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A Guide to Living a Healthy Lifestyle for Seniors

Happy african american senior couple outdoors together

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Table of Contents

As the years pass, it becomes increasingly crucial for you to prioritize your health and well-being. The choices you make daily can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health in your later years. Fortunately, there are many simple and practical habits that you can adopt to maintain your health and vitality. This is our simple guide to living a healthy lifestyle for seniors.

Let’s explore some critical healthy lifestyle habits for older adults that you can adopt to promote longevity and well-being today.

An Overview of Healthy Lifestyle Habits For Seniors

As you age, your body undergoes changes that can increase your risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Here are some of the topics we’ll cover below:

  • Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, increase your strength and flexibility, and improve your balance to reduce your risk of preventable illness, falls, and injuries.

  • Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can give your body the nutrients it needs to function correctly and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

  • Getting enough sleep, keeping tabs on your wellness, and managing stress can help improve your mental health and reduce your risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Regular Exercise and Staying Active

Five senior friends enjoying activity outdoors in the summer

Older adults are generally more sedentary than when they were younger. Perhaps you are concerned about your strength, mobility, lack of cardiovascular fitness, or fear of falling due to changes such as arthritis, osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, or decreased endurance.

Staying active has several benefits for your health:

  • Increased strength, endurance, cognition, functional mobility, and memory function.
  • Decreased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Decreased overall early mortality risk.

Physical or financial barriers, cognitive or physical impairments, or a lack of self-confidence may leave you feeling stressed about being unable to remain active as you age.

However, any activity is better than no activity. Finding something you enjoy doing and sticking to it makes staying active much more fun and approachable.

Here are some options to consider to stay active

The Centers for Disease Control recommends at least 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity per week for cognitive benefits and resistance training at least twice weekly.

If you need motivation or guidance, consider an exercise group, work out with friends, or consult with your physical therapist or a qualified personal trainer.

Nutrition’s Role in Healthy Aging

A senior couple buying produce at the farmer's market to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Nutrition is an exceptionally touchy subject for many people, as nothing is more personal than how you nourish yourself.

That said, the skyrocketing rates of obesity, especially in older people, are cause for concern, and making an effort to eat healthy plays a pivotal role in preventing disease and improving your quality of life.

Here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind while considering what you eat and how you think about nutrition.

Don’t Diet

That’s right, you read correctly. Following any specific diet too closely often leads to unnecessary and sometimes dangerous calorie or nutrient restrictions and lackluster results. Many modern fad diets are complicated to follow, resulting in “falling off the wagon,” resulting in stress eating or overindulgence in the foods you sought to avoid.

This supposed failure often leads to returning to the diet with anxiety and regret linked to your lack of willpower. This is known as ‘yo-yo dieting,’ which is all too prevalent among many overweight people today.

Focus on Small Daily Habit Changes

It’s important to go easy on yourself and create nutrition goals that aren’t impossible to achieve. Willpower requires considerable energy that can leave you feeling drained. It’s much less strenuous to focus on small approachable changes that you can make daily to see gradual results.

Using cookies as an example, limit yourself to a single serving daily instead of cutting out cookies entirely, eventually tapering that down to a single serving weekly as a delicious treat. Bonus points if you create a reward system, allowing yourself a cookie after an extra long walk or skipping it if you don’t get the walk done.

Learn the Cues

This is called mindful eating, which applies to healthy eating habits in two ways.

First, it is common for overweight people to overeat without realizing it. This negative behavior is reinforced in restaurants, marketing, and advertisements everywhere.

It’s essential to learn the fullness cues that your body sends to you. Remind yourself that it’s okay not to clean your plate, and it’s better to leave the table feeling just a little bit hungry rather than too full.

Secondly, an important part of mindful eating involves recognizing cues your environment creates that might compel you to eat or drink more than you should. This could be as simple as overeating potato chips while watching TV or something more psychologically complex like eating because you are stressed or anxious.

Regardless, it’s best to chew slowly, savor your food and listen to your body when it says, ‘I’m full.’

