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10 Essential Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Seniors

The residents of Ikaria, a Greek Island for whom the mythical Icarus is named, are among the healthiest, longest-lived people on Earth. Is it something in the water? How can American seniors achieve similar results?

There’s no great mystery to the Ikarians’ longevity. They eat a healthy Mediterranean diet (no processed foods!), have strong community ties, and are insulated from most modern conveniences. They also get plenty of exercise in ways Americans can’t imagine, such as milking goats, and enjoy a relatively stress-free lifestyle.

 However, you don’t need to move to Greece to gain the same benefits. Here are 10 healthy lifestyle tips you can put into practice right where you are:

  1. Get off the couch. It’s easy to come up with reasons to avoid exercise: “Exercise is boring.” “I’m tired.” Guess what? You can begin exercising at any age (with your doctor’s approval). It doesn’t have to be boring; you can choose any physical activity you like, from dancing to gardening to plain old walking. And exercise will actually give you energy — as well as counteract cognitive decline. It will also:
  •     Boost your mood
  •     Strengthen your bones
  •     Help prevent falls and fractures
  •     Keep you socially engaged, if you walk with a friend, play tennis, or take a yoga class, for example. 
  1. Eat healthfully. Metabolism, digestion, appetite, and thirst all diminish as we age. 

A nutritious diet can control, or even help prevent, many of the diseases associated with aging, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

We generate less saliva and stomach acid as we age, so fruits, vegetables, and other high-fiber foods are more crucial than ever. At the same time, seniors don’t tend to feel thirsty the way they once did. If you become dehydrated, it makes digestion and elimination more difficult — and affects your brain. So keep a glass of pure water nearby and sip it all day long. You’ll be doing your body a big favor.

  1. Sleep well. The cliché, “older people need less sleep” is false. Older adults need sleep just as much as their younger counterparts, but they may have a more challenging time getting the shut-eye they require, due to illness, physical inactivity, medications, or snoring. Snoring can also be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious condition that can lead to heart disease, memory loss, and depression.

To increase your “sleep ability”, keep the bedroom cool, comfortable and quiet. Electronics should be kept out of the bedroom. This includes television. Many people watch TV before going to bed, but it’s best to do this in another room of the house.

  1. Practice Prevention. Senior women should get screened for breast cancer; senior men for prostate cancer. Early detection is your best defense against disease. Prevention also includes screening for cholesterol, colon cancer, and heart disease. Seniors can receive a free physical exam during their first year on Medicare.
  2. Have Your Eyes Checked. Aside from the importance of visual acuity for safe driving and fall prevention, regular eye exams now offer the ability to detect warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease — before it’s clinically apparent. 

Researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health found that glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. While each of these eye diseases is serious in and of itself, the common thread linking them to Alzheimer’s is cardiovascular disease. Therefore, a healthy diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, and preventive screenings will help your eye health as well.

  1. Keep Your Teeth Sparkling. Dental cleanings might seem relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of health maintenance. Yet because our mouths have less saliva as we age, the risk of cavities increases. And mouth infections can lead to serious illness, such as heart disease or stroke. Even if you’re not a fan of the dentist, make an appointment for a cleaning every six months. It’s painless, your teeth will look terrific, and you might ward off a much more serious health condition.
  2. Stay Social. Social media may be a fun way to stay connected to friends and family, but it can’t hold a candle to the real thing. Having a network of friends and loved ones is the best way to remain healthy and happy. The U.S. surgeon general determined that social isolation is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day — and, like smoking, isolation increases the risk of premature death.

A Drexel University School of Public Health study found that seniors who were more socially connected had significantly better mobility than those who lived in less social communities. Socially connected seniors were also more likely to engage in health-enhancing behaviors, such as not smoking and getting recommended health screenings.

In England, one innovative police department has set up “chat benches” to encourage people to break through invisible social barriers and start talking. The idea is simple: a sign on certain park benches reads, “Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping by to say hello.” It’s a natural icebreaker that may make a huge difference for lonely UK seniors.

  1. Challenge your brain. Crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles are good, but full immersion in something new challenges your brain on every level, say mental health researchers. For example, learning a musical instrument, taking a cooking class, or learning a foreign language all stimulate new pathways in your brain, keeping it sharp and engaged.

Meditation, an excellent stress reducer, is also a boon for senior brains.

  1.   Monitor your sun exposure. Everybody needs some sun for Vitamin D (known as the “sunshine vitamin”). However, excessive sun exposure wrinkles the skin and can lead to skin cancer. The solution? Wear sunscreen and a UVA/UVB protective hat, and aim to get your sun exposure during off-peak hours (before 10 am and after 4 pm).
  1. Limit your alcohol consumption. If you’re already eating a healthy diet, exercising, spending time with friends and getting enough sleep, you probably also know not to drink to excess. As the Harvard longevity study confirms, people who enjoyed the longest lifespans only had about one drink a day.

Our Commitment to Your Healthy Lifestyle

 The Area Agency on Aging 1-B is committed to the health and wellness of older adults in southeast Michigan and Metro Detroit. We support several senior health and wellness initiatives for people 60+ in the six counties we serve (Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Washtenaw). 

 Whether you’re looking for new ideas to help you stick to a diabetes management plan, a fall prevention class to keep you on your feet and active, or a program to help you manage chronic pain, we have a class and a program for you. Our classes are free (although we appreciate donations) and evidence-based, so you know they work. We offer classes at community venues throughout our region, in small-group settings led by leaders who have been thoroughly trained in the class model. 

For more information about any of these programs, please download our complete list of upcoming Area Agency on Aging 1-B Health and Wellness Classes.