Simple, Stress-Free Tips for Staying Healthy as a Senior
Healthy lifestyle choices are essential for maintaining a high quality of life. However, staying motivated to eat right and be active becomes much more challenging as we age. And when you’re already content with your current lifestyle, changing it to become more healthy can seem very daunting.
Fortunately, the best way to adopt healthier habits is to take small, balanced steps. Here’s how to get motivated, stay healthy and improve your overall wellbeing.
The Importance of a Healthy Routine
We’re all told that staying healthy is important, but how exactly can healthy changes improve our quality of life?
In a study supported by the National Institute on Aging, researchers found that regular physical exercise helps seniors maintain their independence and reduce the risk of mobility disability. The study found that “a regular, balanced, and moderate physical activity program followed for an average of 2.6 years reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18 percent in an elderly, vulnerable population.”
Regular physical activity can also keep your mind sharp. Reporter Allie Bidwell says that, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, regular physical activity helps people maintain their mental health and cognitive abilities.
Specifically, the study found that an active lifestyle has positive outcomes on “long-term health conditions, depression, dementia, and the likelihood of healthy aging.”
Create a Healthy Routine
If you’re worried about changing your current lifestyle too much, remember that there are ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine without making any major changes.
In fact, Cornell University food and brand lab director Brian Wansink suggests not considering daily movement as “exercise.”
Using the term “scenic walk” instead of exercise, for example, can be more motivating and engaging. It’s also important to tell yourself that physical activity is a personal act that you’re doing just for yourself, which makes it feel more rewarding.
Make Small Changes
Another smart way to become more active without engaging in direct exercise is to make tiny swaps to your everyday routine. Senior monitoring program SageMinder notes that change is a huge obstacle to health in older adults, so small steps can make changes more manageable.
Sunrise Senior Living says that standing while talking on the phone, stretching while watching TV or taking a pet for a walk are all easy, effective ways to incorporate more movement into your day.
Other tips for moving more include parking farther away from your destination, walking at a faster rate, and listening to upbeat music, according to health advocate Marelisa Fabrega.
Walking is another easy way to stay fit, and it’s a skill you can build up over time. For example, Familydoctor.org says that you can work up to 30 minutes of exercise a day gradually. You can start by walking for 15 minutes twice a day, or by walking for 10 minutes three times a day.
Health and wellness reporter Amir Khan says seniors can stay healthy and prevent cardiovascular disease by incorporating walking into their daily lives. For example, walking while shopping or while completing other chores can be very effective.
Another fun way to stay healthy is to engage in some form of water aerobics. According to physical therapy website Move Forward, the buoyancy of water expands your range of movement and increases flexibility.
When starting a water exercise for the first time, it’s important to have water shoes for traction on the pool floor. Having a styrofoam noodle or flotation belt can also help keep you afloat in water.
No matter which kind of activity you choose, consistency is the most important factor. An intense workout here and there is much less effective than a consistent, low-impact routine like daily walking.
If you’re spending the day seated or don’t have a lot of time to exercise, Rebecca Olkowski, founder of babyboomster.com, says it’s important to get up every 30 minutes. Simply standing up and moving around or doing a few yoga stretches can keep up your metabolism and fight the painful effects of long-term sitting.
Staying Motivated with Others
When staying active is a challenge on your own, it can help to join a group or club where you can engage with other people. As AgingCare.com points out, joining a group exercise plan at a gym is an easy, safe way to learn activities that improve strength under the supervision of a trained professional.
Nurse Next Door, an organization that provides 24/7 home care services for seniors, recommends Tai Chi as a great exercise that seniors can do in groups. Tai Chi “allows for balance training, remembering choreography, and social engagement.”
Locate a Program Near You
Whether you’re looking for a personal trainer or a walking group, it’s important to do some research to find the best activity for you.
The National Council on Aging notes a number of evidence-based physical activity resources that help seniors connect with others to stay active.
NCOA notes that organizations such as Fit and Strong — a program of the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy — work with health providers across the country. The eight-week program “improves lower extremity stiffness, pain, and strength, aerobic capacity, participation in exercise and caloric expenditure, and self-efficacy for exercise.”
SilverSneakers is another great program that works with certain healthcare providers to cover gym membership, customized classes and fitness advisors for seniors.
Start Your Own Group
If you can’t find a local walking or fitness group near you, why not start your own?
Running expert Nell Vitril suggests that starting a walking club helped her both stay healthy and create new friendships.
To start your own walking club, choose a safe, convenient starting location that works for everyone. “For a beginners walking club, a one-mile route is the perfect distance. You should estimate a time frame of 20-30 minutes to complete a one-mile route.”
Healthy Eating Habits
When you’re starting to engage in a more active lifestyle, it’s important that your eating habits reflect these changes and provide the energy you need.
Molly Carpenter, a caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care, says, “many of the physical effects of aging, such as a weakened immune system or decreased energy, can be combated through nutrition.”
Healthy eating in combination with light exercise can also help with high blood pressure. Registered dietician and author Ruth Frechman explains that to mitigate high blood pressure and its effects, older adults should be careful not to consume more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. She notes that avoiding frozen, canned, processed and restaurant food can make it easier to meet this goal.
Another way to adopt healthy eating habits is to try incorporating more Mediterranean foods into your diet. Senior Lifestyle says that the diet is low in fat, rich in protein and stocked with the vitamins and minerals you need to keep healthy. Swapping butter for olive oil, and eating more fish and nuts, can help support brain function and ward off disease.