15 Important Habits All Seniors Should Have
Want to boost the quality and duration of your life? There are a few simple habits most healthy seniors have in common that can help make this dream a reality. Adopting important health habits lowers physical and mental disease risks, boosts happiness, and makes independent living a long-term commitment.
Have Social Networks
One thing happy, healthy seniors have in common is they have social networks—that is, close family and friends they get together with regularly to socialize with and spend quality time together. The Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens (AASC) confirms that senior socialization leads to better quality of life for older adults.
Seniors should aim to have meaningful social interactions at least one time per day—preferably face to face, but phone calls and any form of interaction works. Senior centers and adult day care centers work well for opportunities for social support activities for seniors who don’t have family or friends nearby to socialize with regularly.
Do Brain-Boosting Activities
Believe it or not, there are activities you can do to keep mind young and sharp. The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation website provides brain games designed to boost brain power and lower your risk for dementia. Do activities like this at least once per day to exercise your mind.
Other ways you can work out your brain include reading, writing, doing word puzzles, completing jigsaw puzzles, doing math problems, balancing the checkbook, completing adult coloring books, painting, doing arts and crafts, reading or playing music, taking online classes or quizzes, and getting a part-time job. Any activity that keeps your mind engaged works!
Get Regular Cardiovascular Exercise
This task may seem like a no-brainer, but regular exercise can drastically boost your physical strength and quality of life. Working out enhances muscle coordination, and it is even beneficial for brain health, says Harvard Health Publications. Exercising most days of the week aids in healthy weight management; keeps blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels in check; and lowers your risk for stress, anxiety, and depression.
So, how much is enough exercise for older adults? It really depends on a variety of factors, such as your physical health and what your doctor says is okay. For healthy adults age 65 and older, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 suggest following the same recommendation as younger adults (if you’re physically able to) of 2 2/12 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise each week, and muscle strengthening workouts at least two days weekly.
Lower-impact exercises like walking, swimming, rowing, biking, and using an elliptical or Stairmaster machine often work well for older adults.
Try New Resistance Training Methods
You don’t have to lift weights to reap the health benefits of resistance training (increases in strength). Try ankle weights the next time you head out for a walk, or resistance band workouts to lighten the load. Try a resistance exercise ball to work on balance and abdominal strength. Or, simply use your own body weight to boost all-over body strength. Consider squats, lunges, push-ups, sit-ups, or chair triceps dips—just to name a few.
Did you know seniors who use theraputty can increase their fine motor skills and grip strength? If you haven’t heard about the benefits of using theraputty, now’s a good time to find out. This putty-like material is used for hand resistance exercises to help strengthen weak hand grasps. Squeezing theraputty regularly often helps seniors suffering from arthritis or anybody who wants to boost hand strength.
Manage Medicine and Health Indicators
Regular doctor checkups are important for all adults, especially seniors. Seeing a doctor who manages medications and health indicators (like blood pressure, blood sugar, body weight, cholesterol, etc.) is a healthy habit all seniors should partake in. Doing so helps lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions like cancer.
See a specialty doctor (a cardiologist if you’ve had heart disease in the past, an endocrinologist for hormonal imbalances, a dermatologist for skin lesions, a rheumatologist for arthritis, and a podiatrist for foot problems, for example) to get the best care based on the health condition(s) you may have. Keeping all your levels in check helps you live a longer, healthier, and better-quality life.
Drugs, alcohol, and nicotine are toxins for your body, so steer clear of them, when possible, to maximize health regardless of your age. Older adults who do drink alcohol should do so in moderation (one drink daily for women and two drinks per day for men). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that adults who currently don’t drink should not begin doing so for any reason.
Establish Regular Sleeping Habits
Regardless of how old you are, getting plenty of sleep each night is crucial when you want to optimize health and improve longevity. Adults under age 65 need 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly, and adults ages 65 and older require 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to maximize health and day-to-day functions, suggests the National Sleep Foundation. So, be sure to make time in your schedule to prioritize sleep.
Having trouble sleeping at night? Consider using a white noise machine to drown out outside noise, make sure your bedroom is dark, keep bedroom temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Other helpful tips are to exercise daily, avoid going to bed extremely full or hungry, nix working out late at night, avoid taking late afternoon naps, say no to screen time right before bed, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and smoking in the evening or at night.
