5 Healthy Habits for Seniors
February 01, 2018
People are living longer and longer. Some carry their good health habits over from their earlier years. Other older adults find this a great time to start new healthy habits.
“In general, those who had good health habits continue them as seniors,” says family medicine specialist Amy Reed Friedman, MD.
“Many of these habits become more important as you age," she says. "Even if you haven’t been active, you can definitely start when you are older and still see the benefits.”
Dr. Friedman points to five habits that are important to aging well. Among these are:
Exercise. Dr. Friedman says this is one of the things she sees people not doing often enough as they get older. The recommendations are the same as for younger people: 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. This can be 30 minutes a day or five minutes, six times a day. Brisk walking, going just fast enough so that you can talk with a little effort, is best. You can also work to improve your balance by walking heel-to-toe or standing on one foot. Finally, walking up and down steps can help keep your legs strong.
“All of the studies show that exercise improves blood pressure, cholesterol numbers and blood sugar readings,” she says. “It also contributes to bone health and prevents osteoporosis, which lessens the chance of a fall and a broken hip. Walking is also a great way to socialize and make friends.”
Many gyms have classes that cater to seniors. If you have Medicare Advantage, look online to find a Silver Sneakers gym that lets you exercise for free.
Attend to your dental health. Brushing and flossing helps prevent tooth decay. Making sure your dentures fit properly is an often-overlooked part of dental health.
“One of the things that tends to get lost in older patients is dental issues,” Dr. Friedman says. “Ill-fitting dentures or teeth that need fillings hurt, making it hard to eat properly, and can cause weight loss. If teeth aren't in good repair, bacteria in the mouth can enter the body and cause infections.”
Vision exams. Annual vision examinations can be a key to maintaining good health. Eyesight is important if you want to continue to drive, which, in turn, helps keep you active and can lessen depression from being isolated. Good vision also means that you can still enjoy hobbies, such as playing cards, reading or watching favorite TV programs. Additionally, if you can’t clearly see the medicine bottle, you're at increased risk for medication issues.
“Sometimes correcting these concerns is just a matter of seeing your eye doctor twice a year,” Dr. Friedman says. “It may be that you need treatment for a cataract or glaucoma. Sometimes, it's as easy as changing the prescription on your glasses.”
Diet. Dr. Friedman notes that as you age, your metabolism gets slower. There are also more problems with constipation and upset stomach. Maintaining a diet that has more fiber is a first step. Decrease your intake of processed foods by substituting brown rice for white, and eating more whole grain foods, green, leafy fruits and vegetables.
“These are all important in the maintenance of general nutrition and gut health,” Dr. Friedman says. “Seniors sometimes lean toward frozen or precooked meals that they can just pop into the microwave and eat a couple of minutes later.”
Mental health. Keeping your mental health is another area where healthy habits can be developed. As you age, you have to deal with the fact that many of your friends and family have passed away. This is when depression can set in.
“You may become less active, not want to go out any more, eat less and have lower energy,” she says. “Find some activity that you like and then do it, preferably with a group of people. With the internet, you can find a group with your interest almost anywhere.”