Eat More Plants, Don’t Count Calories

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is heavy on meat, dairy, and processed fats. Much of what people eat today (including fast food and sugary beverages) is pro-inflammatory.

Inflammatory foods can contribute to various health problems, from poor digestive system health to depression and physical pain. Rather than isolating specific calories to cut—a common mistake among many seniors—focus on eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and minimal fried foods or sugars.

If you’re looking for some general principles for an anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy diet, the Mediterranean and DASH eating guidelines provide simple, healthy options that appeal to many people.

Make Sure You’re Eating Enough

Our nutritional needs and appetites may change with age, but maintaining adequate nutrition remains pivotal for overall health and well-being. Under-eating or not consuming enough calories can be just as harmful as overeating, especially for seniors.

Under-eating in older adults can lead to nutritional deficiencies, weakened immunity, decreased bone mass, and muscle weakness. This, in turn, can increase the risk of falls, fractures, and further decline in physical function. Furthermore, inadequate nutrition can exacerbate chronic health conditions and impact cognitive health.

It’s essential to eat enough nutrient-rich foods to stay healthy. If big meals are challenging, try having smaller ones more often. Keep an eye on hydration, as not drinking enough can sometimes feel like hunger.

If eating becomes less appealing due to taste changes or dental problems, seek foods that are easy to chew and prepare.

Enjoying meals with friends or family can also help, as socializing can make eating more enjoyable. Regular check-ups with your doctor can help ensure you’re on the right track with your dietary needs.

The Value of Medical, Dental & Eye Checkups

An elderly woman speaks to her friendly doctor during a check-up

Regular medical, dental, and eye checkups are essential for older adults to maintain their health and prevent potential health issues from becoming more serious.

Your doctor can perform medication checks to ensure your medications are working properly, making adjustments as needed. Similarly, they will also perform specific health evaluations, including screens for hearing loss and prostate, colon, or breast cancer.

Your risk of developing eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma increases as you age. Regular checkups with your eye doctor can help you detect any issues and prevent them from worsening.

Regular dental checkups can ensure you are maintaining proper dental hygiene. Your dentist will check for gum disease, tooth decay, and loss and may or may not recommend dentures. Dry mouth, common among seniors, can increase your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer, which can be life-threatening if not detected early.

By prioritizing your health and making these checkups a part of your routine, you can ensure that you’re taking the necessary steps to stay healthy and live a happy and fulfilling life in your later years.

Mental Stimulation and Social Engagement

Senior friends enjoying a meal outdoors in the summer.

We all love the encouragement and feedback from others to help motivate us to follow healthy habits. However, as you age you might withdraw from others and become less social. Active social engagement is associated with better health and health outcomes.

The more friends and family members you interact with and the more groups and social circles you’re a part of, the better your physical and emotional well-being will be, decreasing the risk of all-cause mortality.

Ways to increase social engagement:

  • Attend church services, volunteer opportunities, cultural events, or bingo nights.
  • Maintain contact with close friends, neighbors, and relatives.
  • Attend classes, lectures, or sporting events, join social groups, or get a fitness club membership
  • Go to the movies, see a play, or go on a scenic drive with your spouse

Keeping up your social engagement and mental stimulation and decreasing alone time is associated with reduced disability. Not only can you improve your health by decreasing the chance of chronic disease, but you will also have a greater sense of purpose and self-efficacy.

Participating in games or other fun activities will also help prevent cognitive decline, improve executive function and memory, and decrease your risk of dementia.

Mental Stimulation

Mental stimulation is essential for older adults to maintain their cognitive abilities and prevent cognitive decline. You can improve your memory and cognitive function by challenging your brain with new activities and learning experiences.

 Suggested activities that keep your brain active and healthy:

  • Read books or articles to improve your vocabulary, comprehension, and critical thinking skills. You can even join a book club for social and mental stimulation.
  • Solve puzzles, brain teasers board or card games to improve memory, attention, and problem-solving skills
  • Learn a new skill or language to challenge your brain in new ways.
  • Revisit old hobbies or create new ones to develop hand-eye coordination and mental acuity.

