Americans today are living much longer than they did a century ago. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, individuals born in 1900 had a life expectancy of 46. In 2020, life expectancy for the US population at birth was 77. Studies suggest this increase in longevity may be due, in part, to the use of prescription medications, as well as healthier behaviors. While living longer is certainly desirable, quality of life is even more important.
While it may not be possible to control every factor as you age, the following steps can help you remain healthy and active into your senior years.
Following a healthy diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Opt for a variety of high-quality natural foods that are grown in the ground or foods that have health boosting qualities.
- Start by adding color to your diet. “Eating the rainbow” is a term used to describe a diet filled with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Colorful foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. By choosing colorful fruits and vegetables, you increase your chances of getting the nutrients you need.
- Choose lean proteins. Seafoods, eggs, lean meats, legumes, nuts and seeds are all great sources of protein. Proteins can curb hunger because they are more satisfying. They also aid in building muscle and strengthening bones. Healthy protein has been shown to lower blood pressure and increase metabolism.
- Be sure to add calcium-rich foods to your diet. Low-fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt are a great source of calcium along with nuts, soybeans and leafy green vegetables. Some foods are frequently fortified with added calcium, including orange juice and cereals.
- Limit fatty foods, sugary drinks and processed foods to an occasional treat rather than a daily staple. Chemically processed foods, such as pastries, packaged breads, candy, ice cream, pizza and frozen meals, typically have artificial flavoring and refined ingredients. They often contain empty calories with very little nutritional value.
- Hydrate. While staying hydrated is important at any age, older adults are at greater risk of dehydration due to reduced thirst levels, age-related changes, medical changes, and taking prescription medications including diuretics. Staying hydrated is essential for brain and heart health, preventing kidney stones and urinary tract infections, temperature regulation, and even reducing joint pain.
Healthcare in Your 60s and Beyond
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Aside from maintaining your physical health, regular exercise provides mental health benefits, helps with weight maintenance, lowers the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, improves sleep, relieves stress, reduces pain, improves balance and flexibility and lowers the risk of chronic health conditions. Look for ways to increase daily activity.
- Set a goal of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. If you haven’t been active, start slowly and build. Aerobic exercises that raise your heart rate offer the most benefit. Think dancing, walking briskly, swimming or biking.
- Add strengthening exercises twice a week. Squats, lunges, stretch bands, wall pushups, step-ups or stair climbing and bicep curls with weights (or even cans of food) are all examples of muscle strengthening exercises. Building and maintaining muscle mass helps prevents falls, increases bone density and improves coordination and mobility.
- Focus on balance. Stand on one leg with arms outstretched (or hold onto a chair if you are unsteady). Walk in line as if you were on a tightrope. With each step, try to balance on one foot for two to three seconds. Core strengthening exercises also lead to better balance.
Maintain Regular Doctor Visits
It is easy to skip routine medical visits when you are feeling well, but visiting your doctor at regular intervals is a big part of staying healthy. Reasons to keep those appointments:
- Regular visits make it possible for your doctor to identify problems at the earliest stages when they are easiest to treat. Health screenings can provide valuable information about your overall health.
- Routine visits allow time for you to get to know your doctor and him to get to know you. Familiarity helps your doctor recognize changes in your health and better understand your needs.
- Annual lab tests (or lab tests at the interval your doctor determines is best for you) can reveal changes in organ function or other health issues. It can identify the need for more testing or closer monitoring.
- Cost reduction is another reason to keep those appointments. Treating health conditions before they worsen may help you avoid surgery or other more costly treatments.
- Closely monitoring chronic health conditions allows your doctor to adjust medications and treatment regimes to keep chronic conditions under control.
Exercise Your Mind
Memory problems and cognitive decline are common in the elderly, but there are steps you can take to help keep your mind sharp.
- Continue to learn. Learn a new skill or try something that challenges your brain. Do crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, join a book club, learn to play bridge or chess or take up a new hobby. Lifelong learning is a great way to keep your mind engaged and active.
- Exercise. An added benefit of physical activity is brain health. Look for ways to mix it up when exercising. Take a ballroom dancing class, join a bowling league, exercise outdoors or play a sport. Combining exercise with social interaction offers additional benefit.
- Find a purpose. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book or get your college degree. It’s never too late to reach those goals that once seemed out-of-reach.
- Practice mindful meditation. Studies have shown that even 10 minutes of meditation can boost brain function and lower anxiety.
Maintain Good Oral Health
Oral health impacts overall health and wellbeing. Daily oral care not only reduces the risk of dental disease, but it can also improve your health. Reasons to practice good oral care:
- Approximately 68% of adults 65 or older have gum disease.
- Gum disease and infected teeth can lead to heart disease, dementia, respiratory infection and diabetes complications. Bacteria from the mouth doesn’t just stay there, it travels through the bloodstream impacting other areas of the body.
- Oral health issues impact your ability to chew and swallow, which can affect your nutritional status and may prevent you from indulging in your favorite foods.
- Good oral hygiene can prevent problems with gums and teeth. Brush twice a day for two minutes each time. Use a soft bristled toothbrush and replace it every three to four months or when bristles are worn. Floss daily and visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.
- Stop smoking. Smokers produce more plaque which can build-up on the teeth. It also causes staining, gum disease, tooth loss and, in some cases, oral cancer.