As we welcome in the New Year, and thoughts turn to self-improvement, and resolving to make changes to our lives for the better, it is a good moment to think about health and whether we are taking the best care of ourselves, especially those of us in our more senior years.
There is so much information out there about what we need to do to stay healthy, it can feel rather daunting so it is often best to start with one or two easier lifestyle changes and build up to more. On the other hand, some Canadians prefer to dive right in and overhaul their diet plan and exercise regime in one go!
Whereas general rules for healthy living are abundant, there are some more specific things that older people can do to protect their health and stay feeling well.
One of the key areas to focus on is diet. As you get older your metabolism changes and also your body needs increased amounts of certain minerals and vitamins. A healthy, balanced diet is a good place to start, so add a good variety of fruit and vegetables, meats and grains.
In senior years your metabolism may change, meaning it is harder to keep to a healthy weight, which can be addressed by cutting back on processed and sugary foods and minimising hard fats and replacing with oils and choosing polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
It is recommended that older people increase the calcium and vitamin D in their diet to maintain healthy bones. Try adding three servings a day of foods such as milk and dairy products, fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, canned fish with soft bones, and fortified cereals.
Fibre-rich foods not only help you to stay regular – they can also can help lower your risk for heart disease and prevent Type 2 diabetes. Easy ways to add fibre are to swap to whole-grain breads and cereals, and add more fruits and vegetables including beans and peas.
As well as improving your diet, it is often recommended that you take a supplement to ensure that you are getting the full range of vitamins you need.
Try a multivitamin or vitamin and mineral combination. You can often find specific ones for older people available in the local health food shop. Look for a variety that includes Vitamin B12, as many over 50s do not get enough, potassium, which can help lower your risk of high blood pressure, and calcium and vitamin D to help boost your intake.
Physical activity is of course key to a healthy life. Experts recommend to be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day, even if it is broken into three 10 minute sessions across the day.
For someone who currently does not exercise regularly, it is best to start gently and for shorter periods of time, and gradually increase as they become stronger. Exercise is important and achievable even for people without good mobility. Lower paced or even seated exercise classes are often available at local gyms specifically for older people to get moving.
Of course, always check with your health-care professional before starting a new exercise regime.
Mental health is not always discussed when we talk about health and well-being for older people, but it is imperative, and there are many things which can be done to look after our minds.
Sleeping well is very important for good mental health, and often something seniors struggle with. Exercising and eating well will help with getting a good night’s sleep, along with making sure your bed is as comfortable as possible and your bedroom is a calm, dark space.
Often in later years, especially if mobility becomes an issue, getting out to meet friends and family can become difficult and our social life might suffer, leading to loneliness, boredom, and depression. Aim to find ways to stay in touch with people, possibly at a club or arrange visits with people on a regular basis.
Getting outside when possible will increase your time in the daylight, which releases happy hormones, so spending some time in the garden can give you a positive mental boost as well as benefitting from the calming effect of nature.
Finally, aim to keep an active brain. Research shows that by doing puzzles, such as crosswords and Sudoku, or even spending time with small children who make lively conversation, the brain can remain healthier for longer with improved memory speed.