Aging causes a variety of health challenges, especially in women. It’s important to maintain a level of wellness in all dimensions: physically, spiritually and mentally to overcome these challenges. A survey by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) has found that many women age 44 and older have numerous chronic conditions. Most chronic conditions are likely to lead to missed work. The good news is that proper nutrition and lifestyle habits can help older adults improve health and overall quality of life.
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September is Healthy Aging Month. Created by Carolyn Worthington, editor-in-chief of Healthy Aging® Magazine and executive director of Healthy Aging, this annual health observance is designed to focus national attention on the positive aspects of growing older. The main idea is to debunk the myths related to aging and to make people think about the positive aspects of aging instead of the negative aspects.
“September is a perfect time to celebrate Healthy Aging Month since it is time when many people think about getting started on new tasks after the summer,” says Worthington.
Awareness about healthy aging is important to make older people re-invent themselves and make them understand that aging is not necessarily a burden physically or emotionally. Older adults need to realize that they can make valuable and important contributions to society, and enjoy a high quality of life. Healthy Aging Month activities are designed to encourage people to rejuvenate and get going on positive measures that can impact their physical, social, financial and mental wellness.
Here are some ideas to get started on re-inventing yourself on this Healthy Aging Month:
- Stay positive: Ditch all the negativity and stay positive. Surround yourself with energetic, positive people of all ages and do things which will make you happier. Do not think about your age – instead think which was your best year, whether it’s 28 or 40, picture yourself at that age, and act like that. This technique will make you feel positive and go a long way towards feeling better about yourself.
- Stay active: Staying active is important at any age, but older adults need to choose the right kinds of physical activities. Walking is one of the best exercises. Regular walking not only keeps you fit, but also increases flexibility, boosts your mood and safeguards your health. Make sure that you do a daily walk, even if it’s for just 15 minutes. If you walk with friends, it can boost your social life too.
- Have regular eye exams: Aging is associated with loss of vision, depending on family history, health and certain eye diseases. Eye diseases don’t usually have any early symptoms, but can be detected during a eye evaluation. Early detection and treatment is the key to saving your sight. So don’t miss your regular eye exam.
- Maintain good oral health: Oral health is an essential element of healthy aging. Getting regular dental exams is important to identify and treat problems before they get worse. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and quit smoking.
- Proper nutrition: Good nutrition is necessary for healthy aging and to maintain a healthy weight. Eat plenty of fruit, veggies, healthy proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Cut down on sugar and salt.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends regular health exams and tests in order to find problems early or before they start, when your chances for treatment and cure are better.
Giving your body the right nutrients and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can promote healthy aging. As you grow older, your metabolism slows down and you may more of certain nutrients than before. This means you have to choose foods that can give you the best nutritional value. Good nutrition can lower your risk of chronic disease and can help you enjoy a long and healthy life. Here are some nutrition tips for healthy aging:
- Maintain a healthy diet: According to Forbes Custom, new studies show diet and nutrition may indeed promote healthy aging and reduce risk of age-related disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines good nutrition as an adequate, well-balanced diet and stresses that poor nutrition can result in reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity. So the first rule for healthy aging is to maintain a healthy diet.
- Eat more fresh produce: Fresh fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals essential for good health. Many studies have shown that people who consume diets high in fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Avoid processed or canned vegetables and fruits as they may have lot of preservatives and may include large amounts of salt or sugar.
- Stick to recommended servings: Eating the right food in the right proportion will provide the fuel needed to perform daily activities and at the same time help maintain your weight. The American Heart Association provides recommended daily servings for adults aged 60+.
- Keep an eye on saturated fats: Saturated fats can increase your risk of chronic diseases such as increase in blood cholesterol level and heart diseases. Limit intake of these unhealthy fat foods and include unsaturated fats such as olive oil, semi-skimmed(1%) or skimmed milk, lean or extra lean mince, chicken without skin, reduced fat cheddar, reduced fat spread, and plain biscuit.
- Lower sodium intake: Too much sodium intake can be a risk factor for developing heart disease. Healthy adults need only 1500 mg of sodium per day, however, 60% of older adults consume closer to 3400 mg. Limit sodium and try to flavor your foods without using salt or with less salt.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D: As you age, your body needs both calcium and vitamin D for the maintenance of the bones. Milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in calcium. Other sources include fish with edible bones (e.g. salmon, sardines), green leafy vegetables like kale, calcium fortified soy products, white bread and fortified breakfast cereals. Physicians may recommend vitamin D supplements for those who are unable to get the needed calcium and Vitamin D from their diet.
- Drink plenty of water: Drink water as much as you can. According to the Mayo Clinic, your intake is probably adequate if you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is colorless or light yellow. Avoid sugary cold drinks and keep fluids with sugar and salt at a minimum, unless your doctor has suggested otherwise.
Even though you are taking vitamin supplements, it is important to have a balanced diet too as supplements can replace its benefits. Remember that taken in excess, supplements may be harmful. Make exercise a part of routine as it keep you physically and mentally fit.