Learning something new is one of the most effective ways to create new neural pathways to stimulate your brain and support overall mental health.

The Value of Exercise to Prevent Cognitive Decline

Exercise plays a crucial role in maintaining cognitive health in seniors. According to the National Council on Aging, whether intense or moderate, regular exercise can significantly slow down brain aging, potentially by up to 10 years​​.

This beneficial effect is further supported by a study involving 876 individuals with an average age of 71. It found that those who engaged in minimal or no exercise experienced a more significant mental decline than their counterparts who participated in moderate or intense workouts.

Remarkably, the difference in cognitive performance between these groups was comparable to the effect of 10 years of aging​​.

Stress Management & Techniques

A healthy lifestyle for seniors includes stress reduction, like doing yoga and other calming activities in the park

Effective stress management is essential to maintain your physical and mental well-being.

Older people tend to be more susceptible to stress; you might be stressed about your need to rely on others and become less independent. For this reason,it could become more challenging to perform daily activities such as dressing or bathing.

Chronic stress can lead to many adverse health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.



Effective stress management techniques:

  • Mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises help to calm the mind and reduce negative thoughts.
  • Seeking social support & connections or participating in social activities can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Spending time with friends and family, joining a support group, or volunteering can all help reduce stress levels.
  • Practice Tai Chi — a combination of meditation and physical movements to improve balance and mental well-being.
  • Listening to music decreases blood pressure and calms a busy mind.

Regular exercise releases endorphins to improve mood naturally. Specifically, walking helps you get out in nature and be in the present moment. It’s also a potent, low-impact form of exercise.

Time management techniques can help you feel more in control of your life and reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm. This can include prioritizing activities and responsibilities, setting realistic goals, and taking breaks when needed.

Sleep Hygiene: A Key Element in a Healthy Lifestyle for Seniors

Image of a senior woman waking up well-rested after a good night's sleep—a key element of a healthy lifestyle for seniors

Getting consistent, quality sleep is a significant health habit that you must also consider when trying to improve your overall health and well-being. Sleep disorders like insomnia are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, daytime sleepiness, and early mortality.

They can also contribute to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, leading to significant disability or even death.

Benefits of Healthy Sleep Hygiene include:

  • Decreases the risk of psychological disorders, including mood disturbance or depression
  • Reduces cognitive decline and dementia
  • Improves memory and prevents neurodegeneration
  • Reduces the risk of dementia/mild cognitive impairment converting to Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Reduce complications of obstructive sleep apnea

Sleep and circadian alterations are amongst the very first symptoms experienced in Parkinson’s disease, so addressing any sleep disorders early on is vital in managing health conditions that require treatment.

Research also shows sleep quality is lower and anxiety and depression higher in those with fibromyalgia. There is a close relationship between physical health and sleep quality. 

Tips to Improve Sleep Hygiene

Physical Activity

Enhancing your physical activity daily can be beneficial for both your health and your sleep patterns. Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, allowing for a deeper and more restorative rest at night. This helps you feel more energetic during the day and supports your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Keep a Steady Schedule and Routine

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is another vital step in improving sleep quality. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends, can help regulate your body’s clock. This consistency makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally, reducing the likelihood of sleep disturbances.

Establishing a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation is also crucial. Activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or listening to soothing music can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. These relaxing activities can help ease the transition from wakefulness to drowsiness.

Build a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Creating a sleep-friendly environment is equally important. Your bedroom should be a sleep sanctuary that is cool, dark, and quiet. Investing in comfortable bedding and a supportive mattress can significantly improve your sleep experience, making falling and staying asleep easier.

Avoid Stimulants and Long Naps

Be cautious with your intake of stimulants like caffeine and substances like alcohol, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. These can significantly disrupt your sleep by increasing wakefulness and preventing you from reaching the deeper stages of sleep.

While naps can be a great way to recharge, especially if you’ve had a poor night’s sleep, they can also interfere with your regular sleep pattern if they’re too long. To avoid this, limit naps to 30 minutes or less, and avoid napping late in the day.

