Good health not only helps you to enjoy a good quality of life and participate in the community, but also helps to reduce your demands for health and aged care services as you get older. For this reason, improving the health of the ageing population is a national priority in Australia. And one area of special interest is the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, which helps to prevent disease and functional decline, as well as promote a longer, happier, more active life.
Studies in this area show that today’s Australians are generally healthier than previous generations, but there’s always room for improvement. For example, only around one in ten Australians aged over 50 exercise enough to gain any cardiovascular benefit.
Benefits of healthy ageing
Aches and pains are typical in older adults, and it stands to reason that as we age, our bodies feel more twinges. It also makes sense that our weight increases as we become less active. The good news is, there’s plenty we can do about these age–related ailments.
By starting your day with a healthy attitude, by exercising, eating well, maintaining strong relationships and pursuing education, you can effectively help prevent common issues associated with ageing.
This includes issues such as:
- Increased weight
- Reduced muscle mass
- Reduced coordination and balance
- Cardiovascular and respiratory problems
- Reduced bone strength
- Increased blood pressure
- Mood swings
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased risk of disease
Healthy ageing allows you to maintain:
- Brain function
- Active lifestyle
- Social relationships
- Healthy weight
- General wellbeing
How to age healthily
Healthy ageing is a combination of activities and behaviours specifically done to benefit your overall health. These include:
The human body responds to exercise no matter how old it is, meaning it’s never too late to get fit. But many older people believe that exercise is no longer appropriate.
The reality is, exercise has never been more appropriate than for people of this age group. About half of all declines associated with ageing are the result of a lack in physical activity, and no other activity will benefit you more than exercise. As a guide, you should aim to get 30 minutes of exercise every day, which will not only keep your body active, but will deliver an oxygen boost to the brain to keep the brain in optimal health.
The best way to achieve the recommended exercise time is to look for activities you find interesting and can enjoy with friends. Ideas include walking, swimming, cycling and weight training also offers a huge range of benefits. Not only can weight training help counteract age-related muscle loss, but weight-bearing exercise is also one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis. If exercise is something you don’t particularly enjoy, try performing it in three 10-minute blocks.
Good nutrition helps to keep your body and brain in optimal condition, increasing mental acuteness and resistance to illness and disease. It offers higher energy levels, faster recuperation times and assists with better management of chronic health problems.
Your diet should consist of a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and lean protein. Protein is essential for proper muscle growth and maintenance.
National Health & Medical Research Council recommends1
- 2–3 servings of whole fruits per day.
- 2–3 cups veggies per day. Choose antioxidant-rich dark, leafy greens such as kale, spinach and broccoli, as well as orange vegetables such as carrots and pumpkin.
- 1,200mg calcium (milk, yoghurt, cheese, tofu, almonds) per day.
- 170–200g whole grains (pasta, breads, cereals) per day.
- Around 75g high-quality protein per day. Choose a variety of protein sources, including red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, beans, peas, eggs, nuts, seeds, cheese.
- 3 meals and 2 snacks per day.
Researchers at Stanford University found that memory loss can be improved by 30–50% simply by doing mental exercises.2
- Engaging in stimulating conversations.
- Cultivating a new hobby.
- Playing ‘thinking’ games like Chess, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.
- Reading newspapers, magazines and books.
- Doing crossword puzzles and brain teasers.
- Watching ‘question and answer’ game shows.
- Learning a new language.
Whether your social connections are with a spouse, offspring, sibling or a friend, the importance of regular time spent in company should not be underestimated. A UCLA School of Medicine study found that adults in their 70s that have satisfying social relationships are far less likely to be affected by age–related mental and physical decline. Social interaction is important to stay sharp, and maintain good physical and emotional health.
Regular outings or get–togethers with friends could result in:3
- Lower blood pressure.
- Reduced risk of depression.
- Potentially reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Increased physical activity.
- Longer life.
Try keeping your social connections strong by:
- Volunteering in your community.
- Participating in group activities, such as playing cards or joining a book club.
- Taking a cooking class.
- Joining a gym and taking part in fitness classes.
- Scheduling regular visits with the family.
- Making regular phone calls.
- Writing emails and letters.
- Talking with neighbours.
For older adults, a good night’s sleep is especially important because it helps improve concentration and memory formation, allows your body to repair any cell damage that occurred during the day, and refreshes your immune system.
Insufficient sleep could increase risk of:4
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Weight problems.
- Breast cancer in women.
Older adults should aim to get seven and a half to nine hours sleep per night.
- Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary – Australian Government, National Heath and Medical Research Council’s Eat for Health
- Study on preventing memory loss in seniors seeks participants – Stanford Medicine's News Center
- Older Adults and the Importance of Social Interaction – University of Rochester Medical Center’s Health Encyclopedia
- How to Sleep Well as You Age – HelpGuide’s trusted non–profit guide to mental health and well–being