They’re not called the “golden years” for nothing. Many people envision their 60s, 70s, and beyond as a period of fewer obligations, with more time to pursue their passions and interests — a time of self-fulfillment and purposeful engagement with the world.
However, our senior years are also a time when our good health is likelier to be threatened by illness and problems (many of which are avoidable). In this post, we’ll share some tips for maintaining your health into your golden years — because it’s never too soon or too late to start making changes that will improve your health outlook in later life.
Some changes to our bodies and abilities are inevitable with age, but taking care of your health at every stage of your life can help ensure that you live long and live well. And being aware of common bodily changes that are the result of aging can help us all take some preventive measures:
• Bones tend to lose mass and density, and they become more brittle as a result. This can also affect bones in the spine and cause a stooped posture.
• Arteries in the heart tend to become stiffer and build up plaque, restricting blood flow to and from the heart and leading to high blood pressure. Blood vessels also begin to lose their elasticity, causing poor circulation and feeling cold.
• Tendons and ligaments begin to weaken and lose their elasticity, causing stiffness in the joints.
• Eyesight begins to diminish as the lens becomes dense and stiffens, causing the eye to react more slowly in response to light.
• Long-term exposure to loud noise may affect some seniors’ ability to hear, and difficulty hearing high pitches is directly associated with aging. These effects may make it difficult for seniors to understand others when they speak.
• Diminished blood flow to the kidneys and weakened abdominal muscles can lead to difficulty controlling the bladder, leading to urinary leakages.
• As we age, the levels of our body’s hormones — like estrogen and testosterone — naturally decline, and this can lead to lower libido.
Because of these changes, there are some specific health concerns that seniors are particularly at risk of, such as:
• Developing osteoporosis or breaking a bone
• Experiencing a heart attack or developing a heart-related condition
• Tearing a tendon or ligament, or developing arthritis
• Blindness or significant eyesight impairment
• Becoming deaf or experiencing a significant loss of hearing
• Developing a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
Normal aging will bring inevitable changes to the body. However, seniors may mitigate some of the more serious health risks associated with aging by taking preemptive measures (and again, it’s never too soon or too late to start!). Here are some tips for aging well:
A healthy diet is one that includes a wide variety of foods that nourish us and provide the proper amounts of necessary nutrients. Be sure to include fruits, vegetables, grains, protein sources, and healthy fats in your daily diet. Limit highly processed foods and foods that contain a lot of added sugar or sodium. And be sure to drink plenty of water!
One of the most medically recommended diets is the Mediterranean diet, a way of eating that is based on traditional cuisines of Greece, Italy, and other regions that border the Mediterranean Sea. It is rich in plant-based foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seeds. Heart-healthy olive oil is the main source of added fat. Fish, seafood, and poultry are included in moderation. And red meat and processed foods are limited.
Make sure to take any medications exactly as they are prescribed by your healthcare provider. If your doctor determines that your diet is lacking in a certain vitamin or other nutrient, they may also recommend supplements. Before starting to take a supplement (or making a drastic change in the way you eat) be sure to talk to your doctor about how it might affect you, as well as your health goals.
Using tobacco greatly increases your risk of developing many types of cancer, as well as other severe, life-threatening heart and lung conditions. If you smoke cigarettes or vape, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. It is never too late to see health benefits from quitting smoking or vaping.
According to guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a moderate amount of alcohol per day is one serving for women and two servings for men. (A serving of alcohol is described as 12 ounces of 5-percent-alcohol beer, five ounces of 12-percent-alcohol wine, and 1.5 ounces of 40-percent-alcohol spirits.)
Drinking more alcohol than that is considered excessive and can lead to health problems such as certain cancers, pancreatitis, sudden death if you have cardiovascular disease, and damage to your heart muscle.
We become more susceptible to illness as we age, so it’s a good idea to limit use of these products that greatly increase risks.
Regular physical activity can go a long way in strengthening your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, so you can continue doing the things you want to do. Regular exercise can help seniors maintain balance and agility (thus preventing dangerous falls and delaying mobility problems) for longer. An exercise does not need to be extreme to be effective and can include activities like walking, basic strength training, or simple yoga.
There are many benefits of getting a good night's sleep, including balanced moods, improved cognitive function and memory performance, and cell repair. (Is sleep escaping you? There may be a medical reason.)
Connecting with loved ones can ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation, improving mood and mental health.
Maintaining a sense of purpose can get more complicated as we age — as change accelerates and losses add up. But studies show that this is a defining feature of both physical and mental health for seniors. (Learn more about maintaining meaning, purpose, and mental health as you age.)
It is important to schedule routine checkups and screenings as you age, since specific health risks arise at various points in life. These regular visits will give you the opportunity to check in with your physician about potential concerns and ask the questions you have about your health and wellness. Routine checkups can help prevent serious health issues and extend your physical well-being. (Learn more about what to expect at a yearly medical exam.)
And scheduling a routine checkup doesn’t need to be a hassle! At Carbon Health, we work diligently to ensure that appointments are easy to schedule, and that all information on your health, including ongoing care, is in one place for you to access.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.