Adopting healthy habits and behaviors, staying involved in your community, using preventive services, managing health conditions, and reducing dependence on medications can contribute to a longer and more meaningful life. Research has identified action steps we can take to maintain our health and function as we get older. From improving our diet and levels of physical activity to getting health screenings and managing risk factors for disease, these actions may influence different areas of health.
People in the U.S. are living longer and, as we age, our minds and bodies change. Having a healthy lifestyle can help you deal with those changes. It may also prevent some health problems and help you make the most of your life. Practicing healthy habits throughout your life is ideal, but it is never too late to reap the benefits of taking good care of yourself. Never stop learning and challenging your mind by participating in activities like learning a new language, attending lectures at a local university, learning to play a musical instrument, or reading a book to slow the possibility of cognitive decline.
Willowbend Health & Wellness is prepared to assist you on your journey to healthy aging. We have technologies to assist with maintaining brain health and promote improved cardiovascular function. Consult with our providers to learn more.
Ten Tips for Healthy Aging
Eat Real Food to Nourish Your Body – Quality matters
Focus on eating real food to nourish your body, thinking more about the quality of the food you eat than the quantity. Most adults in the US consume more than double the recommended daily allowance of sodium, which can lead to hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Most of this high sodium intake comes from pre-packaged foods and restaurants. Avoiding consumption of the 3 most harmful foods – flour, sugar and industrialized seed oils – is one of the best ways to improve your health and reduce the risk of inflammatory disease. Pesticides, hormones and other environmental pollutants are also of concern.
Tips: Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains. Avoid sweet, salty, and highly processed foods. Eat plenty of fresh, organic produce and clean sources of protein such as grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, wild-caught fish and game. Keep in mind that each person has different dietary needs – follow your doctor’s suggestions regarding dietary restrictions
Move Like Your Ancestors – Sitting can be hazardous to your health
Sitting has been deemed the new smoking due to the profound, negative effect it can have on almost every aspect of human health, from cardiovascular health to the immune system. It has been shown that sitting too much shortens our lifespan and while exercise is important, it is not enough to completely offset the harmful effects of too much sitting. Regular exercise is one of the greatest keys to physical and mental wellbeing. Living an active life will help you stay fit enough to maintain your independence. Regular exercise may prevent many common chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and arthritis, to name a few.
Tips: The key is to stay active, so do something you will enjoy. If you are not likely to stick to a regular gym routine, go on a walk or ride your bike every day instead. Try to incorporate aerobic, balance, and muscle strengthening activities into your routine. Think about what works best for you, consult with your doctor, and get moving!
Heal Your Gut – Most disease begins in the gut
Hippocrates said more than 2000 years ago that “All disease begins in the gut”. This has been reaffirmed by research that has revealed that gut health is critical to overall health, and an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of diseases and associated symptoms including diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disease, depression and chronic fatigue. In fact, many researchers believe, as we do, that supporting intestinal health and restoring the integrity of the gut barrier will be one of the most important goals of medicine in the 21st century.
Tips: Monitor your response to the foods you eat. If you have digestive issues, or elimination issues like diarrhea or constipation on a more than occasional basis, consider having gut testing done.
Sleep More Deeply – Enhance immune function & memory
Sleep is essential for basic health maintenance and repair of the body. Insomnia has reached epidemic proportions in the US. Sleep medications may be associated with any number of problems. Older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults – seven to nine hours per night. Lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased fall risk, inflammation, immune dysfunction and memory problems.
Tips: Develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine. Keep your bedroom dark and noise-free— avoid watching television or surfing the internet while in bed. Stay away from caffeine late in the day. If you find these suggestions are not enough, contact your doctor. Identifying the underlying cause of sleep disturbances is key to correcting them.
Manage Your Stress – Promote proper maintenance & repair of the body
Stress management is difficult because it asks us to prioritize self-care in a culture that does not value it. As a result, we are at risk of developing a disrupted cortisol rhythm and various health concerns related to this. Of all of the 10 steps, stress management is perhaps the most important, because no matter what diet you follow, how much you exercise and what supplements you take, if you are not managing your stress you will still be at risk for modern degenerative conditions. Long-term stress, even if mild, can damage brain cells. Stress may also cause memory loss, fatigue, and decreased ability to fight off and recover from infection.
Tips: We cannot entirely avoid stressful situations, but we can learn better techniques to cope with stress. Take care of yourself when you are stressed by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating nutritious foods. Talk to a loved one or counselor about your stress, and try some relaxation techniques, such as circular breathing, yoga, or meditation. Be sure to advise your doctor if your stress level is affecting your life or sense of well-being.
Build Your Community – Stay connected to friends & family
Twenty-eight percent of older adults live alone and living alone is the strongest risk factor for loneliness. Common life changes in older adulthood, such as retirement, health issues, or the loss of a spouse, may lead to social isolation. Humans evolved to live in community but industrialization around the world has changed much of that, with people now living in many different locations throughout their life. While we have lost some of that close family connection we can still “build a community” to stay connected.
Tips: Maintain communication with your family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change. Schedule regular time to meet with friends and family – over coffee, during a weekly shared meal, or around a common interest. Reach out to friends who might be isolated or feel lonely. Consider participating in community volunteer service. Helping others can often give one the fulfillment needed to stay engaged.
Practice Pleasure – Laughter is the best medicine
The best way to practice pleasure is to plan time for leisure and fun. Stress is the antithesis of pleasure while pleasure on the other hand is the antidote to stress. When we make pleasure a priority in our life, we engage our parasympathetic nervous system to facilitate a state of “calm and connect” to balance out the stress driven “fight or flight” response which drives our sympathetic nervous system.
Tips: Some simple ways to bring more pleasure into your life daily is to spend time with others. Older adults who engage in meaningful community activities report feeling healthier and less depressed. Volunteer, take a trip with friends, play cards, or join a book club. Watch a good movie or take a dance class. Remember that participating in activities should be fun, not stressful!
Detoxification – Restore & support hormone balance & reduce inflammation
The benefits that may be realized by participating in a regular program of detoxification cannot be overstated. Detoxification pushes toxins out of fat cells and into the circulation where they can be neutralized in preparation for elimination. While this process is happening all the time in the body, we are continually being exposed to more and more toxins daily. Evidence has shown there can be an unprecedented accumulation of toxins in our bodies, in large part due to being exposed to large amounts of man-made toxins in everyday life. This fact may pose a significant health risk to even the healthiest individuals.
Tips: Eat fresh and organic. Avoid use of harsh chemicals such as bleach and ammonia. Be mindful of pesticides and other pollutants. Most importantly, consult with your healthcare provider about a regular routine of detoxification, at least once a year.
Supplement Wisely – Avoid nutrient deficiencies
Ideally, we would be able to meet all our nutritional needs through the food we eat and none of us would need supplementation. However, this is not the case for a variety of reasons. The standard American diet is often deficient in several key nutrients, including vitamin D, magnesium, EPA, and DHA.
Tips: Think about the ways that your health can improve by changing your diet and make those changes. Consult with your physician for regular nutrient level testing and follow their suggestions to supplement wisely. Be sure to always choose high-quality, organic sources for supplementation whenever possible.
Incorporate Mind/body practices – Promote relaxation & self-care
Evidence is clear that our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and behavior are all capable of inducing the same physiological changes in our bodies as foods, supplements, and medications. Chemical messaging facilitates the communication between the brain and the organs of the body. This is your mind-body connection. Activities that promote restful states are associated with physiologic changes like slowing heart rate, slowing breathing, normalizing blood pressure and improved immune function.
Tips: Build meditation, relaxation or prayer into your life daily to serve your emotional needs.