Find Ways to Manage Stress

Finally, managing stress through relaxation techniques can profoundly affect your sleep. Practices such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can reduce stress levels, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. These techniques not only benefit your mind and reduce stress but also help promote a calm state conducive to sleep.

Key Takeaways

  • Prioritize Health: Daily choices impact long-term physical and mental well-being.
  • Regular Exercise: Engage in activities that match your comfort level, from walking to water aerobics.
  • Balanced Diet: Avoid strict diets; focus on fresh fruits, veggies, and whole foods.
  • Mindful Eating: Listen to fullness cues, and avoid emotional or environmental overeating triggers.
  • Routine Checkups: Regular medical, dental, and eye exams catch early signs of potential health issues.
  • Social Engagement: Active social life can improve physical and emotional health, and reduce mortality risks.
  • Mental Stimulation: Activities like reading, puzzles, and learning new skills help maintain cognitive health.
  • Stress Management: Techniques like meditation, tai chi, and time management can alleviate chronic stress.
  • Sleep Hygiene: A consistent sleep schedule and a conducive environment promote better sleep quality.

FAQs


How can I stay active even if I’m worried about getting hurt?

It’s important to find activities you enjoy and are comfortable with. Simple tasks like gardening, walking, or senior-friendly activities like tai chi can be beneficial. Remember, it’s about staying mobile and active in ways that are safe for you.


I’ve tried so many diets and nothing sticks. What can I do?

Diets can be tricky. Instead of strict diets, focus on making small, daily changes to your eating habits. Aim to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Remember, balance is key.


Do I need to see the doctor and dentist so often?

Yes, regular check-ups help us catch and address potential issues early on. It ensures everything works as it should, from your medications to your dental and eye health.


I don’t socialize as much anymore. Is that bad?

Staying socially connected can be beneficial for both your mental and physical well-being. Try to engage in activities, even simple ones like chatting with a neighbor or calling a friend.


I’m feeling stressed. What can I do about it?

Stress is a common concern. Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or even just calming music. Finding activities or hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation is also good.


I have trouble sleeping. Any advice?

Consistent sleep routines are essential. Try to sleep and wake at the same times daily. Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, and ensure your bedroom is dark and quiet. If you still face issues, discuss them with your doctor to determine the next steps.


References

  1. Anastasios S Dontas, Nicholas S Zerefos, Demosthenes B Panagiotakos & Dimitrios A Valis (2007) Mediterranean diet and prevention of coronary heart disease in the elderly, Clinical Interventions in Aging, 2:1, 109-115, DOI: 10.2147/ciia.2007.2.1.109
  2. Frith, E., Shivappa, N., Mann, J., Hébert, J., Wirth, M., & Loprinzi, P. (2018). Dietary inflammatory index and memory function: Population-based national sample of elderly Americans. British Journal of Nutrition, 119(5), 552-558. doi:10.1017/S0007114517003804
  3. Nicola T Lautenschlager, Kay L Cox & Kathryn A Ellis (2019) Physical activity for cognitive health: what advice can we give to older adults with subjective cognitive decline and mild cognitive impairment?, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 21:1, 61-68, DOI: 10.31887/DCNS.2019.21.1/nlautenschlager
  4. Izabella Uchmanowicz, Karolina Markiewicz, Bartosz Uchmanowicz, Aleksandra Kołtuniuk & Joanna Rosińczuk (2019) The relationship between sleep disturbances and quality of life in elderly patients with hypertension, Clinical Interventions in Aging, 14:, 155-165, DOI: 10.2147/CIA.S188499
  5. Carnicelli L, Maestri M, Di Coscio E, Tognoni G, Fabbrini M, Schirru A, Giorgi FS, Siciliano G, Bonuccelli U, Bonanni E. A longitudinal study of polysomnographic variables in patients with mild cognitive impairment converting to Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Sleep Research. 2019 Oct;28(5):e12821. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12821
  6. Mantovani S, Smith SS, Gordon R, O’Sullivan JD. An overview of sleep and circadian dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Sleep Research. 2018 June;27(3):e12673. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12673
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