Healthy living is something that we should all strive for, especially as we get older. As we age, we're more likely to face certain physical and mental health issues. Therefore, it's important to try and live a healthy and active lifestyle. Today, we're taking an in-depth look at healthy living for older people. We'll discuss eating a well-balanced diet, keeping fit and active, drinking less alcohol and ensuring that you have all your vaccinations. Here are our tips for living a healthy life as you get older.
We all know the importance of a healthy diet, but it isn't always easy to know what's best. The Eatwell Guide is a great place to start. It shows us which food groups we should be eating in which proportions to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. Of course, everybody's needs are slightly different, so you shouldn't take any single diet plan as gospel. And remember: food is more than just fuel for our bodies. It's also something to be enjoyed.
You can read our full breakdown of the Eatwell Guide here. For now, here are the basics:
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates - using whole grain when possible.
- Include some dairy or dairy alternatives such as plant-based milk and yoghurt. Look for products without added sugar.
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins - aiming for at least two portions of oily fish every week.
- Have unsaturated oils and spreads, such as vegetable and sunflower oil, in small amounts.
Alongside these options, you should also ensure that you drink plenty of fluids. Ideally, you should be drinking water, milk and low-sugar or sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee. The NHS recommends that we drink 6-8 cups/glasses a day.
Benefits of Eating Healthy
There are plenty of reasons to eat healthy. As we have mentioned, a healthy diet can decrease your risk of serious medical conditions like diabetes. You can also reduce your risk of heart disease by eating a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and one portion of oily fish each week.
Your bones and teeth can also benefit from a healthy diet, especially if you get plenty of calcium in your food. You can get calcium from dairy foods but also in vegetables like kale and broccoli, as well as calcium-fortified cereals and dairy alternatives e.g. soya milk.
There are also plenty of studies that link a healthy diet to a good mood and even improved memory!
More Nutrition Advice
Alongside a balanced diet, regular exercise is one of the most important parts of healthy living. Taking part in sport and exercise offers plenty of benefits for older people. However, statistics show that older people are among the least active in the UK. According to the NHS:
Many adults aged 65 and over spend, on average, 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group.
This inactivity can cause or exacerbate health problems, leading to higher rates of falls, obesity, heart disease, and early death compared with the general population. With this in mind, it's never too late to take up a new sport or to start visiting the gym and leisure centre.
How Much Exercise Should I Be Doing?
The NHS suggests that all adults take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. This might sound like a lot, but by doing just 30 minutes on at least five days a week, you can easily meet your target. Examples of moderate activity include walking, cycling, dancing and playing doubles tennis. But remember: any physical activity is better than nothing.
Alongside your moderate activity, you should also try to take part in some muscle-building activities. This can include weight training, resistance exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups, yoga, and heavy gardening. It can even be something as simple as carrying heavy shopping bags. Alongside your fitness regime, you should try not to spend too much time sitting down. A good rule of thumb is to stand up and move around at least once an hour. It could be as simple as getting up to make a cup of tea or go to the bathroom.
Regular exercise can also reduce your risk of developing conditions like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Alongside these health benefits, joining a gym or sports club can also improve your social life, as you will get the chance to meet new people with similar interests. And let's not forget: exercise can be great fun too. It might seem daunting at first, especially if you're out of practice, but don't let that hold you back from living a healthy life.
Everybody knows that smoking is a dangerous habit, which poses huge risks to your health. Healthy living just isn't possible if you smoke. It puts you and those around you at risk of several long-term medical conditions. Did you know that smoking can cause at least 14 different types of cancer?
In fact, smoking causes around 70% of all cases of lung cancer. What's more, around 96,000 people die each year in the UK from a medical condition that has been caused by smoking. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation reports that tobacco kills up to half of its users. The latest stats from the NHS show that there were more than 500,000 hospital admissions attributable to smoking from 2019/20. These statistics are certainly shocking, but there's more.
Other negatives of smoking include:
- Second-Hand Smoke - This causes over 11,000 deaths in the UK each year. Think about your friends, family and colleagues.
- Cost - Smoking isn't cheap. A packet of cigarettes has nearly doubled in price over the last 10 years. Just imagine what you could do with all that spare cash!
