Healthy Habits for Better Senior Living
You may have heard ‘you are only as old as you feel’ and if you want to feel good at any age, it is all about making the best possible choices. By adopting healthy habits, you can maintain and even improve your physical health and general wellness, which will allow you to feel at your best during your golden years. Science and research have helped identify the best strategies for what is often called ‘successful aging.’ Learn about some of the best healthy habits for better senior living:
When you see the word ‘diet,’ you may think of modifying your food choices for weight management. However, whatever people choose to eat is their diet. Your daily dietary choices have a great impact on your health and mind-body wellness. Science has allowed us to know far more today than ever before about how food can affect people. Fortunately, thoughtful dietary choices and a few simple adjustments can usually be enough to affect the health outcomes you want to see.
With diet, it is all about moderation and balance. You may know about the food pyramid, which recommended a daily allotment for protein, fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, dairy, and sweets/sugars. Today, the recommendation is instead presented as MyPlate. The idea is that when you assemble a plate for a meal, it should be divided amongst the food groups to provide all the necessary nutrients while balancing the elements that might be delicious contributors to poor health.
The MyPlate recommendation is to make approximately one-half of the plate from vegetables and fruits. There are so many ways to prepare vegetables and fruits to make them nutritious and delicious. You can make a fresh salad, seasoned and grilled vegetables, or steam them. Fruit can be incorporated into desert for an indulgent but healthy sweet. For example, try some baked apples, topped with cinnamon or layer together yogurt and diced fruit in a parfait topped with granola.
Of course, most people want and need some protein with their meals. Select lean proteins such as poultry and seafood, and when you can, select alternatives to meat such as nuts or tofu. If you enjoy your carbohydrates, be sure to select whole grains whenever possible. Finally, add some dairy to get your necessary intake of calcium. Avoid extra fat by limiting the addition of sauces and gravies. Use seasonings, low-fat parmesan, and lemon juice to bring flavor, allowing you to reduce your salt intake.
Much of this diet aligns with the Mediterranean Diet, which is one of the top specific approaches recommended by medical doctors for optimal health. It is named for the region of the world where many people eat in this manner—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, plant-based oils, and a little daily wine. This diet is thought to be healthy and is supported by research because people in the Mediterranean regions tend to be healthier and live longer on average than in other parts of the world.
The old image of senior living may have been for older adults convalescing in a nursing home. However, we now know that such an approach is not healthy and will lead to poorer quality of life outcomes. To age well and have better outcomes in senior living, aging adults must stay active. This involves not just physical activity (although, of course, that is important and necessary for good body health), it also includes mental/cognitive and emotional activity, ideally on a daily basis.
For physical activity, just getting up and going can alone be very beneficial. Beyond that, daily exercise can be helpful, whether that is going for a walk, taking a swim, or participating in a dance class. Having opportunities to maintain muscle strength, joint flexibility, and balance are all good. Most doctors also recommend cardio activity, which would be something more fast paced to really get the heart pumping. Before engaging in any activity, it is always advisable to consult with your medical doctor for clearance.
For the best aging outcomes, it is important to incorporate other types of activity, besides what might be considered exercise, into your daily senior living routine. This could be just about anything you enjoy doing, which can keep you moving and engaged with something. This could be knitting, painting, or sculpting. Making art with your hands can help you to maintain your fine motor capabilities, which do have some tendency to decline during later life. Any of these activities can also be fun and meaningful.
As noted, for successful aging, you need to do more than just physical activity. It is ideal to also incorporate healthy habits for cognitive/mental activity into your senior living plan. Research shows that older adults who stay cognitively engaged with activities, tend to maintain their cognitive abilities longer. It seems to be a protective factor against the occurrence of dementia and can slow the progress of any cognitive declines that typically occur with normal aging.
You can stay cognitively and mentally active by doing activities such as solving crossword puzzles, assembling jigsaw puzzles, and playing games with friends. The added benefit of these activities is that they can also give an opportunity for social engagement. Research also shows that aging adults fare better when they have daily interaction through social activities. Even something as simple as a meal with friends and family can be beneficial. In contrast, isolation can really take a toll on mental health.
For older adults, the prospect of aging and health declines can seem daunting. However, people can experience a better state of senior living by adopting healthy habits. For some seniors, they may find themselves wanting to incorporate health habits, but perhaps it is difficult to actually engage those changes. For this reason, many seniors move into assisted living communities, where trained staff can help them to have successful aging with properly prepared meals and planned daily activities.