How to Stay Healthy and Productive as We Age

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Getting older doesn’t have to mean slowing down. But as we age, we must continue to take care of our ourselves mentally and physically. In fact, with just a few simple lifestyle choices, we can stay just as healthy and productive as we always were.

Be Kind To Yourself

You may have spent most of your life caring for others – your children, your spouse, your co-workers – but as you age, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself, too. In fact, you won’t be able to continue caring for others if you don’t care for yourself first.

“Self-care” is a popular buzzword these days, but what exactly does it mean? Does it mean downing gallons of Ben & Jerry’s while binge-watching your favorite guilty pleasure on Netflix all day? Far from it. Although there’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself some indulgence, self-care refers to activities that improve your mental outlook, well-being, and physical health. When you partake in self-care, you should feel rejuvenated and thus better able to handle whatever life throws at you.

Dr. Emma Seppala, director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, believes that one of the most powerful ways to practice self-care is through self-compassion. How we talk to ourselves can directly impact our well-being. It can make us more agreeable, optimistic, and conscientious. Self-compassion can even improve our mood and relieve symptoms of depression.

So, how exactly do you practice self-compassion? The good news is it’s never too late in life to change your relationship with yourself and make your inner voice a little kinder. The next time you start berating yourself for making a mistake or not being able to do things the way you used to, try this: respond to yourself as you would to a close friend. If your friend was upset because they didn’t do something as well as they wished they could, what would you do? Would you tell them how stupid or worthless they were? Probably not.

We’re often told to treat others as we would like to be treated. What we’re not so often told is the reverse: to treat ourselves as we would treat others, especially loved ones. Self-compassion is far from a selfish act. There’s even some evidence that practicing self-compassion can strengthen our relationships.

Keep Moving

Self-compassion does more than just improve our mental outlook: it may benefit our physical health, too, because it motivates us to make healthy decisions like eating right, getting adequate sleep, and staying active. The reverse may be true, too: staying active can benefit your mental health. For older adults, aerobic exercise can improve mood and even relieve insomnia.

Aerobic exercise is essential, but don’t forget to add in some resistance training, too. Exercise routines that include strength training lead to more than just muscle gains. If you’re struggling to keep your cholesterol numbers down, resistance training might help improve them. As with aerobic exercise, a strength routine can also help you sleep better. Resistance training may even add years to your life, as some studies have shown it can reduce your risk of death.

Don’t Forget To Rest

Staying active is essential to staying healthy as we age, but time spent resting is equally important. During sleep, your body repairs itself and even builds muscle. But just as important as how much sleep you’re getting is your quality of sleep. In fact, poor sleep habits can lead to unwanted outcomes like obesity in older people.

To practice good sleep hygiene, go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every day, avoiding sleeping too late on the weekends. Since sleep might not come as easily as we age, good sleep practices can also help battle insomnia and ensure you get the number of hours you need. Keep your room cool – about 65 degrees. You should also keep electronics like smartphones, tablets, and televisions out of the bedroom, as the blue light emitted from them can interfere with your  natural circadian rhythm.

Get Your Check-Ups

Without a doubt, exercise and regular sleep are two of the best things you can do for your health as you age. But even if you get regular exercise and enjoy relatively good sleep, you should still visit your doctor on a regular basis. The Mayo Clinic recommends older adults have a checkup at least once a year. During your exam, your doctor can review your medications and help determine your risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and blood clot. If your doctor determines you are at high risk for potentially life-threatening complications like blood clot, he or she may prescribe a medication like Eliquis, which can help prevent stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and other types of blood clots.

Seek Connection

Getting older can be lonely. When we’re young, we have so many opportunities to make and see friends through school, our children’s schools, and other shared activities. Unfortunately, aging is often accompanied by fewer opportunities for social connection. Some experts even believe that retirement may put us at risk for depression as we’re suddenly having less social time and may have difficulty finding the meaning in life that we once enjoyed.

Loneliness can be a dangerous condition. Some researchers even believe that loneliness can be as hazardous for your health as smoking fifteen packs of cigarettes a day. Hard to believe?  A need for social connection is built into our DNA, as our ancestors relied on other people for survival. So when we aren’t connecting with others regularly, the result is a stress response within our bodies.

It might not be as easy to make friends as it once way, but getting older doesn’t have to mean growing lonely. Volunteering can be a great way to find meaning and connection again. The Volunteer Match allows you to search for community service opportunities by area of interest and location. Some volunteer opportunities on the Volunteer Match website even specify that they’re great for older adults. Even if you don’t commit to volunteering, you can find other ways to connect. Call up and friend once a week and enjoy a lunch out together. You can even use the Meetup website to find local clubs that interest you.

One thing’s for sure: our bodies change as we age. But change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With the right care, older adults can stay healthy and productive longer than ever before.