What with one thing or another, it’s safe to say that 2020 has been a bit of a tough year. And for those retired members of our communities, the last six months may have felt particularly difficult. What with social distancing measures meaning we can’t see as much of our loved ones as we’d like, the need to shield to protect the more vulnerable, and many social clubs, gatherings and activities having been paused, if you’re feeling your age, it’s understandable.
But it’s so important we all take steps to care for ourselves, especially in our older years. Ageing healthily means looking after all aspects of your physical and mental wellbeing so you can enjoy a long, happy, healthy retirement, full of all the things you’ve been looking forward to.
Be physically active
The benefits of being physically active are well documented and there is no reason to stop or reduce activity levels as we age.In fact it’s a proven fact that remaining or becoming active into older age has numerous benefits. Regular exercise can help to protect against dementia, heart disease, stroke, some cancers and Type II diabetes. By being physically active into older age we can maintain independence and prevent falls by staying strong and flexible. Best of all, physical activity and exercise helps us to feel good and can be done pretty much anywhere: on your own or in socially-distanced groups, at home, outside, sitting down. The options are endless and it is never too late to start. Government guidelines say we should aim to complete 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. That’s just two and a half hours each week spent sitting less and moving move. Not sure how you could manage it? Fear not, we’ve got just the thing: here’s some advice on how to hit your 150 minutes each week.
Aerobic means ‘requiring oxygen,’ which means activity that increases your heart and breathing rate for a sustained period of time. Health benefits occur when 30 minutes of aerobic activity takes place on most days (at least five) of the week, but these can be done in three 10 minute blocks. If this sounds daunting and you’re trying to build up your activity levels, you can work up to it. Typically aerobic activity uses the larger muscles of the body e.g. muscles in the thighs, bottom, back etc. This type of activity includes walking, running, cycling, swimming, aerobics, gardening, dancing and sports such as badminton and tennis. Aerobic activity should make you feel warm and a little breathless, (you should still have enough breath to be able to speak). This type of activity is particularly good for keeping your heart and brain healthy.
Strength, balance and flexibility
Maintaining strength, balance and flexibility as we get older reduces the effects of ageing on the body, preventing or delaying frailty and the risks associated with it, including the risk of falling. Regular strength training prevents muscle loss and promotes bone density, making it easier to move about, do household and gardening chores and enjoy activities with friends and family. Evidence suggests that strength training may help to control blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity within the muscles and to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Strength training can be done in a gym, but can also be done at home using body weight and household items to provide resistance. Balance and flexibility exercises are recommended for older adults, particularly those at risk from falling, they can easily be incorporated into a strength training regime and done at home. However, participating in a Tai Chi or yoga class or playing bowls will also challenge balance and flexibility. Yoga and Tai Chi incorporate breathing exercises and relaxation and promote both mental and physical wellbeing. Two strength and balance sessions per week are recommended to gain the most benefit. You can read more about balance here and we’ve also got some tips for looking after your body as you come out of lockdown.
It is important to maintain a healthy weight throughout your life; it is common to gain weight as you age, particularly if you become more sedentary, and as a result older people have a tendency towards a higher fat to muscle ratio than younger adults. It is possible to maintain muscle mass into older age (see strength training) which can help to maintain a healthy weight. As people age, appetite can also diminish so ensuring a wide variety of foods is eaten is important to prevent becoming nutrient deficient. Older people are less efficient at turning sunlight into vitamin D, which is required for healthy bones and may help to prevent/manage heart conditions, diabetes, asthma and cognitive decline; the British Nutrition Foundation recommends taking a supplement once past the age of 65 as well as eating foods rich in vitamin D such as oily fish. Including calcium (dairy foods, kale, sardines) and vitamin B12 (present in high amounts in liver, oily fish, dairy produce and eggs) will help to keep you strong and full of energy. As much as possible, eat a diet full of colour and unprocessed foods to keep you in tip-top health. Find out more about food labelling here.
