bread. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating enumerates the five food groups essential for older adults:
1) meat, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes
2) milk, yoghurt, cheese, custard, ice cream
3) breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
Foods that may not be considered healthy for younger people may be appropriate for older adults who are nutritionally compromised. These include ice cream, custards, milkshakes, and other desserts.
Some of the nutrients most needed by older adults include the following:
- Calcium for bone health
- Vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium better
- Omega-3 oils which may help prevent some diseases such as heart conditions, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, and macular degenaration
- Protein to help maintain muscle mass
- Fibre to ward off diabetes and help maintain a healthy weight
Other ways to improve your physical health
- Get enough quality sleep – Getting adequate sleep is essential for your well-being, memory, and mood. Not getting quality sleep can contribute to irritability, depression, and falls. One study reported that people in their 50s and 60s who got six hours or less of sleep nightly may be at higher risk of developing dementia later in life.
- Quit smoking and drink less – If you want to add more quality years to your life, quit smoking now. Quitting can improve your health by lowering your risk of getting cancer, heart attack, or lung disease; enhancing your circulation; and helping you to breathe more easily for exercise. Heavy drinking can affect the brain and other organs so limit your alcohol consumption.
- See your doctor regularly – Regular health screenings can help catch chronic diseases early and reduce the risk for other health conditions such as elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
Caring for your mental health
Aside from physical well-being, mental health is equally important in healthy ageing, influencing how we think, act, feel, make our choices and relate to other people. Several factors need to be considered here:
- Social isolation and loneliness – Among the effects of ageing include biological changes that include memory loss, vision and hearing loss, lack of mobility, and the loss of loved ones. This can make social connections difficult and result in feelings of loneliness. Some studies reveal that socially isolated elderly people may be at higher risk for depression, heart disease, and other cognitive issues.
It is imperative to stay in touch and connect with family, friends, and other loved ones whether in person or online. Having a support system and social network can do wonders for your mental health. Another strategy is to take classes to exercise or learn a new skill.
- Constant stress – Rising levels of the stress hormone cortisol may affect your brain and memory, as well as increase your risk of dementia. Some strategies to manage stress include meditation, exercise, journalling, and doing the things you love.
- Depression – Studies have shown that depression may increase your risk of heart disease, metabolic disorder, and dementia. A visit to a mental health professional may greatly help. Other strategies you can adopt are participating in activities you enjoy such as playing a musical instrument, getting into sports, dancing, writing, reading, volunteering for a cause, or caring for a pet companion.
While everyone’s brain changes with age, dementia is not a normal part of the ageing process. It’s best to see your medical professional for advice on brain health.
Caring for your cognitive health
The ability to think clearly, learn, and remember also changes as we age. Different factors such as physical activity, consumption of tobacco and alcohol, diet, and engagement in mentally stimulating activities all play a part in your cognitive health. One study suggests that even making small changes in lifestyle behaviours can have dramatic effects such as a 60% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Presently, there are promising computer and smartphone-based brain training programs in the market intended to improve cognition. However, current evidence supports that learning a new skill can improve memory function and help stave off memory loss.
Let our Health Experts support your healthy ageing goals
Even if you take little steps at a time, every little thing adds up in the long run. Exercise is one of the things you can do to promote healthy ageing. It’s never too late to start. Anything you do that involves movement can go a long way toward reducing your risk of illnesses and chronic conditions.
If you’re not sure where and how to begin, you can ask our Exercise Physiologists at Healthstin clinic in Elizabeth for help. They’re just a call away via 1300 090 931, ready to give you a functional assessment, tailor an exercise intervention program to your health condition and goals, guide you through the exercises, and monitor your progress.