As we ring in another new year, people’s thoughts turn to healthy lifestyle changes. Resolutions are made to “never eat chocolate,” or to “exercise an hour every day,” but these ideas are often unrealistic, and thus go unfulfilled. Small, realistic changes are the ones that seem to last the longest.
Many seniors may say that it’s too late to make any changes that matter, but studies show that even small adjustments can make an impact on overall health and quality of life. Here are some healthy lifestyle changes that seniors (or people of any age!) can start today.
The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a 2013 study showing that seniors who exercise regularly are seven times more likely to age well. The study goes on to say that this means more than “the absence of clinical disease,” but that it also means “freedom from physical disability, plus preserved cognitive, affective, and social functioning.” SeniorFIT, a program in many of our Providence communities, helps seniors stay active by specially designed activities and exercises, such as chair aerobics and chair volleyball. Residents in our communities have said that they enjoy the opportunity to improve mobility and get their blood pumping. Regular physical activity helps stave off some of those dreaded diseases that are sometimes caused by a sedentary lifestyle, diseases like diabetes and heart disease and obesity. To read more from the Center for Disease Control about the benefits of regular physical activity, click here.
It may seem impossible, and maybe even purposeless, to quit smoking after 60, especially since most people begin smoking in their teens. However, U.S. National Cancer Institute researchers found that the age at which you quit smoking can have an impact on longevity of life. And beyond just adding years to life, smoking cessation adds quality to life, as those who have quit report having more energy and better lung function within weeks of their last cigarette. “But the point that I try to tell my patients, some of whom believe it and some of whom don’t, that smoking cessation is good for you even late in life. If you stop, you will live longer than if you don’t stop,” says Dr. Normal Edelman, a senior medical consultant to the American Lung Association. Regardless of your age, people who quit smoking report regaining sensitivity to taste and smell, and gaining an overall appreciation of fresh air and the outdoors. There are several resources to help people quit smoking, including this guide, as well as this site. However, if you’d like human support, you can call the Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT to get personal counseling. The American Cancer Society put out this article about how it’s never too late to quick, so click here to read more.
This does not mean you have to cut out all fat, all sugar, all carbs, all taste. It means begin moderation. Drink more water, and limit your sugary drinks, like pop and juice, to special occasions. Take a sliver of cake instead of a large piece, and have a scoop of ice cream rather than a cone’s worth. A big part of eating better is planning ahead. Make large quantities that can be either frozen or refrigerated as leftovers to cut down on the amount of time it takes to prepare each meal, thus making it less likely you will get fast food for convenience. If age has made it more difficult for you to go grocery shopping, it’s important to identify someone who can help you–but if this is not possible, think about meal-delivery services. Many seniors also change to a whole-food, plant-based diet, as whole foods can also help older adults get necessary vitamin D and calcium, essential after the age of 70, when people need more of both nutrients to stay healthy. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, and infuse that water with fruits for added flavor. And, even if you don’t want to change everything about the way you eat, part of healthy lifestyle changes mean making minor changes, so keep your plate balanced with lot of healthy greens. Providence communities have chefs to ensure there are always healthy options–but that residents also have a choice.
Your mental health is important, too. One unhealthy habit seniors have is a tendency toward isolation. Perhaps they no longer engage in activities they found enjoyable, due to restrictions that aging puts on their abilities. Whether it is engaging in spiritual activities, social activities, or mental activities, it’s important for seniors to stay engaged. Providence Life Services life enrichment staff make purposeful choices when they plan activities in an effort to meet the interests of their various community members. However, if a senior lives alone in his or her home, it may be far too easy to become isolated. Fortunately, many communities have active senior service centers available with various activities, allowing seniors opportunities to interact. If transportation is an issue, look for free or inexpensive bus transportation; many cities and counties have begun to provide this. If decreased vision or hearing is the reason a senior wants to be alone, encourage them to use any adaptive technology available–many of these are also available to seniors for free through grants. Senior centers are an incredible resource for aging people. Click here to find information about the senior center in Illinois nearest you.
No matter what you do, just remember that even the smallest healthy lifestyle change makes a big difference for your quality of life, no matter your age.
Providence Life Services provides care for seniors in their homes or at their communities in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. For more information on Providence, and what they do to help seniors stay healthy and active, click here to find the community nearest you.