A Complete Guide to Senior Health & Wellness

In this guide, we look at some of the most important aspects of senior health and wellness.
A Complete Guide to Senior Health & Wellness
Healthy Living: Health and Wellness Guide for Seniors. Image/Shutterstock

Most of what we believe about aging is untrue. We assume, incorrectly, that declining health is inevitable or that memory loss is a natural part of aging. While some health issues are more common in older adults, positive lifestyle changes allow you to remain healthy and vibrant at any age.

Maintaining Senior Health and Wellness

If you’re turning 65, keeping yourself healthy and well means adopting healthy habits. Here are things to do to keep physically and mentally fit.

#1 Transition Your Health Insurance

If you have benefits through your job, you might not have looked into signing up for Medicare. At age 65 you become eligible for Medicare health insurance. The enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after that month. You can sign up during that window or after ending your employer-based coverage. For more information, read Medicare eligibility requirements.

#2 Get Physicals

Routine physicals allow your doctors to keep track of any changes in your health. If there are issues, you can find them early when they are most treatable. Plan annual checkups with your doctor, dentist, eye doctor, and any specialists you see. This is a good time to discuss any health questions you have.

#3 Work up a Sweat

It is safe to say that regular exercise is the most effective way to maintain senior health and wellness. The benefits of physical activity include better balance, mobility, and strength. A workout lifts your mood and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. It also helps manage diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. Adding any exercise is a good start. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 30 minutes of aerobic activity a day, five days a week. Include muscle-strengthening exercise twice a week. Low impact aerobic activities include walking, cycling, and swimming. Find a list of CDC-approved activities here.

#4 Eat for Health

As you age, your body needs fewer calories but more of certain nutrients. Follow these healthy eating tips for seniors to save money and maintain your weight. Whenever possible, eat whole foods. You will find these in the produce, meat, and dairy sections of the grocery store.

Eat a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables to get all the nutrients you need. For a great source of fiber, protein, and vitamins, add beans to a recipe. To aid digestion and regularity, eat high fiber foods like unsalted nuts, whole-grain bread, and cereals. Avoid ingredients that cause weight gain, digestive issues, or insulin resistance. These include white rice, white flour, sugar, and corn syrup.

#5 Drink More Water

Dehydration is a common cause of hospitalization for older adults. That is because, over time, adults lose their sense of thirst and fail to drink enough water. A rule of thumb is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

#6 Limit Alcohol

The body’s reaction to alcohol changes with age. It takes more time to break down alcohol, so older adults will feel the effects longer. Another concern is that alcohol can interact with medication, leading to serious side effects. Drinking can worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, and high blood pressure. For these reasons, health professionals recommend drinking limits of one alcoholic drink per day.

#7 Step on the Scale

For many older adults, less exercise and a slower metabolism lead to weight gain. But sustaining a healthy weight is important to maintaining wellness. For one thing, obesity is a major risk factor for disability late in life. It is also linked to chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and glucose intolerance. The good news is earlier tips regarding exercise and diet will help you achieve a healthy weight.

#8 Get a Good Night’s Rest

Aging causes sleep to become lighter and more fragmented. For a restful sleep, practice good sleeping habits. An hour before bedtime, turn off screens. That is important because the artificial light in TVs and phones suppresses melatonin, a sleep hormone. Relax with soothing bedtime rituals like a warm bath or slow music. Create a space that is conducive to sleep by investing in a good mattress and making sure your bedroom is quiet, cool, and dark.

#9 Quit Smoking

About 8 percent of adults age 65 and older smoke cigarettes. If you are among that group, stop smoking to improve your health. Once you quit, you’ll be less likely to catch colds or the flu. Ex-smokers also have lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia and have a better feeling of well-being overall. The nicotine in tobacco is addictive, so it often takes more than one attempt to quit. For tips and resources, read 10 ways to resist tobacco cravings.

#10 Keep Connected

Having an active social life makes you happier. Older adults who interacted with a variety of people had higher levels of physical activity, more positive moods, and fewer negative feelings according to a study. When it is safe to do so, plan that bridge game, golf outing or family barbecue. If you need to enhance your social life, connect with old friends, volunteer, become active in church or take a class.

#11 Control Stress

Stress is a natural response to a threat. It floods the body with hormones to elevate the heart rate and blood pressure for a fight or flight response. That reaction is beneficial in an emergency. However chronic stress is harmful. When your body launches a stress response to daily concerns like a heavy workload or budget worries, there are serious health consequences.

To reduce stress, identify the issue causing it. The next step is to figure out how to change your behavior to improve the situation. For example, if you’re aggravated by heavy traffic, you could take an alternate route or leave at a different time. Calm your body and mind with stress management techniques like meditation, yoga, exercise and improved sleep.

#12 Boost Your Brain

Exercising your mind is as important as exercising your body. By keeping your brain active you’ll prevent cognitive decline and memory problems. Find a new way to do something you enjoy. Experiment with new recipes. If you enjoy crosswords, switch to more challenging puzzles. Improve your golf game.

Challenge yourself with a change of routine. Each day does a typical thing in an unusual way. Take a different route home from work. Try a new workout. Walk a different path.

Try something new. If there is something you have always wanted to learn, take a class. Want to play the piano? Now is the time. Enjoy Italian food? Join a cooking class.

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#13 Focus on Roses Not Thorns

Retirement brings the promise of travel, free time, grandchildren, and hobbies. But growing older comes with challenges too. Among these are losing loved ones, and concerns about finances, and maintaining independence. Following are tips to stay positive and keep things in perspective.

Accept changes in your life. Letting go of things you can’t control will reduce your stress.

Remember to be thankful for the good things in your life.

Acknowledge your feelings if you experience a loss. Rather than bury your emotions, talk to a friend or professional. Keep a journal.

Maintain your sense of purpose. Your life story doesn’t end with retirement. You have a lifetime of wisdom and experience to share.

#14 Make a Game Plan

There are many ideas here for maintaining senior health and wellness. Chances are, you already do some of these. Choose the ideas that will bring you the most enjoyment and start now. Lay the groundwork for a happy, healthy, and sociable phase of your life.

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Dr. Keith Kantor

Dr. Kantor has been an advocate of natural food and healthy living for 30 years. He is also on the Board of Directors for NAMI.org in G

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