Staying physically active, eating well and taking care of your emotional health can help you lead a happy and productive life, well into your 80s and 90s. This article explores science-backed ideas to help you stay as healthy as possible, even as you advance in years.
Here are our best health tips for seniors to improve your wellbeing and independence even as you advance in years:
Healthy Eating For Seniors: Nutrition
A balanced, nutritious diet is essential for health and wellbeing, especially as we age. Eating nutritious foods in the right amounts can:
- Support healthy brain function
- Enhance your energy levels
- Keep your muscles, bones and organs strong and healthy
- Give your immune system a boost to protect against harmful viruses and bacteria that cause illnesses
- Assist you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight
In fact, many studies show that a healthy diet can help you live longer by physically changing parts of your chromosomes to help protect against age-related diseases. Healthy living can improve your quality of life, reduce your risk of injury and chronic disease, and even help you recover from illness more quickly.
What does healthy eating look like for seniors?
Foods: High fibre foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grain breads and cereals.
Health benefits: Health experts recommend eating at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day. These foods, which boast a low glycemic index value, satisfy hunger but have little effect on blood sugar.
Fruits and vegetables are also an excellent source of antioxidants, which protect your cells from free radical damage and keep your body strong and healthy.
Foods: Healthy sources of protein may include lean meats, fish, eggs, beans and legumes.
Health benefits: Ideally, aim to eat at least two portions per week, including one portion of oily fish.
Foods: Healthy sources of calcium include low fat dairy products like yoghurt, low fat milk, hard cheeses, broccoli, kale, salmon and tofu. If you find it difficult to obtain enough calcium from diet alone, ask your doctor about calcium supplements.
Health benefits: Doctors recommend that women aged over 51 years old and men aged over 71 years old aim to consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. Calcium and vitamin D supplements can help keep your bones strong, making it especially worthwhile for women at risk of osteoporosis.
Foods: Rich dietary sources of Vitamin D include tuna, salmon, eggs and vitamin D supplements. Many people receive adequate amounts of vitamin D from sunlight.
Health benefits: Vitamin D helps your body regulate calcium and maintain phosphorus levels in the blood to help support healthy bones. In Australia, experts recommend a dietary intake of at least 800 IU (20 μg) per day for individuals aged over 70 years.
Drinks: Water is essential to keep the body hydrated and healthy.
Health benefits: Drinking at least two litres of water per day will help you stay hydrated, energised and sharp. Seniors are especially vulnerable to dehydration.
Unhealthy foods to avoid
Avoid or limit foods that contain high amounts of saturated fat, such as fast food and packaged foods.
Avoid food and drinks that are high in sugar, such as biscuits, pastries and soft drink. Sugary and fatty foods can trigger inflammation in the body and weaken your immune system.
It’s best to keep salty foods, such as smoked, cured, salted meats, to a minimum.
Healthy Living For Seniors: Exercise
Embracing regular physical activity is essential for a healthy mind and a healthy body. Scientific evidence repeatedly shows that people who exercise regularly not only live longer, they live better.
Keeping physically active in your senior years offers a wide variety of benefits:
- Improved sleep quality: Exercise helps you sleep better
- Physical strength and flexibility: Builds muscle and decreases your risk of falls and injury by helping you maintain your fitness, strength and balance
- Keeps your body fit and healthy: Reduces high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and arthritis
- Improved heart health: Exercise helps lower your resting heart rate and increases the amount of blood pumped with each heartbeat. This can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Decreased risk of mental illness: Decreases your risk of dementia and alleviates depression
- Improves mental and emotional wellbeing: Improves energy, memory and happiness
According to Australian Physical Activity Guidelines, seniors should aim to achieve 30 minutes of medium intensity exercise each day — increasing your heart rate to a level where you can talk but not sing.
Here are some ideas for physical exercise to help you enjoy and stay independent as you age:
- To improve strength and endurance: Swimming, dancing, brisk walking, cycling, lifting and carrying weights, climbing stairs, doing squats and raising your legs to the side all help maintain your muscle tone and bone density. These exercises can also increase your stamina, reduce breathlessness and fatigue, keep your heart and lungs fit and healthy, and improve the health of your circulatory system.
