Whether it’s sore knees, falls or more serious health problems, most people associate old age with poor health. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
While we can’t stop ourselves from ageing, with a few simple lifestyle changes we can control how we age. Here we share ten tips for healthy ageing to show you how.
What is healthy ageing?
The World Health Organisation uses the following healthy ageing definition:
Healthy ageing is “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age” where functional ability is “about having the capabilities that enable all people to be and do what they have reason to value.”
The concept of healthy ageing stems from the idea that you can maintain your health as you age. Healthy ageing challenges the stereotype that getting older necessarily means getting frailer. It’s about incorporating simple practices into your daily routine to keep fit physically and take care of your mental health so that you can maintain your independence for longer and continue to live an active and fulfilling life.
Top ten tips for healthy ageing
Ageing well is all about making simple lifestyle changes to increase your fitness, boost your mental well-being and maintain social connection. Here are our top ten tips for healthy ageing. And remember, no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start!
1. Get enough sleep
Sleep is essential for good health as it enables the body to repair itself. While we naturally need less sleep as we age it’s still important to prioritise a good night’s sleep. A bad night’s sleep here or there is harmless but regular insufficient sleep is associated with chronic conditions including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Poor mental health
Adults aged between 18 and their mid-60s typically need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. If you’re older than that, you might need slightly less, at around 7-8 hours. It’s normal to wake up during the night more often as we age, but if you’re having trouble falling asleep you can try:
- Establishing a routine, where you go to bed and wake up around the same time.
- Avoid caffeine, smoking or lots of alcohol in the 4-6 hours leading to bedtime.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and not too hot.
- Avoid using devices that emit blue light—like iPads, mobile phones or computers—close to bedtime.
- Getting up and leaving the bedroom if you can’t fall asleep. Moving to the couch and reading for a while is often all you need to feel sleepy, and is a good way to avoid associating your bedroom with trouble sleeping.
2. Move more
The old adage ‘move it or lose it’ still rings true today. Exercise is one of the best things you can do to age well. It’s essential for cardiovascular health, maintaining functional muscle strength and bone density, and is strongly linked to good mental health.
But exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym every day. The trick is to build activity into your daily routine and minimise the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down. Mowing the lawn, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, weeding the garden and walking to the shops are all simple ways to keep in shape.
Australian guidelines recommend that adults aim for:
- 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week – such as a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming
- 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity – such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer or netball
- an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.
But remember—something is better than nothing. Start where you’re at, and your fitness will build over time.
3. Try strength training
Lifting weights isn’t just for gym junkies or body builders. In addition to maintaining an active lifestyle, try incorporating some form of strength training into your routine. This could be:
- Bodyweight exercises, like push-ups, squats, pull-ups or lunges
- Lifting weights
- Household tasks that involve lifting
- Resistance band training.
Australian guidelines recommend building strength training into your exercise routine twice a week.
4. Eat a balanced diet
Alongside exercise, eating a healthy diet is the key to ageing well. Good nutrition is essential for proper immune function and for preventing diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. Rather than getting caught up in the latest diet trend, keep it simple by eating a healthy combination of fruits, vegetables, protein and grains, and minimising the amount of highly processed food you consume. That doesn’t mean you have to cut out the yummy stuff altogether—just keep cakes and chips as a treat.
5. Spend time outdoors
Spending time in nature not only keeps you active, but also helps to promote mental wellbeing. It’s also the best way to make sure you have enough vitamin D to be able to absorb the calcium required to support bone strength and mental function. Easy ways to spend more time outdoors, that you can tailor to your physical activity level, include:
- Planting a garden or growing your own vegetables
- Walking down the street or through your local park
- Having backyard barbecues or park picnics
- Enjoying your daily cup of coffee outside rather than inside
- Having a look at what bushwalks are near you.
6. Maintain social connections
Whether it’s joining your local men’s shed, participating in Park Run every Saturday, or catching up with friends for dinner, maintaining social connection is important for ageing well. Social connection keeps us happy and reduces the chance of developing depression, which can come from social isolation. It doesn’t have to be a big event either—regular phone or video calls with friends and family can bring just as much joy as meeting in person.
7. Keep your mind active
Forgetfulness is often a natural part of ageing, but there are things you can do to keep your mind sharp—and it’s not just crossword puzzles. Challenge your brain by picking up a new hobby, learning a new skill, or reading widely. Staying social and interacting with a range of people can also help to keep you alert. Engage in regular conversation with your friends and family, and consider volunteering to expand your social network.
8. Address medical problems early
The earlier something’s caught, the easier it is to fix. See your GP for a general check-up once a year, and if something doesn’t feel right don’t wait to make an appointment. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your family’s medical history too. They’ll be able to help you manage your risk of developing certain diseases that might run in the family.
9. Quit smoking
Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s also one of the best things you can do for your health. According to the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care, smoking is the main cause of preventable disease and death in Australia. If you need support to quit, make an appointment with your doctor, who can talk to you about the different methods for quitting (like using nicotine patches or gum) and help you develop a quit plan.
10. Drink in moderation
Whether it’s the occasional glass of bubbly, or a Friday beer at the pub, alcohol is one of life’s pleasures. The trick is to enjoy it in moderation. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends healthy adults consume no more than 10 standard drinks in a week, and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
Benefits of healthy ageing
These tips won’t prevent all the challenges that come with getting older, but they can help to slow them down. In addition to feeling better, implementing healthy ageing practices can help you to:
- Reduce your risk of falls. Exercise and strength training can help you maintain your balance and mobility by strengthening the muscles that support your back. Exercise is also essential for maintaining bone density, which deteriorates as we age.
- Maintain your independence for longer. Whether it’s no longer being able to drive or having to move out of your home, losing your sense of independence is one of the most difficult parts of ageing. Keeping fit and healthy is key to being able to keep doing the things you love.
- Stay connected to family and friends. Whether it’s kicking the soccer ball with your grandkids, or travelling interstate to visit your children, staying fit and healthy can help you to maintain social connection with your family and friends.
- Have new experiences. Who says gap years are only for school leavers? With the right lifestyle choices, you can make the most of your retirement and use these years to explore places you’ve never been and try things you’ve never had time to.
- Keep your medical bills down. Ageing well reduces your risk of developing preventable chronic diseases, which in turn helps to keep your medical costs down.
- NHMRC, 2023, Alcohol
- Department of Health and Aged Care, 2021, Physical Activity and Exercise Guidelines for all Australians
- Department of Health and Aged Care, 2020, Make a Quit Plan
- SA Health, 2023, Getting Enough Sleep
- World Health Organisation, 2020, Healthy ageing and functional ability