Aches and pains, low energy, and chronic health conditions are a reality for many seniors today. However, growing old doesn’t have to mean growing ill or frail. By taking steps to improve their mental and physical health, aging adults can enjoy a dramatically higher quality of life during the senior years.
As with younger adults, the foundation of good health in old age is a healthy diet, adequate exercise, and high-quality sleep. However, because of seniors’ changing bodies, the way older adults achieve those things looks different.
Due to declining muscle mass, older adults need fewer calories per day than their younger counterparts. At the same time, changes to the way bodies absorb nutrients and interactions with medications leave seniors vulnerable to malnutrition. Seniors must take special care to consume enough calcium, protein, fiber, and vitamins D and B12.
The best way for seniors to maximize nutrient intake is to eat a varied diet that includes a diversity of colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, lean meats and fatty fish, and fortified dairy products. Seniors should avoid empty calories from added sugars and solid fats, as they offer minimal nutritional value but increase the risk of weight gain.
In addition to watching their diet, seniors must exercise caution with alcohol. Older bodies can’t metabolize alcohol efficiently, leading to higher levels of intoxication on less alcohol. This increases seniors’ risk of falling or experiencing other alcohol-related health problems. HealthDay recommends that seniors consume no more than one alcoholic drink per day and avoid mixing alcohol with medications.
Seniors might be less concerned with their figure than younger adults, but that doesn’t mean they can shirk exercise. Exercise improves mobility and balance, lifts and stabilizes moods, and reduces the risk of a wide variety of health conditions. As a result, active older adults are physically and mentally healthier than their sedentary peers.
Many seniors cite pain or fear of injury as a reason for avoiding exercise. While it’s true that seniors can get hurt exercising, a lack of exercise is more likely to lead to health problems. However, sedentary seniors benefit from taking a cautious approach to exercise. If a senior hasn’t been active for some time, talking to a doctor and starting with simple indoor exercises is the safest way to build strength, stability, and stamina.
It’s common for seniors to experience difficulty sleeping. They may struggle to fall and stay asleep at night, wake up too soon, or get poor quality sleep that leaves them fatigued throughout the day. This leads many seniors to believe they don’t need as much sleep in old age. However, like younger adults, seniors need seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Getting too little sleep affects cognition, mood, and immune health, and contributes to health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Many sleep problems can be solved or mitigated by improving sleep hygiene. Tuck.com defines sleep hygiene as “the rituals, behaviors, and norms you follow around sleep.” This includes what time a person goes to bed and wakes up, their activities before bed, and their sleep environment. The best sleep hygiene practices include keeping regular sleep and wake times, maintaining a dark, cool bedroom free of electronics, limiting naps to one 30-minute nap per day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and exercising during the day. Seniors who are unable to solve their sleep problems through improved sleep hygiene should discuss the possibility of an underlying sleep disorder with their doctor.
Good health in old age doesn’t happen on its own. Seniors who want to stay healthy as they age must make physical and mental wellness a priority in their lives. Getting started may be hard, but the improvements to seniors’ quality of life is well worth the effort.