- Appearances - Smoking can lead to yellow nails and stained teeth. It can also leave a lingering smell of smoke on all of your clothes.
- No Taste - Smoking covers your mouth and nose with toxic chemicals, making it hard to enjoy the taste and smell of your favourite foods.
It's never too late to quit smoking. The body begins to benefit almost immediately. After only 48 hours, your body will have removed any carbon monoxide from your system and your lungs will have begun to clear out mucus and other debris. A year after quitting, your risk of heart disease will have halved compared to somebody still smoking.
We understand that quitting smoking can be difficult. However, there is no doubt that quitting is worth the effort. You will feel such a difference and it will give you a wonderful sense of achievement. You will reduce your risk of several medical conditions while also protecting those around you from becoming unwell and saving plenty of money too. If that's not enough to convince you, here are 10 reasons to stop smoking.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is another barrier to healthy living. It can lead to medical conditions such as liver disease, diabetes and cancers of the mouth, throat and bowel. Alcohol can also have a huge impact on your personal and professional life if things get out of control.
Luckily, there are some simple healthy living guidelines we can follow in order to drink responsibly. Firstly, do not regularly drink more than 14 units per week. That's equal to:
- Six pints of 4% beer.
- Six glasses of 13% wine.
- Fourteen 25ml glasses of 40% spirits.
Just like smoking, too much alcohol can also influence your physical appearance. Drinking alcohol can lead to weight gain and what's known as a "beer belly" due to the high calorie content. The more you drink, the more bloated your stomach and face will become. Drinking too much can also lead to financial problems, with increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks. In fact, a recent study shows that the average UK household spends £17.60 on alcohol every week, adding up to £915 over the course of a year.
Cutting down on the amount you drink can lead to so many healthy positives. This includes losing excess weight, having better long-term health and an improved relationship with your friends and family - not to mention the spare cash!
As we get older, lots of us begin to notice problems with our hearing and/or vision. By the age of 65, most of us will require glasses or contact lenses. Many older people also require hearing aids. However, no matter your age, it's important to have regular eye and ear check-ups to protect these important senses.
Protecting Your Eyes
Our first tip for healthy eyes is to have regular eye tests. These tests act as vital checks for the health of your eyes. Even if you don't require glasses, it is important to have a check-up. Eye tests can detect serious conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts, leading to better treatment outcomes. Medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension can also be detected through your eye test.
The good news for those aged 60 or older is that you can have free NHS eye tests as often as you need them. Commonly, this will be every two years, but they may be more frequent if you have any problems.
Alongside regular eye tests, you can protect your eyes by:
- Wearing Sunglasses - Strong sunlight can damage your eyes, leading to issues down the line. Wear sunglasses or contact lenses with a built-in UV filter on sunny days.
- Not Smoking - Smoking increases your risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Sleeping Well - When you sleep, your eyes are continuously hydrated and irritants such as dust and smoke are cleared out.
- Eating Well - Fruits and vegetables will benefit your overall health and may help protect against some conditions such as cataracts and AMD.
- Using Good Lighting - To see well, your eyes need three times as much light when you're 60 as they did when you were 20. Increase the amount of daylight in your home and ensure that you have good electric lighting throughout.
Protecting Your Ears
Just like your eyes, you may also begin having problems with your hearing as you get older. Changes to your hearing are a natural part of the ageing process and you may begin to gradually notice the signs. This can include:
- Needing to turn the television volume up.
- Finding it difficult to hear others clearly, possibly misunderstanding what they are saying to you.
- Regularly asking people to repeat themselves.
You can reduce the future risk to your hearing now by ensuring that you take care of your ears. As with eye tests, NHS hearing tests are free of charge and can be booked through your doctor. If you work in a noisy environment, such as a building site or factory, you should ensure that you wear ear defenders. You should also use ear protection at loud events such as a motorsport event or a music concert.
Healthy living is all about preventing illness and living our lives to the fullest. However, the older we get, the weaker our immune system becomes. This can put you at risk of the flu, shingles, and several other medical conditions. This is also why older people face higher risks from COVID-19. Fortunately, there are several life-saving vaccinations available for free on the NHS.
