Healthy Lifestyle Adjustments that Slow the Aging Process
While nothing can turn back the sands of time, there are many steps you can take to dull the effects of aging. For starters, you’ll want to increase your exercise and intake of healthy foods. You’ll also want to cut back on alcohol and eliminate smoking.
Apart from the obvious, there are some key ways to live with or prevent common conditions of aging. Here’s our advice.
1. Cognitive Decline: Use It, or Risk Losing It.
As we age, it’s natural to become more forgetful, taking more time to learn new skills or occasionally neglecting to pay a bill. However, it’s important to keep a vigilant eye on signs of more severe cognitive impairment, especially those linked to dementia or Alzheimer’s. While there are not yet full-fledged cures for degenerative cognitive disorders, there are some proactive steps you can take to protect and bolster your mental acuity.
As with most aspects of health and wellness, regular exercise, consistent sleep, and minimal alcohol intake can all help reduce your risk of cognitive decline. However, more interesting is how brain stimulation plays a role in maintaining mental health.
Numerous studies indicate that regular engagement in mental stimulation correlates with reduced risks of cognitive decline and dementia. Moreover, these activities include a wide range of hobbies and tasks, including working on crossword puzzles, reading books, or playing musical instruments. Even regular social interactions have been shown to help maintain cognitive function.
2. Osteoarthritis: Go at Your Own Pace.
The most common joint disorder in the United States, osteoarthritis (OA), is a degenerative disease that frequently affects the hands, hips, and knees. Characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion, OA has no known cure, and symptoms often worsen over time.
OA is generally treated through a combination of physical therapy, medications, and––in some cases––surgery; however, those living with OA should also consider methods of mitigating your symptoms on a daily basis. For example, if walking up stairs causes inflammation in your knees, you should take steps one at a time. If symptoms flare in your hands during housework, you could consider spreading chores throughout the day as opposed to accomplishing them in one prolonged burst.
3. Vision and Hearing Loss: Protect Your Senses
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, about 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Similarly, about 32 million Americans live with low or impaired vision. As you might imagine, the odds of developing loss of vision or hearing increase with age. To maintain the function of your ears and eyes, you’ll naturally want to pay regular visits to your doctor and related specialists (eye doctors or audiologists). That said, there are some strategies that you can incorporate into your daily life.
While hearing loss cannot always be prevented, the most surefire way to avoid it is to stay clear of loud noises. Concerts, sporting events, and workplaces with heavy equipment are frequent sites of ear damage. When exiting such spaces is not a possibility, you should try to protect your ears with earmuffs or earplugs. Additionally, when listening to music through headphones, limit the volume to 60% of the maximum and refrain from using headphones for more than one hour at a time.
To stave off vision loss, the CDC recommends starting with your diet. In addition to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and refraining from smoking, eating dark leafy greens––kale, collards, or spinach––can help maintain your vision health. Studies also indicate that eating fish can decrease your risk of macular degeneration. Another way to protect your eyes is by wearing sunglasses. While we normally think of shades as a stylish accessory, they can guard your eyes against harmful UV rays.
4. COPD: Keep Help Within Reach.
Most common in people who have asthma, smoke cigarettes, or are exposed to chemical inhalation, COPD is a disease that blocks airflow into the lungs and causes problems with breathing. While over 150,000 people die each year from COPD, it’s possible to carefully manage this condition and live a healthy life with minimal symptoms.
The first step to living with COPD is to quit smoking (if relevant). While it’s difficult to stop, smoking is the most significant risk factor for COPD, and while e-cigarettes offer a tempting cessation method, these products contain additional chemicals that have not been sufficiently studied with regard to human usage.
Another helpful strategy for living with COPD is to have emergency tools on hand. Even if you don’t need them all the time, it’s always helpful to have an inhaler or even an oxygen concentrator on hand. These devices can help greatly in the event of a COPD attack.
