As we age, we are often inundated with advice and guidance on how to stay feeling young, healthy and fit as we progress into those golden years.  When that first flush of youth has deepened into middle age, taking heed of the numerous tips and suggestions for successful ageing becomes ever more important. After all, it’s not just about living a long life; it’s about quality of life, too.    

Our understanding of how to maintain health has broadened in recent years thanks to our growing acceptance of the role that positive mental health and wellbeing can have alongside good physical health.  Staying active is now just as important as exercising our mental capacity to take on new tasks and learn new skills well into our later years.  

Whilst a surgeon’s knife may be able to keep cosmetic signs of age at bay, nothing can stop the effects a bad diet or lack of exercise can have when it comes to the physical effects of aging.  As the fountain of youth becomes a distant memory, what are the best ways to stay healthy as we age? 

Physical activity 

Engaging in regularly physical activity is important during every phase of life, but as we age, it plays a crucial role in helping to fight against common health ailments.  Daily activity to keep the heart and lungs healthy helps combat a range of conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and lowers the risk of obesity.  Even just walking for 30 minutes to 1 hour a day can drastically improve the prognosis for an individual leading a sedentary lifestyle. 

Regular activity also has numerous secondary benefits.  By staying active and fit, there can be huge improvements in self-esteem and sleep quality as well as encouraging the social interaction that group exercise and activities can offer.  While not everyone can still run a marathon at the age of 65, there is an exercise to suit just about anyone when it comes to finding ways to stay active as we age.   

Mobility and flexibility 

It can typically become harder to match the physical and sporting achievements of our youth in our older years.  Whilst there are many exceptions to this rule, engaging in regular physical activity offers advantages that go way beyond the cardiovascular improvements on our bodies.  

No matter whether you’re working with this chiropractor or that personal trainer, virtually all health professionals will recommend that maintaining mobility and flexibility as we grow older is particularly important. Good mobility supports better balance and a sense of independence as well as the ability to stay socially active.  

Regular stretching aimed at staying flexible and supple offers a wide range of benefits, with yoga and Pilates excellent examples of popular types of exercise that promote flexibility.  If muscles are feeling stiff or tight, a chiropractor or physiotherapist is a good starting point for helping to reduce discomfort and set parameters for a future training regime.  

Strength training  

Just as vital as maintaining mobility and flexibility is the need to keep muscles strong into our old age.  When it comes to strength, we need to use it or lose it.  Body mass naturally increases as lean muscle mass decreases through age but there are ways to fight the middle age spread.  Strength training is a key part of preserving that muscle mass to help protect the skeleton, stay mobile and reduce the likelihood of falls later in life. 

Strength training doesn’t always have to be lifting weights in the gym.  It can be bodyweight training, yoga or using resistance bands.  The key is always to be building muscle and strength through the ages, in whatever form of exercise that might take.  Strength training also has a more specific advantage in improving bone density.  This can be particularly important for women as bone density naturally decreases into our older years.  By helping to improve skeletal health through strength-focused exercises, women can help fight the higher risk of osteoporosis that often occurs post-menopause.  

Regular check-ups with a health professional will help keep you abreast of any changes to bone density or mobility.  Targeting activities that help to promote better musculoskeletal health, may include sessions with a PT, regular visits to a chiropractor and even just home workouts.  

A healthy diet 

It goes without saying that the negative effects a bad diet or smoking become increasingly evident as we age. Enjoying a pizza and a beer in one’s 20s and 30s may feel like a small issue, but as you enter your senior years the impact of poor diet and unhealthy habits can ramp up.  

Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake is a simple way to improve health as we age.  Committing to drinking alcohol on set days or limiting units over the course of a week can have a real impact on physical health and weight management.  Similarly, as our metabolism slows, our nutritional needs also change, and different phases of life can often require an altered approach to diet.  Menopausal women, for example, can see many benefits to increasing their protein intake or by eating foods rich in plant oestrogen to help combat menopause symptoms and longer-term effects.  

Brain training

Brain health refers to the way in which a person’s brain performs across key areas, including cognitive health, motor skills and emotional state.  Cognitive health is essential to successful aging as it refers more specifically to the ability to think, learn and remember.  Whilst many things can affect cognitive health, there are ways in which to exercise the brain regularly as a way to stimulate better cognitive health.  

Keeping the mind active and learning is one area of brain training that has shown promise in recent studies.  Learning new skills, participating in meaningful hobbies and undertaking challenging tasks (such as quizzes and activities) all contribute to better cognitive health by ‘exercising’ the brain regularly.  Similar to strength training, the use it or lose it idea of engaging the brain will keep the muscle of the mind (figuratively speaking) flexible well into our later years.  

Sleep 

Beauty sleep is one of the oldest tricks in the book for those wanting to prioritise their health and slow the signs of ageing. Sadly, getting a good nights sleep can become more elusive with age.  A restless night can have a profoundly negative effect on our mental health and our ability to socialise – particularly given how grumpy or irritable it can make you feel.  

Insomnia can be particularly destabilising given the cognitive effects disturbed sleep patterns can have.  It may sound simple but establishing a good bedtime routine can have a major effect on the promotion of quality sleep.  Keeping a regular bedtime and avoiding phones or screens all work to support the behaviour of falling asleep quickly.  A warm non-caffeinated drink can also help signal to the body that it is time to relax.  

If you struggle not with the act of falling asleep but staying asleep, try and avoid distractions that can cause awakenings during the night.  Turn devices onto silent, wear a sleep mask if your bedroom is unusually light and try and avoid drinking liquids for up to two hours prior to going to bed.  A good routine can make the magic of a an even better night of undisturbed sleep most definitely worth the effort.  

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