Getting older is a natural part of life. How you will feel as you get older depends on many things, including what health problems run in your family and the choices you make. If you take good care of your body and learn positive ways to deal with stress now, you can slow down or even prevent problems that often come with getting older.
It’s never too early or too late to change bad habits and start good ones. No matter when you start, a healthy lifestyle can make a difference in how you feel and what you can do.
HEALTHY LIFESTYLE FOR HEALTHY AGING
The changes you will go through as you get older depend on a number of things. One is your family history (genetics). If your family members have diseases or long-term (chronic) health problems like high blood pressure or diabetes, then you may have a greater chance of having those problems yourself.
But just because your risk is higher, it doesn’t mean you will definitely have the same problems. In fact, the lifestyle choices you make can help reduce your chances of getting illnesses that run in your family. And even if you do get a family illness, choosing to be physically active, to eat healthy foods, and to learn how to deal with stress can keep the illness from destroying your ability to enjoy your golden years.
EXPECT CHANGES AS YOU AGE
Changes as you get older are usually gradual. Certain physical changes are common. Your metabolism (how fast your body can burn calories) slows over time, which means that your body needs less food energy than before. How much and how well you sleep will likely change. Most people start needing reading glasses around age 40, and many have some hearing loss later in life. Starting in your 50s, bone aging increases. Also starting around age 50, you may notice changes in sexual function—it’s normal to have a slower sexual response.
Most vital organs gradually become less efficient with age. The kidneys are less able to keep enough water in your body. And the heart can start to show signs of wear and tear. So as you get older, it’s important to be physically active, drink plenty of water, and choose healthy foods. Doing these things will help your body work well for a longer period of time.
One of the most important things you can do for your health at any age is to be physically active. Physical activity keeps your body strong, and it helps with how you feel. People who stay active are less likely to get depressed. Physical activity can be anything from walking to gardening to working out at the gym. The important thing is to be active almost every day. No matter what your age or condition, there is a type of physical activity that’s right for you. Always ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to start a physical activity program.
STAYING CONNECTED WITH PEOPLE
Your mental and emotional health are also important. Protect or improve your emotional health by staying in touch with friends, family, and the community. People who feel connected to others are more likely to thrive than those who do not. And try to keep stress at a minimum. In addition to getting regular physical activity, you can take charge of how stress affects you by taking 20 minutes a day to just relax.
STAYING MENTALLY SHARP
Protect or improve your memory and mental sharpness by:
- Challenging your intellect on a daily basis. Read, learn a new musical instrument or language, do crossword puzzles, or play games of strategy with others. Just like an active body, an active brain continues to develop and thrive, while an inactive brain loses its power over time.
- Helping your memory along. Write down dates, names, and other important information that you easily forget. Use routine and repetition. For example, keep daily items such as keys and eyeglasses in a specific place. And when you meet someone new, picture that person while you repeat his or her name out loud to others or to yourself several times to commit it to memory. (No matter what your age, having too much on your mind can keep you from remembering new information. And as you age, it is normal to take longer to retrieve new information from your memory bank.)
- Preventing depression, a common yet treatable cause of cognitive decline in older people. In addition to getting regular physical activity and social contact, avoid the depressant effect of alcohol and sedative use, eat healthy meals and snacks, and include meaningful activity in your daily life (such as learning, creating, working, volunteering). If you think you have depression, seek professional help—antidepressant medicine or counseling or both are effective treatments for depression. If you find that a physical condition or disability is making your depressed mood worse, seek medical help.
- Not smoking. Cigarette smoking may speed up mental decline.
GETTING THE MEDICAL CARE YOU NEED
Medical prevention, regular checkups, and prompt treatment play a key role in your quality of life as you age.
Regular screenings and immunizations may help you live a longer, higher-quality life. But there comes a time when some screening tests won’t be helpful, so talk to your doctor about which tests to have.
Every year, thousands of older adults fall and hurt themselves. Falls are one of the main causes of injury and loss of independence in people ages 65 and older.
There are many reasons older people fall. They may lose their footing when stepping off a street curb. Or they may fall after getting dizzy from taking medicines. Some falls may be related to the effects of aging, such as muscle weakness or delayed reflexes. Or falls may be related to the results of a stroke.
Experts agree that some falls in older adults can be prevented. But since each person’s risks are a bit different, talk to your doctor about which of the tips below might help you:
- Keep your bones strong. Talk to your doctor to be sure you are getting enough vitamin D and calcium.
- Have your vision and hearing checked each year or anytime you notice a change. If you have trouble seeing and hearing, you might not be able to avoid objects that make you lose your balance.
- Call your doctor if you have calluses or corns on your feet that need to be removed or if you have sores that are not healing. If you wear loose-fitting shoes because of foot problems, you can lose your balance and fall.
- If you tend to feel lightheaded when you stand up quickly, take the time to get up slowly from your bed or chair. When you wake up, it may help to sit up first and count slowly to 10 before you try to stand up. And after you stand up, stay still for a few seconds before you move.
- If you are very weak or dizzy, don’t try to walk around. Instead, see your doctor as soon as possible.
- Call your doctor if you are dizzy and lose your balance. You may have a health problem that needs treatment, such as a blood pressure or inner ear problem. Or you may be having a side effect from a medicine that you take.
- Be sure you are drinking enough water, especially if the weather is hot.
Make your home safer with the following tips:
- Remove or fix things you could trip over, such as raised doorway thresholds, throw rugs, or loose carpet.
- Keep paths clear of electrical cords and clutter.
- Use nonskid floor wax, and wipe up spills right away.
- Keep your house well lit. Use night-lights (or keep the overhead light on at night) in hallways and bathrooms.
- Put sturdy handrails on stairways. Make sure you have a light at the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Store things on lower shelves so you don’t have to climb or reach high.
- Keep a phone and a flashlight by your bed. Check the flashlight batteries often to make sure they still work.
Stay safe while bathing with the following tips:
- Install grab handles and nonskid mats in the tub and shower.
- Use a shower chair or bath bench. You can also try using a hand-held shower head.
- Get into a tub or shower by putting the weaker leg in first. Get out of a tub or shower with your strong side first.