In almost every country, the proportion of people aged over 60 years is growing faster than any other age group. This makes the subject of healthy aging one that is extremely important in today’s society.
Being in good health over the age of 50 involves more than just a person’s physical health. It’s also about staying mentally sharp, being emotionally and socially connected, and having the energy and vitality to make the most of your life.
A great deal of research shows that the lifestyle choices you make every day have an enormous impact on your longevity and quality of life. This section provides you with a guide to staying healthy as you age. This includes what foods to eat, how to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, and techniques to keep your mind active.
You will also find information about the symptoms of aging, and what to do to avoid the common conditions associated with aging, such as dementia and heart disease.
As you age, planning for the future is very important, so we have included pointers to get you started on the road to a healthy retirement. For caregivers, this section also contains tips to manage stress and stay positive.
There are many different signs and symptoms of aging. Most develop gradually and affect people differently. They include:
An overall decrease in energy and vigor
The tendency to become easily tired
Slowed reaction time
Changes in sleeping patterns
Diminished sense of taste or smell
Skin and hair changes such as wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, hair loss and changes in hair colour
A loss or decrease in vision and hearing
Weakened immune system
Changes in bowel function
Sexual dysfunction or decrease in libido
Urinary problems such as incontinence
Changes in menstrual cycle
Some medical conditions are degenerative, meaning the risk of developing them increases significantly as you age. Being aware of what these conditions are, and the risk factors associated with them, can help you stay in good physical shape as you age.
Heart conditions such as hypertension, vascular disease and coronary heart disease
Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease
Frequent falls, which can lead to fractures
Eye problems such as cataracts, glaucoma or Macular Degeneration
As we age, we make choices about our lifestyle, health care, personal pursuits, and our plans for old age. Besides adopting healthy habits, there are steps you can take to better enjoy the golden years and ensure you are ready to meet any challenges that lie ahead.
Many people look forward to retirement, when they can stop working and relax. Yet, without sufficient planning, you might experience a whole lot of stress to do with finances and living arrangements.
Plan for retirement: Retirement is expensive - know your retirement needs and plan in advance.
Decide on your future living arrangements: Consider your options now about the types and costs of long-term care, to prevent rushed decisions later. Communicate your goals of care to your family and physician.
Make an informed decision about your doctor: Choose a physician knowledgeable in the medical care of older adults.
Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. Follow these fall prevention strategies to reduce the likelihood of an injury:
Wear sensible shoes: Buy properly fitting, sturdy shoes with nonskid soles. High heels, floppy slippers and shoes with slick soles can make you slip, stumble and fall.
Fall-proof your home: Remove electrical cords from walkways, secure loose rugs with double-sided tape and use non-slip mats in your bathroom. Also, keep your home brightly lit to avoid tripping over items that are hard to see.
Speak with your doctor: Talk to your doctor about a fall-prevention plan that considers your current medication, health conditions and previous falls.
Keep physically active: Exercises such as walking and tai chi improve strength, balance and coordination and reduce the risk of falls.
Use assisted devices: Assisted devices include canes or walkers, as well as hand rails for stairways and grab bars for the shower.
As you get older, physical changes can affect your driving. Here are some precautions you can take to stay safe on the road:
Get regular vision and hearing tests: Senses tend to decline with age, making it difficult to hear oncoming traffic or see clearly at night. Work with your doctor to arrange regular vision and hearing tests, and stick to your doctor’s recommended schedule.
Make the required physical adjustments: Make adjustments to your vehicle so that driving becomes more comfortable. This can include adding a steering wheel cover to make it easier to grip and turn the wheel. If it’s time to update your vehicle, consider buying a car with features such as large mirrors, power windows and door locks.
Plan ahead and drive under optimal conditions: Plan your route ahead of time so you aren’t distracted by following directions or reading a map. Where possible, drive during the day in good weather and in familiar areas.
Update your driving skills: Look into taking a refresher course for older adults.
Know when it’s time to consider other alternatives: If you find yourself confused on the road and worried about your ability to drive safely, it might be best to stop driving altogether.
The responsibility of caring for a loved one can be stressful. These tips will help you manage stress and stay positive:
Take a break: Caring for somebody can be a full time job, so breaks are vital to your own wellbeing. It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else's care, but it is one of the best things you can do for yourself as well as the person you're caring for. Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as adult care centres, day centres, in-home respite or short-term nursing homes.
Accept help: Many caregivers have a hard time asking for help. Rather than struggling on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help from those around you or to take advantage of local resources available to caregivers.
Join a support group: A support group can provide you with strength and encouragement, and offer you the opportunity to get advice from others in similar situations. Some organisations and associations also offer classes on caregiving.
Focus on what you are able to provide: Feeling guilty is normal, but understand that no one is a "perfect" caregiver and you can only do your best at any given time.
Educate yourself: Learning what you can about your loved one’s condition can equip you new skills to care for and communicate with them more effectively.
Seek social support: Make an effort to stay connected with family and friends, and to get out of the house. Many have identified that maintaining a strong support system is the key to managing the stress associated with caregiving.
Look after your own health: The better your physical and emotional wellbeing, the better you will be able to cope with the demands of caring. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep is crucial so you don’t burn out.
See your doctor: Caregiving often requires a lot of lifting and pushing and can place a strain on you physically. The stress of constantly looking after a loved one can also impact you emotionally and mentally. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver, and to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
As you age beyond 50, taking a holistic approach to your health is essential. Below are some ways to retain your mental, physical, emotional and sexual vitality.
Keeping your brain active, especially after retirement, helps prevent memory problems and other cognitive challenges associated with old age. Try these pointers below to keep your brain sharp:
Play mentally-stimulating games and activities: Do crossword puzzles and brain training exercises regularly.
Do something new every day: Try to incorporate something new into your day, whether it’s taking an alternate route when driving, cooking a new type of food or even brushing your teeth with a different hand.
Continue to learn: Tackle something you’ve always wanted to learn. Playing a musical instrument, improving your computer skills or learning a new sport are examples of great skills to pick up.
Many adults stop exercising as they get older. But staying physically active, maintaining a healthy diet and making positive lifestyle changes are all important aspects of a healthy life.
Include physical activity in your daily routine: Regular moderate physical activity can help you ward off a range of problems associated with aging. Remember to check with your doctor before racing into an exercise program, in case it interferes with any health conditions or medications. If you are new to exercise, start slow and gradually increase the time and intensity to avoid injury.
Eat a healthy diet: Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fibre foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit sugar and foods high in saturated fat and sodium. A healthy diet is great for your overall wellbeing and keeps your heart in good shape.
Avoid smoking and limit alcohol: Avoid smoking and limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day.
Manage stress: Stress can take a toll on your physical health. Take steps to reduce stress, or learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.
It is essential to find ways to reach out and connect with others, regardless of whether or not you live with a spouse or partner. Having people you can turn to for comfort and support reduces suffering, and wards off feelings of loneliness and depression. Here are some things you can do to stay emotionally and socially connected with those around you:
Connect regularly with friends and family: Spend time with people who make you feel upbeat and whose company you enjoy. Also make an effort to meet new people regularly. Face-to-face contact with at least one person every day helps you to stay positive and protects against depression.
Volunteer: Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to the community and to meet others interested in similar activities. Helping others can enrich your own life and bring new meaning to it.
Join support groups in times of change: If you or a loved one is coping with a serious illness or recent loss, it can be very helpful to participate in a support group with others undergoing the same challenges.