- To improve brain health: Aerobic exercise can help keep brain cells healthy by delivering more blood and oxygen to the brain.
- To improve balance: Simple exercises like stretching, balancing on one foot or your toes (using a chair nearby for support), or slow, gentle exercise such as Tai Chi can help improve your balance.
- To improve flexibility: Yoga and stretching exercises can keep you flexible. Flexibility or stretching exercises help keep your body limber and give you the freedom of movement you need to do everyday activities.
- To improve bone health: Exercises such as walking, jogging, tennis, climbing stairs and weight training can help you build strong bones and slow down bone loss.
If you haven’t been active for a while, have recently experienced health problems or are recovering from illness, you may find you are not as fit as you used to be. If this is the case, we recommend starting slowly and gradually building up the intensity of your exercise program with short bursts of physical activity throughout the day, for example, three 10 minute intervals. You can also help pace yourself by setting aside specific times of the day or days of the week to exercise. Doing a little physical activity each day is better than doing no physical activity at all. Even simple everyday activities like gardening, walking the dog, or carrying groceries can contribute to your physical wellbeing.
Mental and Emotional Health Tips For Seniors
How can seniors improve their mental and emotional health?
As you grow older, it’s important to continue to proactively take care of your mental and emotional health. Taking care of your brain’s health will help you enjoy the years ahead. Make a conscious choice to be optimistic and grateful, despite life’s rough ups and downs.
Here are our mental and emotional health tips for senior citizens:
Express kindness and gratitude
- Smile regularly (even a fake smile is proven to help lower stress!)
- Do kind things for strangers and the people you love.
- Cultivate optimism and gratitude with a gratitude journal.
- Make a special effort to focus your thoughts on the positives, rather than the negatives. There are definite upsides to growing older. Although you may wear more wrinkles and grey hairs, you may feel more confident and wiser than your younger self.
Practice acceptance and manage stress
- While accepting you can’t change something that upsets you can be difficult (for all of us!), consciously practicing healthy acceptance will benefit both your body and your mind.
- Find healthy strategies to help manage stress. Investing in meditation, exercise or therapy can be helpful ways to diminish stress.
- Prioritise quality sleep. Seek to attain between seven to nine hours of sleep each night to nourish your mind and your body.
Embrace new hobbies and learn new skills
- Make time to regularly enjoy activities that give you personal satisfaction. Choose a mix of intellectually stimulating and physical activity for the best results.
- Taking up a new skill keeps your brain healthy and can even help protect you against dementia. New experiences, such as volunteering, learning to play a musical instrument or a foreign language, can help preserve your memory and thinking skills.
Find purpose and community
- Surround yourself with people who boost your spirits.
- Make an effort to make new friends and connect meaningfully with others. This will help strengthen your sense of belonging and ward off depression and stress.
Keeping physically fit, adopting a nutritious diet and looking after your emotional health can help you enjoy a long, happy and productive life.
Get in touch today for a free consultation with Bob Morton about how decluttering your home can give you a renewed sense of well-being and independence, and increase your quality of life.
References and Additional Resources
Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise.
Jamie McPhee, David P. French, Dean Jackson, James Nazroo, Neil Pendleton, and Hans Degens. (2016). Physical activity in older age: perspectives for healthy ageing and frailty. Biogerontology, 17, 567–580.
Live Science. Exercise boosts life expectancy, study finds.
Masahiro Banno, Yudai Harada, Masashi Taniguchi, Ryo Tobita, Hiraku Tsujimoto, Yasushi Tsujimoto, Yuki Kataoka, and Akiko Noda. (2018). Exercise can improve sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PeerJ, 6: 5172.
Caryl A Nowson, John J McGrath, Peter R Ebeling, Anjali Haikerwal, Robin M Daly, Kerrie M Sanders, Markus J Seibel and Rebecca S Mason. (2012). Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement.