Aging is inevitable and out of our control, but many aspects of healthy aging are a result of choices we can make.
As we know many health care professionals work with older adults, here are tips for healthy aging that you can share with your older adult patients or even incorporate into your own life.
10 Tips for Healthy Aging from Health Care Organizations
Numerous health organizations, like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, offer numerous tips for healthy aging. Here are 10 of the best recommendations and the reasons behind them for how adults can contribute to their healthy aging.
1. Make Healthy Diet Choices
A healthy diet includes both what we eat and what we drink. There are many aspects to making a healthy diet choice, and each can be introduced one at a time, so it isn’t too overwhelming:
- Choose whole grains
- Add fiber
- Avoid sugary drinks
- Limit alcohol
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Avoid packaged, processed foods
- Reduce salt, fat, and butter
- Drink plenty of water
2. Get Up and Move
It’s become common knowledge that a sedentary lifestyle leads to health problems, and that’s especially true the older we get. However, as we get older, it can be difficult to find the time, energy, or motivation to add regular physical activity to the routine.
But physical activity doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as getting up to take a walk around the house or the block or carrying groceries. Every day, adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of activity, but if 30 minutes all at once is too much, break it up, like three 10-minute walks spread throughout the day.
Not only does regular physical activity help prevent health conditions, but it can help manage issues already present. It can help with sleep, improve overall mood, and increase the energy needed to continue being active.
3. Be Proactive
There are many important preventative measures that patients can take now to identify new health issues before they get worse. The most important steps to take include the following:
- Screening: Encourage patients to know what age they need to get screened for common illnesses based on gender, age, risk factors, family history, and ethnicity.
- Family history: Everyone should learn as much as they can about their family history and tell their primary care provider because family history changes what and when they need preventative screenings. For those who aren’t connected to their family, genetic tests can help determine many risk factors.
- Regular checkups: Older adults should see their doctor on a regular basis for basic routine checkups.
4. Manage Health Issues
If and when health issues do come up, encourage patients to stay on top of management. That means taking medication correctly and following up with their doctor to make sure treatments are working in case they need to be adjusted.
Unmanaged health conditions can cause serious symptoms quickly that might be more difficult to treat at later stages. Early treatment and management for conditions also mean there are usually many more treatment options available.
5. Avoid Using Tobacco
The use of tobacco has numerous negative effects on a person’s health. It increases their risk for heart disease, strokes, and lung cancers and is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Although all tobacco usage has negative side effects, cigarette smoking is a particular focus for many tobacco-cessation programs.
Just a few of the quick facts of why adults should avoid or stop smoking include the following:
- More women die from lung cancer than breast cancer.
- One out of every three cancer deaths in the United States could be prevented if everyone stopped smoking.
- Cigarette smoking is responsible for one in every five deaths in the United States.
- People who smoke cigarettes are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Osteoporosis and bone health is worse in older women who smoke than in women who don’t.
- Older people who smoke have a much higher risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
For patients who smoke and want to quit, there are many resources you can offer them.
6. Prevent Medication Mistakes
As adults get older, it’s common that we begin to take more medications. These medications can be very useful in maintaining our health, but they can also cause problems if used incorrectly.
The FDA offers the following tips in preventing medication mistakes for older adults:
- Ask about every medication: Some medications can have negative effects if they’re taken at the same time as other medications. Sometimes patients get prescribed multiple medications from different doctors or specialists and assume that means the medications can be taken together.
- Talk about supplements: Some people might assume supplements are safe to take without talking to their doctor because they can buy them off the shelf at the store. But some medications or health conditions can cause problems if taken with specific supplements.
- Discuss diet: Certain medications require patients to avoid certain foods. Don’t assume patients know what foods to avoid with their medications and why they need to be avoided.
- Troubleshoot medication scheduling issues: Some patients may have issues remembering what medications to take and when. Suggest methods to help them remember, like using a medication calendar or a pillbox. If it’s particularly complicated, help them work with their primary care provider to find ways to simplify their medication schedule.
- Identify and resolve physical issues: It may be difficult for some patients to successfully swallow their medications. That makes it so they might be less likely to stick to a dosing schedule and more likely to choke or waste the medication. Let patients know different ways they can help make swallowing easier and whether or not a medication can be crushed or if it comes in a swallow-friendly form, like a liquid version.
- Write it down: Prescription medications have instructions for how and when to take medications, but they can vary from a doctor’s recommendation, or abbreviations might not make sense. Encourage patients to have detailed instructions written out for them for each medication by their primary care provider.
Sleep is as important to our health as diet and exercise. Insomnia can be a common issue in older adults, but sleep never stops being important for our health. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night to stay healthy.
Getting enough sleep has the following effects on our health:
- Reduces risk of diseases, like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke
- Prevents or improves mental health issues, like depression
- Helps maintain a healthy weight
- Repairs cells
- Strengthens the immune system
- Improves our ability to function and be productive during the day
- Regulates your appetite
- Decreases inflammation
Methods to promote sleep and help with insomnia include some of the following:
- Limit how long and often naps are during the day
- Double-check medications’ side effects that might affect sleep
- Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic drinks in the late afternoon and evening
- Reduce light in the bedroom
- Put away technology, like the phone or the TV, an hour or two before bedtime
- Take time to wind down in the hours before sleep
- Keep to a regular sleeping schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same times
8. Take Care of Your Mouth
Because dental health has evolved to be a separate area of medical care and insurance, it’s often overlooked. But taking care of your mouth regularly is just as important as the rest of your body.
Dentists can often identify warning signs and symptoms of other illnesses through regular checkups. Some studies also suggest that issues in the mouth affect the rest of the body. For example, chronic inflammation in the mouth might be linked to cardiovascular issues.
Encourage older adults to develop good oral habits by brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every day.
9. Remember Mental and Emotional Health
While physical health is important, as evidenced by the tips listed above, mental and emotional health and wellbeing are equally important.
Older adults are at higher risk of becoming isolated and lonely. That can lead to depression, which can snowball and affect other issues, like exacerbating already-present health conditions, affecting sleeping, and reducing overall energy.
Ways to keep track of mental and emotional health include some of the following ideas:
- Keep connected to friends and family, either in person or through technology
- Find and participate in hobbies
- Get out of the house
- Reduce stress
10. Be Optimistic
The world can be a dark and depressing place. Bad things happen in life, like losing a job or a loved one. As adults get older, these losses might become more frequent or acute compared to when they were younger.
Maintaining an optimistic mindset might seem like a strange method for healthy aging, but many studies show that optimism has many effects on our health:
- It increases our life span
- It improves our mental health and reduces the risk of depression
- It reduces our risk of cardiovascular disease
- It improves our immune system
You can encourage your older adult patients to be optimistic, even if they feel like they can’t be, but adopting different strategies to practice being optimistic:
- Use humor regularly
- Practice identifying negative thoughts, like
- anticipating the worst possible outcome
- focusing on only the negative parts of a situation
- blaming themselves for things gone wrong
- seeing things only as good or bad
- Adopt healthy habits
- Avoid talking down to themselves if they make mistakes
- Practice being mindful by taking moments during the day to check in with how they’re feeling or thinking
- Surround themselves with people who are also positive and optimistic
- Practice every day
Although no one can avoid aging, we don’t have to make it or talk about it like a negative process. You can start by encouraging others and yourself to start practicing healthy aging methods now. Regardless of our age or current health, it can have amazing effects on how well we age.