Maintain social networks
Social isolation and loneliness can affect people of all ages, but older people tend to be more vulnerable, particularly if poor mobility is preventing them from getting around. Maintaining links with friends and family remains important as you get older; humans evolved living in small communities and having a strong social network can have a profound and positive effect on your emotional and physical wellbeing. Why not look into our Living Well Groups and see if there’s a local one you could attend? They’re still meeting virtually at the moment, but if there’s isn’t one nearby to you, why not join our nationwide group? Staying in touch over long distances can be tricky, but technology such as video calling has revolutionised our ability to talk to (and see) our loved ones wherever they are in the world. Getting to grips with smartphones and tablets for those who haven’t yet fully embraced the digital world may offer ways and opportunities to stay in touch.
Volunteering provides benefits not only to the organisation to whom you give your time, but also to the volunteer. Volunteering has health benefits which are thought to be linked with feelings of emotional wellbeing that come from helping others. A study by Volunteer England suggested that community volunteers had less chance of suffering with depression, stress or loneliness, which may be due in part to the opportunity that volunteers get to meet people (therefore expanding social networks). For retirees, the benefits of volunteering can include increasing levels of self- esteem, keeping physically active and engaging with a wider and more diverse group of people than they may normally come across. As movement restrictions lessen, look into volunteering opportunities near you. You can find our current volunteer vacancies here.
Are you an optimist? Having a positive outlook may influence how long you live; this was demonstrated in a large study of a group of nuns, who were monitored from their entry into convent life up to their deaths. The study showed that the nuns with the most positive outlook on life lived longer than those who had a more pessimistic view. The link between positive emotion and longevity may be in part due to managing the impact of adverse events or crises that, over a long period of time, can cause damage to the heart and circulatory system. Bad things happen to everyone, but optimists believe that these situations are temporary and that solutions will present themselves, or that circumstances will change and the future will be better at some point. If you find that you tend to be a glass-half-empty type of person, it is possible to change the way that you react and respond to events by challenging any negative self-talk; the technical term for this is ‘learned optimism’ and the idea was originally developed by Professor Martin Seligman, who has written a book on the subject for anyone interested in reading more
The ageing process affects the brain as well as the body with many people experiencing some cognitive decline in older age such as memory loss, slower recall or slower processing skills. However, increasingly researchers believe that brain ageing can be reduced or slowed through actively working the brain, a bit like maintaining muscles by exercising. Learning new skills that require actively engaging with the task, for example photography, painting or learning a new language may encourage the brain to create new neural pathways which will help to keep it in great shape. By learning a physical skill such as dancing you can also increase your activity levels and gain from the benefits of moving more too.
Get enough sleep
Sleep disorders are on the rise across all ages, but are particularly common among older adults. While the amount of sleep that adults require remains the same throughout the lifespan, older adults often experience fragmented sleep and bouts of insomnia. Getting too little sleep can make you feel grumpy and tired in the short term and have serious consequences for your health in the long term. Did you know that getting a good night’s sleep can help to control your appetite and maintain your weight, or that good quality sleep could reduce your risk of becoming diabetic, hypertensive or depressed? Medication, chronic disease and pain are common reasons why sleep may become disturbed, so it is worth talking to your GP about reviewing any medication or dealing with increased pain. If you still sleep badly you can try increasing your daily activity levels and reducing caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. If sleeping at night time becomes very disturbed a nap in the day time may help to refresh you. You should also consider the environment in which you sleep. Is it restful, uncluttered and quiet? Do you need a new mattress? Creating a calm and comfortable space to rest in can promote better sleep habits. Read more about good sleep hygiene in our older years here.
The benefits of doing brain training exercises in the form of games have been both confirmed and disputed many times; in an effort to understand the impact of regular brain training The Alzheimer’s Society recently funded research to test the theory that certain games might prove beneficial. They found that games that challenged reasoning and problem solving improved cognitive functioning in the over 60s (you can take part online here). Like learning new skills, brain training games appear to give the brain a work out, so it may be time to dig out the cryptic crosswords and Sudoku for 20 minutes a day to help keep your mind sharp.
If you’d like to find more resources or learn about how we could support you in retirement, have a look at our How We Help pages. And if you need help with anything, get in contact with us. Call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820 or make an enquiry online.