My mom always said, “Billie, whatever you do, you’ve got to keep moving. If you stop moving, it’s over.” As Atria’s Well-Being Coach, this has become the cornerstone of our approach to successful aging.
To enrich and prolong life in your later years, it’s important to not only exercise, but also eat well, stay engaged and adapt to any challenges you may face along the way. Here are some tips that will help you on this journey to healthy aging.
Create an exercise routine
We have no control over the chronological part of our lives, but we can control what we do with our time. Daily physical activity is one of the most important ways to keep our minds and bodies healthy as we age. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly not only live longer – they may also live better and enjoy more years of life without pain or disability. The more we exercise, the better we feel.
Muscle function often declines as we age, which can inhibit everyday activities and chip away at our independence. The good news is that moderate to vigorous physical activity is associated with stronger muscle function, according to at least one study, so exercise may prevent age-related muscle decline and even help you live longer.
We can all agree it is important to exercise, but knowing what kinds of exercises to do can seem daunting. The key is to stay active and do something, anything, every day. So, where do you start? Here are the three types of physical activity, along with examples of each, that are beneficial to older adults:
- Aerobic exercise – walking, swimming and dancing
- Strength training – lifting weights or using a resistance band
- Flexibility and balance – simple stretching, yoga and tai chi
If you are challenged by a chronic condition or disability, modify the exercises so they work for you. Even exercises done while sitting are beneficial because they get your blood circulating. Whatever your situation, always talk to your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
While I like to lift weights, I realize that I’m not lifting what I used to, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not important how much weight you’re able to lift; it’s about the great feeling you get from giving so much of yourself. Bringing all of yourself to something every day is important.
Maintain a healthy diet
It’s harder to maintain a healthy weight with age. Making smart food choices can help manage your weight, protect against certain health issues and may improve brain function. That’s why it’s critical to develop healthful eating habits. Personally, I try to eat fish often, eat red meat sparingly, avoid carbs and never eat late at night.
With so much dietary information in the news, it can be challenging to make smart food choices. If you’re struggling, talk to your doctor and check out the USDA’s tips for older adults. Even if you’re late to the game, changing your diet now can still improve your well-being as you age.
Stay socially active
Did you know that engaging with other people helps prevent illness and keeps the mind sharper? It’s true – socializing improves both your physical and mental health.
One study found that older adults who visited friends daily were 12 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who only saw a couple of friends every few months. According to the National Institute on Aging, social isolation and loneliness lead to higher risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and more.
Already have several good friends? Then, by all means, reach out and engage with them every day, if possible. If you could stand to widen your circle, start with family and strengthen relationships with siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins. While these relationships are always beneficial, it’s important to make new friends outside of family, too. Here are a few tips to help:
- Volunteer your talents – Maybe you’re a cooking wiz, a savvy entrepreneur, a master chess player or a knitting champion – sharing your wisdom with others is not only a wonderful way to create meaningful connections, but doing so can even make you healthier.
- Enjoy hobbies with others – Whether it’s renewing a childhood passion or trying something you never had the time for – like pottery, gardening, water coloring or playing music – choose activities in retirement that foster interaction with people who share your interests.
- Learn something new – Try a community college course, learn a foreign language, take piano lessons or consider a senior dancing or yoga class. Favor activities that provide opportunities to connect with others.
- Travel – If you’re able, venture to new places, even if it’s within your own city, as it may expose you to new people and maybe even different cultures. Walking and sightseeing also help you stay physically active. For shorter, local trips, carpooling is a wonderful way to socialize and make new friends.
- Embrace social media – Online tools provide opportunities to stay connected with family and friends, and meet new people, too. Search for groups dedicated to your interests – you might be surprised how many different groups are online. If you’re not technologically savvy, ask someone to show you the ropes – it may be a lot easier than you think.
Keep a positive outlook
Our thoughts can affect our physical well-being, so having a good attitude about life has a lot to do with how well you age. Yes, we all have bad days and, when we do, it’s perfectly reasonable to be sad or angry in the moment. However, it’s important to not dwell on negative feelings or let them consume us – we must keep moving forward.
Taking a walk, meditating and getting a good night’s sleep also help reduce stress and maintain a good attitude. A Johns Hopkins study revealed that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive attitude were one-third less likely to have a cardiovascular issue than those with a more negative outlook.
Managing your attitude is crucial. Being a professional athlete taught me many things, but some of the most important were the value of daily discipline, how to be resilient and keep bouncing back, and staying in the solution, one ball at a time. For me, life is not a marathon, it is a series of sprints.
Make every day a new start
Society keeps giving us these messages that when we get older, we’re finished. We’re not finished. Every day is a fresh start. Every morning when I wake up, I have my gratitude list, and I thank God for all of these wonderful things. Each day provides another opportunity to be challenged, learn, solve problems and really engage in whatever I want to do.
If we want to remain active when we’re older, we have to work to stay healthy. That means eating right, exercising and getting in the solution. Companionship and support become even more important when we’re older – so nurture the friendships you value now.
Atria supports a healthy lifestyle
With daily opportunities to eat well, stay active, participate in engaging events and make meaningful connections, Atria Senior Living provides an environment that fosters personal growth and well-being. It’s a real privilege for me to be the Well-Being Coach for Atria and help spread the word on the benefits of senior fitness. We like to inspire older adults to really rock – to have fun and think about themselves a little differently.
View the Guide: Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Older Adults (PDF)