Reduce Fall Risks
Falls can really take a toll on your quality of living, so it’s best to take proper precautions, if need be, for fall prevention. Try establishing a bathroom safety routine, such as purchasing no-slip mats, installing bath rails or grab bars, and using a shower bench or chair. Don’t forget about taking general home safety precautions as well, such as installing bed safety rails or using chairlifts on stairs to prevent falls.
Focus on Fiber
Fiber is a critical nutrient at every age but is especially useful for older adults. Eating plenty of fiber daily maximizes your GI health and helps reduce your risk for constipation, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and being overweight. After age 50, men need 30 grams of fiber daily and women over age 50 should aim for 21 grams (or more) per day, suggests the American Academy of Family Physicians.
To meet this requirement, fill half your plate with fruits and veggies and supplement with whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Ask your doctor if a fiber supplement is a good fit for you.
Seniors who get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids by eating a healthy diet, taking omega-3 supplements, or both can reap physical and mental health benefits. The perks are endless. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, omega-3s may help you maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, keep your mind sharp during the aging process, and help lower symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Aim to get at least 500 to 1,000 milligrams of DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA) plus EicosaPentaenoic Acid (EPA) daily to reap maximum health benefits, suggests the Global Organization for EPA and DHA. Get your daily dose of DHA and EPA from fatty fish like salmon and tuna, fish oil supplements, algae supplements, or combinations of these.
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) is another type of omega-3 fat that’s important for heart and brain health. This fatty acid is abundant in pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil, walnuts and walnut oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil, perilla oil, and tofu. Adults should aim to get 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of ALA daily, suggests the University of Maryland Medical Center. Consuming just 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil provides you with about 7000 milligrams of ALA.
Know that Protein Is Key
Many times, older adults have increased protein needs to maintain optimal health—sometimes more than their younger counterparts. A 2015 issue of Today’s Dietitian explains that adults over age 65 should eat at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. This requirement is higher for active older adults.
To help meet your body’s increased protein demands, fill your plate 1/4 full of healthy protein foods. Examples include grilled chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, low-fat dairy foods like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, legumes, nuts, seeds, nut butter, tofu, soybeans, and other soy products.
Three ounces (the size of the palm of your hand) of skinless grilled chicken provides about 28 grams of protein, one large egg contains about 6 grams of protein, 3 ounces of salmon provide 22 grams, 3 ounces of shrimp contain about 20 grams, 1/2 cup of cooked legumes provides about 7 to 11 grams, nuts and seeds contain about 4 to 10 grams of protein per ounce, 6 ounces of Greek yogurt provides about 18 grams, 1/2 cup of cottage cheese contains about 14 grams, 1 cup of milk contains 8 grams, and one medium-sized string cheese contains about 6 grams of protein.
Choose Whole Grains
Getting in plenty of whole grains means you’re consuming fiber, energy, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. You’ll feel full longer, too, when choosing whole grains over refined grains. Opt for oatmeal or whole-grain cereals for breakfast, and brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain pasta, or other whole grains for lunch and dinner.
Avoid Junk Food
Consuming too much junk food boosts your chance of dementia, weight gain, fatigue, and getting chronic diseases. To optimize health and wellness, steer clear of high-fat meats and processed meat (especially red processed meats); desserts and sugary drinks; greasy fast foods and fried foods; baked goods like cakes, pies, and doughnuts; and white bread, white rice, and other refined grains. Your drinks of choice should be coffee, tea, and water. Stay away from sodas, lemonade, sweet tea, and other sugary beverages.
Spend Time Outdoors
Seniors who spend time outdoors tend to be happier and healthier, and they cope with dementia better, says the Jewish Association on Aging. Older adults who are outdoors regularly are often active and soak in plenty of vitamin D to help combat vitamin D deficiency and depression. Being around nature can lower your risk for depression and help slash stress and anxiety. To get your daily dose of the outdoors, spend time reading outside, garden, go for walks, swim, hike, have a picnic, go fishing, ride a bike, or play games with friends and family.
Adopting as many senior healthy habits as possible is the key to living a longer, healthier, and happier life. It’s true that sometimes, despite your best efforts, dementia and chronic diseases will still happen, but doing what you can to lower your risk of them is crucial when you want to look and feel your best during your golden years.
- Becky McDowell