5. Balance Issues: Practice Makes Perfect.
Among older adults, falls are one of the leading causes of injury and even death. And while some falls can be mitigated through home modifications––walk-in tubs and grip rails, for example––these solutions don’t address the underlying cause of balance issues. Joint and inner ear issues are often the culprits for balance issues.
While a cane or walker can go a long way to helping people maintain balance, there are also a number of exercises that improve one’s balance. For example, you can spend a minute each day balancing on your right foot, then switch to the other. Small actions like these can help you build up your steadiness and thus decrease any risk of falls.
6. Oral Health: Embrace Modernity.
When it comes to oral health, older adults are at a greater risk for tooth decay, dry mouth, and gum disease, among other conditions. And while we all know that we’re supposed to brush and floss on a daily basis, this can often prove difficult for those with arthritic hands and fingers.
Apart from scheduling regular visits with a dentist, one of the surest ways to improve your oral health is by using an electric toothbrush. Not only do electric toothbrushes result in cleaner teeth, but they also require less heavy lifting. Rather than wagging your manual toothbrush along your mouth, an electric toothbrush simply needs to be placed on your teeth to clean.
7. Diabetes: Aim to Be Active.
According to Diabetes.org, about 14 million older adults have diabetes, and many more have prediabetes. While there is yet to be a cure for type 2 diabetes, it is possible to control your condition and enter remission.
In addition to following any medication instructions from your physician, you’ll also want to take a closer look at your diet. Naturally, controlling your intake of sugar and processed carbohydrates will be the first step. This could include cutting soda from your diet, drinking more water, and increasing your intake of high-fiber foods.
Another effective way to manage your diabetes is to increase your physical activity. Studies show that sedentary lifestyles are more likely to contribute to diabetes, so it’s wise to figure out ways to increase your exercise. Even small steps like standing while on the phone or parking far from the grocery store and walking can all add up to heightened levels of physical activity.
8. Heart Disease: Work Smarter, Not Harder.
The leading cause of death among people 65 and older, heart disease is often caused by fat buildup in one’s arteries. With its resulting risk of heart attacks, heart disease can severely limit one’s ability to partake in physical activity. Luckily, in addition to medications and surgical procedures, there are ways you can manage heart disease on a daily basis.
One key to managing heart disease is eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. In particular, you’ll want to limit sugars, fats, and salty foods, instead opting for high-fiber grains and vegetables. Drinking plenty of water will also help. You’ll also want to get regular physical activity. While this might sound counterintuitive––with excessive physical strain causing heart attacks––the key is to find low-intensity exercises that you enjoy, like walking or light rowing.
9. Influenza: Keep Your Vaccines Up to Date.
While certainly not confined to older adults, influenza poses particular risks for senior populations due to their weakened immune systems. In particular, seniors are more likely to develop pneumonia as a result of contracting influenza.
The first way for seniors to address this concern is to obtain a yearly influenza vaccination. Additionally, if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s the importance of masks in terms of preventing the spread of illnesses. During flu season, older adults should try to limit contact with strangers and wear masks when around loved ones to help prevent contracting sickness.
10. Cancer: Plan Ahead.
With age comes increased risks for certain types of cancers. For example, men over 50 have a greater chance of developing colon cancer, and women are at greater risk for uterine and ovarian cancers.
As with just about any illness, not smoking, eating healthily, and getting exercise can decrease your chances of developing these cancers; however, the best approach is to be proactive about testing. The CDC recommends everyone receive a colon cancer screening at age 45, obtaining regular screenings afterward. Similarly, women over 40 should get annual screenings for breast cancer.
While most people dread these types of cancer screenings––as much for their physicality as the potential of an affirmative diagnosis––they’re the best tool we have for detecting and beating these diseases.
While there’s no surefire way to halt conditions of aging, with planning and care, you can live comfortably, happily, and healthily. Even with the effects of age can’t be prevented, they can be mitigated. All it takes is planning and daily steps.