Growing old can bring challenges, both for those ageing and for family members. It can sometimes be frustrating because ageing can prevent people from doing the things they love and can lead to losing independence.
As we grow older, we experience an increasing number of major life changes, including career transitions and retirement, children leaving home, the loss of loved ones, physical and health challenges – and even a loss of independence. How we handle and grow from these changes is often the key to healthy aging.
How to react to ageing
As people become older, you may spot a few strange changes in their habits. They might start to forget appointments, eat or drink less often, take more time to walk to the supermarket, or their eyesight and hearing might deteriorate. These common conditions of ageing can be a good sign that it’s time to get some extra help in the house.
Having this conversation is not always easy. However, it is very important to start talking about care sooner rather than later to keep your options open.
10 top tips for ageing better
1. Watch what you eat and drink
It sounds obvious, but having a balanced diet is crucial for good health, energy and preventing illness. An ideal diet should be low in saturated fat, with lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, oily fish, and small amounts of low-fat dairy and lean meat.
Don’t forget to top-up with lots of water to avoid dehydration, which can make you feel tired and confused. Tea, coffee and fruit juice will also help you to stay hydrated, but avoid sugary fizzy drinks.
If you drink alcohol, keep at least two days per week booze-free to give your liver time to recover from the toxic effects of alcohol, and don’t exceed recommended daily limits for alcohol consumption.
2. Look after your teeth
Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Floss helps to prevent gum disease by removing pieces of food and plaque from between the teeth.
If it’s left to build up you might notice sore or bleeding gums, and gum disease can also be linked to diabetes, strokes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Have regular check-ups and, if you wear dentures or have a bridge, ask your dentist to check that they fit properly.
3. Stay active
Daily exercise helps you to stay strong and healthy. This will lower your risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even cancer. If that wasn’t enough, staying active can boost your self-esteem, improve your sleep, and give you more energy.
Government guidelines recommend that older adults do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, as well as strengthening exercises twice a week.
If that sounds like a lot, start small and as you get stronger you will be able to work up to those amounts.
4. Make the most of your doctor
It’s a good idea to get some routine tests done at the doctors to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High readings increase your risk factor for stroke and heart disease but any problems are completely reversible with medication.
Whilst you’re there, why not ask your doctor about the seasonal flu jab? It’s free once you reach 65, or if you have a health condition that puts you at risk of more serious problems if you caught the flu.
5. Get a vitamin boost
Lots of people have a vitamin D deficiency and don’t know it. In fact, it’s estimated that it affects half of the adult population. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to cognitive impairment, bone problems and also cardiovascular disease.
Try to get outside in the sunshine for at least 15-20 minutes a day for a vitamin D boost. It can also be found in food such as eggs and oily fish. Alternatively, talk to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.
6. Take care of your feet
Look after your feet by applying moisturiser to prevent dry skin and cutting your toenails straight across. Make sure you have footwear that fits properly and supports your feet.
If they’re sore you may be tempted to stay in slippers, but a pair of trainers could be a good option as they are more supportive.
Contact your doctor if your feet become painful, feel very hot or cold or if you have common problems like corns, bunions or ingrown toenails.
7. Sort out your sleep
Many of us have trouble getting – or staying – asleep as we get older. This can leave you feeling tired and grumpy.
Avoid insomnia by cutting down on daytime naps, establishing a bedtime routine and going to bed at the same time each night.
Try a warm drink such as chamomile tea or hot milk before you go to bed.
8. Take the tests
As we age our hearing and eyesight can be affected, so it’s important to get them checked regularly. Hearing loss is common in older people so see your doctor if you have to have the TV on loud or having trouble tuning into conversations. If you need a hearing aid, some are available on the NHS.
Have your eyes checked every year if you are aged 70 or over, and every two years if you are under 70. This means that changes in your vision can be corrected and any problems can be picked up before they seriously affect your sight. Eye tests are free if you are over 60.
9. Stay in touch
Spending time with other people can prevent you from feeling lonely or anxious. If you find that you are no longer able to do the things you used to do, try to develop new hobbies and interests or think about becoming a volunteer.
Use Skype to make video phone calls to friends and family who don’t live nearby.
Remember – you’re never too old to find love! See the Age UK guide to dating.
10. Give up smoking
If you didn’t know it already, let us repeat it: smoking is bad for your body and your brain.
It’s linked to a whole range of different health problems, including heart disease, lung cancer, and bronchitis.
The good news is that if you stop smoking, regardless of your age, your circulation, your lung capacity and your energy levels will improve.
Myths about healthy ageing
Myth: Aging means declining health and/or disability.
Fact: There are some diseases that become more common as we age. However, getting older does not automatically mean poor health or that you will be confined to a walker or wheelchair. Plenty of older adults enjoy vigorous health, often better than many younger people. Preventive measures like healthy eating, exercising, and managing stress can help reduce the risk of chronic disease or injuries later in life.
Myth: Memory loss is an inevitable part of aging.
Fact: As you age, you may eventually notice you don’t remember things as easily as in the past, or memories may start to take a little longer to retrieve. However, significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. Brain training and learning new skills can be done at any age and there are many things you can do to keep your memory sharp. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.
Myth: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Fact: One of the more damaging myths of aging is that after a certain age, you just won’t be able to try anything new or contribute to things anymore. The opposite is true. Middle-aged and older adults are just as capable of learning new things and thriving in new environments, plus they have the wisdom that comes with life experience. If you believe in and have confidence in yourself, you are setting up a positive environment for change no matter what your age.