Maintaining Health and Wellbeing
There’s no doubt the healthy choices we make when we’re young follow us right through to those golden years – but it’s never too late to make a change. Senior wellbeing is about healthy minds as much as it is about healthy bodies, so we mustn’t neglect the ones we love as they grow older — it’s when they need us most.
Helping our elderly loved ones make better lifestyle choices will make all the difference, even if they’re prone to illness or haven’t prioritised good health in the past.
But it’s important to remember successful ageing and being healthy can mean many things to different people, often depending on a place and time within our lives. It may be there are a number of priorities your senior loved one will need to set straight before perfect health can fall into place. For our ageing relatives, health and wellbeing can necessitate regular physical activity, nutritionally balanced food, social interaction, cognitive stimulation and mental stability.
Here’s how you can encourage your senior relative to adopt healthier habits as part of their everyday routine.
PREPARE NUTRITIONALLY BALANCED MEALS
“Encourage your elderly parent to make better choices by helping them with grocery shopping and preparing healthy meals from scratch.”
In order to age well, you need to eat well. Food plays an integral role in our longevity, disease prevention and even our overall mood. It’s important at any age to fuel your body with high fibre, nutrient rich whole foods as opposed to processed packaged foods which are typically high in salt, sugar and bad fats. Changes to your loved one’s appetite and metabolism are inevitable with age, and so it’s a lot easier for seniors to make poor food choices.
Encourage your elderly parent to make better choices by helping them with grocery shopping and preparing healthy meals from scratch. Think nutrient density rather than portion density. In their quest for healthy living, they’ll soon discover the importance of social eating and balance with such positive changes to their habits.
In recent times there has been a growing public criticism of the food prepared in some aged care facilities, in which meals are known to be highly processed, unappealing, and lacking in nutritional value.
KEEP UP WITH REGULAR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
“…you should consult with a trusted medical professional about which exercises are safe before your loved one attempts anything new.”
We all know regular exercise is key to living a longer, happier, healthier life — but can the same be true for the elderly? Absolutely.
Seniors can absolutely benefit from regular physical activity, but it can be a little tricky for our elderly relatives to stay motivated with the general frailty that comes with old age. Symptoms of arthritis and other age-related conditions can elicit fears of broken bones and back injuries from exercising. But did you know low impact exercise is the easiest way to relieve arthritic pain and reduce inflammation? It can also deliver a boost of oxygen to the brain to improve memory and cognitive conditions common to older age.
Gentle activities which minimise the stress inflicted on ageing joints are a great way to promote longevity — think water aerobics, yoga and other alternatives to high impact exercise. Nonetheless, you should consult with a trusted medical professional about which exercises are safe before your loved one attempts anything new.
If your senior parent is looking for new ways to incorporate physical activity and socialisation within their routine, have a look at the kind of programs the village or local community has on offer.
STIMULATE THE MIND
“Keeping senior minds sharp is the easiest way to stave off the forgetfulness that comes with cognitive diseases such as dementia…”
Wrinkles are inevitable, but cognitive decline doesn’t have to be.
Keeping senior minds sharp is the easiest way to stave off the forgetfulness that comes with cognitive diseases such as dementia, as well as promote good mental health. In conjunction with exercising and eating well, mental stimulation will help preserve your elderly loved one’s wisdom.
Many of the conditions that affect the brain can be prevented with adequate “mental exercise” — so you should increase the volume of stimulating conversations, reading material, memory games and puzzles — even meditation and relaxation — to keep your elderly loved one’s mind sharp as a tack.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
“…more care is needed to ensure those physiological changes don’t pose an increased risk of disease.”
We all know changes in our body composition are part and parcel of the natural ageing process, and maintaining an ideal body weight throughout those senior years does become more difficult. As the metabolism slows and more fat is distributed around the abdomen, more care is needed to ensure those physiological changes don’t pose an increased risk of disease. Eating a variety of healthy foods is the best way to prevent age-related complications such as arthritis, and to help maintain a healthy weight. Too much extra weight can heighten pain in elderly joints such as hips, knees and ankles. Nonetheless, a few extra kilos as you enter your 60s is normal and to be expected.
If you’re concerned your elderly loved one is carrying too much extra weight you should accompany them to the doctor to discuss how best to improve their lifestyle.
TAKE PART IN SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
“You should discuss social habits with your senior relative, as you might be able to help them organise group activities or regular catch ups with other seniors.”
It’s true — friendship adds years to your life — and although physical changes are a natural process of ageing, it doesn’t mean our elderly loved ones can’t enrich their lives with good health and quality socialisation. A lack of companionship produces high levels of stress hormones, and is therefore likely to contribute to depression and immune dysfunction over time.
The connection between immunity and socialisation is indisputable, so ensure your loved one has a solid peer network, as well as plenty of family support, to encourage good health and wellbeing. You should discuss social habits with your senior relative, as you might be able to help them join group activities, take up new hobbies, or organise regular catch ups with other seniors. Still need more convincing? Here are 5 age defying benefits of senior friendships.
HUG YOUR LOVED ONES
“Research has shown wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits of touch for people of all age groups…”
The power of human touch is a force which is often underestimated — but did you know it’s perhaps the most powerful sense of them all? Research has shown wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits of touch for people of all age groups, including improved immune function, reduced levels of stress hormones and lessened pain. Sadly, loss of a spouse or significant other can mean our relatives will experience less touch throughout their later years.
But touch also plays a critical role in parent-child relationships, so be sure to hug your senior parent and express your gratitude towards them as often as possible — after all, they’ve done so much for us over the years.