Wellness refers a state achieved by following a healthy, balanced lifestyle focused on both the mind and the body. Going by healthy aging strategies can promote wellness, and for that, you need to implement certain lifestyle changes that can prevent diseases before they occur. As you age, it’s important to maintain a level of wellness in all dimensions: physically, spiritually and mentally. Here are some strategies that can help older adults improve health and overall quality of life:
- Good nutrition habits: To achieve and maintain optimum health, you have to maintain a balanced diet that can provide your body with the essential nutrients. Include lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains in your diet. Avoid junk food, limit intake of fat, and balance the carbohydrate and protein intake. Eating healthy not only keeps you at the optimal weight but also improves your emotional and cognitive health.
- Be social and mingle with right crowd: Retirement, health issues, or the loss of a spouse, are events that can lead to social isolation. It’s important to maintain healthy communication with your family and friends to avoid becoming isolated or lonely. Staying socially active can improve mental and physical health. Volunteering has been proven to boost happiness, and is also a great way to bond with friends and meet new people in your community.
- Stay positive: A little positive energy can go a long way. Think happy thoughts and surround yourself with people who have a positive outlook about life.
- Reduce stress: Stress can be dangerous to your health. As we age, our stressors change and so does our ability to deal with stress. Long-term stress can damage brain cells and lead to depression. Stress may also cause memory loss, fatigue, and decreased ability to fight off and recover from infection. Mental and emotional strain can negatively impact the brain, nerves and hormones. It may not be possible to avoid stressful situations entirely, but you can learn to cope with stress. Stress management is a broad approach and should involve exercise, good coping skills, limiting work hours, while being active and leading a simple lifestyle.
- Learn something new: Never stop learning and challenging your mind. Doing routine mind exercises will help you stay sharp and cognitive decline. Learn new skills that require concentration, creative thinking and memorization like chess, crossword puzzles, or writing poetry.
- Meditate: Meditation can boost quality of life and your overall health. It can prevent from mental deterioration and keep your brain healthy as you age. The immediate benefits of meditation are reduced stress and anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, and enhanced happiness.
- Take care of your health: Regular health check-ups can detect problems before they become grave. Access to proper health care services is therefore important. Follow your doctor’s prescriptions and advice strictly and have regular screenings for common diseases.
- Undisturbed sleep: Good, undisturbed sleep matters lot. Older adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night because lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased fall risk, and memory problems. So develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine and naps when needed.
Maintaining a proper diet is an essential element of a healthy lifestyle and important to reduce the risk of disease. The six essential nutrients are carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Do you know that the amount of nutrition needed by your body varies with age? Yes, your dietary requirements in your 50s, 60s, and beyond are different from what they were at younger ages. In youth, proper nutrition helps growth and in adulthood, it promotes health and slow aging.
The world’s population and that of many countries is aging rapidly. In the U.S., the proportion of adults older than 65 is growing and according to the Census Bureau, life expectancy is 78 years. Good nutrition plays a key role in healthy aging, though their health at any point of time would depend on past experience and a wide variety of factors such as dietary patterns, physical fitness, chronic health conditions and mental health. Generally speaking, experts recommend a diet that includes some key nutrients for those in their 60s and above to facilitate healthy aging.
- Meals and snacks should be nutritious and include fewer calories. As a person enters the retirement phase, hormonal changes, decrease in physical activity and a loss of muscle mass reduces the need for energy or calories. But the need for nutrients remains more or less the same and in fact it increases when you cross 70.
- The protein requirement for people above 19 years of age is same. However, many experts recommend higher protein intake as we age to help fight skeletal muscle loss that some people experience after age 65. Additional protein can also help in quicker recovery from illnesses. Lean meat, eggs, dairy foods, poultry, fish, and legumes are great choices.
- Vitamin B12 is responsible for creating red blood cells and DNA, and maintaining healthy nerve function. Extra intake of Vitamin B12 is needed for elderly to fight atrophic gastritis – chronic infection of the stomach mucosa, which is generally seen in people 50 or older and makes absorption of Vitamin B12 difficult.
- Magnesium plays a vital role in some 300 diverse physiological processes. So include as many unprocessed foods as possible in your diet such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans and seeds. Magnesium is necessary to boost your immune system and keep your heart healthy, and your bones strong.
- Similarly, calcium and vitamin D both are essential to maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis as you age. However, as with many other essential minerals, the ability of the body to convert vitamin D into a usable form declines with age. Nutritionists therefore recommend higher intake levels of these vitamins in people 70 and older than for other adults.
Supplements may be necessary for seniors, but should not replace a healthy diet. Moreover, supplements should be taken only on a doctor’s advice.
Nutrition scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University have developed “MyPlate for Older Adults”, which is an excellent guide on what healthy, older adults should be eating. It recommends foods that contain high levels of vitamins and minerals per serving as well as cutting down on foods high in trans and saturated fats, salt and added sugars. It is important to note that the MyPlate for Older Adults guidelines also include physical activity such as walking, resistance training and light cleaning.