15 Ways to Stay Healthy
Staying healthy as you age can be a challenge. Read on to learn more about what you can to do preserve your health and add years to life in the process.
1. Eat Your Medicine
Did you know that eating fish once a week could cut your risk of sudden cardiac death? Good nutrition is more than consuming less fat. It’s knowing the difference between good and bad fats, paying more attention to the variety and proportions of the foods you eat, and making good nutritional choices a habit (the hard part for most people). For example, even though eating five or more fruit and vegetable servings a day may cut overall cancer risk by 20 per cent, less than 40 per cent of older people do this. If you’ve had poor nutritional habits for a long time, you won’t be able to change overnight, but you can succeed if you improve your diet gradually.
2. Get Moving
Physical inactivity is the most prevalent risk factor for premature death and disability for Canadians of all ages. According to the Canadian Lifestyle and Fitness Institute, two-thirds of all Canadians have dangerously inactive lifestyles. However, even modest amounts of exercise (20 minutes a day) can do a world of good, especially if you are faithful to a regular routine and get the various forms of exercise you need to build your endurance, strength balance and flexibility.
3. Supplement Your Diet
You may know that getting enough of the antioxidant vitamins C and E and beta-carotene is one of the best ways to slow the clock. But if you’re serious about staying young, there are other supplements you should know about, too. Vitamin B12 is one of them, since deficiencies of this nutrient (common in people over 60) can result in dementia and memory loss. So is calcium, which not only guards against osteoporosis but may also help prevent the most common type of stroke.
4. Watch Your Weight
We all know that obesity can lead to serious health problems and shorten your life. But even 10 or 20 pounds of extra weight can pose an unnecessary risk, especially if it’s sitting mostly around your middle. Your metabolism slows with age, so you’re not burning the calories you once did. That means you should be cutting down on how much you eat or stepping up your exercise, or both.
5. Be Good to Your Bones
If you’re a woman, don’t wait until after menopause to address your risk of osteoporosis. You start losing bone density at least a decade before menopause, so you need to get enough calcium and vitamin D every day, stop smoking, and get regular weight-bearing exercise. When you approach menopause, discuss strategies to lower the risk of osteoporosis with your doctor. And men, don’t think you’re immune to osteoporosis. Your risk is increasing more slowly than a woman’s, but by your seventies or eighties, it can be just as great. According to the Osteoporosis Society of Canada, there are some 25,000 hip fractures each year. Seventy per cent of those are osteoporosis-related.
6. Visit the Doctor Regularly
Many people hate to see the doctor, but he or she can be your best friend when it comes to preventing health problems. Getting your blood pressure checked annually, for example, can help prevent serious cardiovascular and kidney problems. You can easily avoid 23 strains of pneumonia (a leading killer of older Canadians) by getting a pneumococcal vaccine, and yearly flu shots can ward off not only the flu but also the complications that can come with it. And you’ll never regret detecting cancer or diabetes early on, when there’s still time to do something about
7. Limit Alcohol
It’s true that one or two drinks a day may lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, but you shouldn’t start drinking to gain these benefits. Exercise and diet can help you achieve the same results. Also, the older you get, the more alcohol affects you. Drinking a glass of sherry, then a glass of wine with dinner might be one thing for a 40- to 5-year-old, but it’s quite another for a 70-year-old who metabolizes alcohol more slowly and may be more prone to falls. And overdoing alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
8. Quit Smoking
Heart disease, cancer and stroke account for at least one out of every two deaths today and smoking is clearly behind them all. If you still have this habit and you want to live, then quit before you think of doing anything else. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve tried to quit before; the next time can work, if you get all the help you need. If you’re an older smoker, take heart: Your chances of staying smoke-free if you quit are greatest if you’re over 65. As for passive smoking, realize that sitting in smoke-filled rooms may shorten your life.
9. Learn More About Your Medications
Like a lot of people, you might find yourself taking a host of different drugs as you get older. The biggest problem with “polypharmacy,” as it’s called, is the increased risk of interactions among drugs with food, alcohol and herbs. Did you know that drinking alcohol when taking Tylenol can cause liver damage? That one out of four cases of impotence may result from drug side effects? That as you age, you become more sensitive to drugs and may need lower doses? You can’t afford not to be savvy about drugs.
10. Avoid Stress
As you get older, you tend to experience new types of stress. You may have more responsibility than ever on the job, or aging parents to look after. Perhaps retirement isn’t what you thought it would be, or you’re lonely after the death of your spouse. Chronic stress can compound your risk of heart disease, cancer, and digestive problems, and it can even burn out your memory. Learning to manage it can actually help you live longer. In fact, people who have lived to 100 seem to have better-than-average ways of dealing with stress. Several techniques can help you cope.
11. Prevent Accidents
First, drive safely and wear a seatbelt. If you’re a man aged 55 to 64, you’re twice as likely to die in an auto accident as a woman your age. Driving risks are bound to increase if you develop vision or hearing problems or have slower reflexes. Around the house, you’re at higher risk for falls as you get older. Remove clutter and other hazards underfoot, and exercise to improve your balance.
12. Think Young
To remain vital, you need to stay actively engaged in life and break out of old routines. So find a passion or purpose and pursue it. Get involved in volunteer work. Try a new type of ethnic food, start a garden, adopt a pet. It’s also important to challenge your faculties. Learning new things can actually stimulate new connections in your brain. Play bridge, do challenging crossword puzzles, join a book discussion group. Take up pottery of learn to play an instrument.
13. Care for Your Teeth
Once upon a time, as people got older, they got dentures. If you’d like to keep your teeth, dental checkups and cleaning should be on your calendar at least once or twice a year. Daily flossing and brushing are also an important part of your preventive health care. Gum disease can actually spread infection to your heart and take years off your life.
14. Get Enough Sleep
Restful, deep sleep can be more elusive than ever as you age. Yet adequate shuteye is crucial to aging well. Sleep has been strongly linked to proper immune system functioning and also cardiovascular health. Learning more about your changing sleep patterns and how to preserve this precious restorative can add to the quality, and the quantity, of your life.
15. Stay Socially Connected
Maintaining the ties that bind, with family and friend both old and new, is much more important than we realized, according to the most recent medical research. In fact, having a social network has been clinically proven to contribute to a longer life and reduce the need for doctor visits and trips to the hospital. If you have a support system, you’re more likely to weather physical ailments, stress and emotional problems, and derive more enjoyment from life. The more people you talk to daily or weekly, the better.