Of course, the vaccination we're probably most familiar with these days is the coronavirus vaccine. At the time of writing, there are three different vaccines in use in the UK: Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, and Moderna. It's available to everyone over the age of 12 for free. If you haven't had your vaccine yet, we strongly recommend that you book an appointment. You'll need two doses of the vaccine, usually 8-12 weeks apart. This is the best way to protect yourself from the threat of COVID-19.
As of May 2022, almost 50 million people in the UK are fully vaccinated.
For more information on the COVID-19 vaccination programme, click here to visit the NHS website.
The most common vaccination is the flu jab, which is available every year to protect those most at risk of flu and any further complications. It is free for anybody over the age of 18 who is at risk, and for everybody over the age of 65.
Having the flu jab is the best way of fighting off the extreme cases of the flu, as the NHS explains:
Studies have shown that the flu jab will help prevent you getting the flu. It won't stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary, so it's not a 100% guarantee that you'll be flu-free, but if you do get flu after vaccination it's likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
Another important vaccination for those over the age of 65 is the pneumococcal (PPV) vaccine, which protects against serious and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections. The good thing about this jab is that most people will only require a single vaccination, as it will protect you for life.
People with a long-term health condition may need just a one-off pneumococcal vaccination or five-yearly vaccinations, depending on their underlying health problem.
If you're aged 70+, you should consider the shingles vaccination. Shingles is an uncomfortable skin disease that can leave some people with pain lasting years after their initial rash has healed. Shockingly, shingles is fatal for around one in 1000 over-70s who develop it.
The shingles vaccination is available all year round and you can still have it even if you have had the condition in the past. Research has shown that the vaccine should protect you for at least five years. The shingles vaccine is not available on the NHS if you are aged 80 or over.
Here in the UK, we're used to all sorts of nasty weather. However, weather at both ends of the spectrum can be dangerous for older people, whether it's freezing temperatures during the winter or heat waves in the summer. Therefore, healthy living involves protecting yourself from these weather-related risks.
Staying Safe in Hot Weather
Older people should stay out of the sun at peak times on hot days. Try to remain in the shade or stay inside, especially between the hours of 11am and 3pm when the sun's rays are at their strongest. You should also ensure that your home isn't too hot. Consider the following:
- Close curtains and blinds to keep the direct sunlight out.
- Have a cold bath/shower.
- Splash your face with cool water.
- Wet a flannel with cool water and hold it to the back of your neck to cool down.
Staying Safe in Cold Weather
During the winter months, low temperatures can put your health at risk. Your blood pressure can rise and your blood can thicken, which can increase the risk of a heart attack. The flu can also spread throughout communities during the winter.
Therefore, you should avoid going outside during the coldest parts of the day wherever possible. If you do have to go outside, make sure that you layer up and wear warm clothing. Don't leave the house without a scarf, gloves and hat, and make sure you have a nice thick jumper and coat on.
Back at home, keep your slippers on in order to keep your feet warm. You should have your heating on as much as possible so that the radiators are hot throughout your home. It's better to have your heating on constantly rather than turning it on full-heat for a short time and then turning it off.
At bedtime, try using a hot water bottle or, if you have one, an electric blanket when you go to bed. Remember to ensure these are switched off when not in use. Do not leave a heated blanket switched on unattended as it can pose a fire hazard.
When it comes to healthy living, your mental wellbeing is just as important as your physical health. Loneliness is a huge problem among older people in the UK, with an estimated two million people over the age of 75 currently living alone.
In fact, more than a million people have admitted that they go more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. This is a serious issue that can lead to several mental and physical health problems, such as depression and heart disease.
Fortunately, there are things that we can all do to combat loneliness. One suggestion would be to join a sports club or another hobby group. This will get you out of the house and introduce you to others with similar interests. This could then lead to further social meetings during the week.
Another tip would be to give modern technology a try. This is particularly useful if your family live far away, as you can keep in touch with video calls or instant messages. You can also use the internet to play games with others and to pass the time on shopping websites. Check out our guide to social media for more advice.
If your family or friends do live relatively close, take advantage of discounted public transport. Anybody over the age of 60 can purchase a senior railcard which will give you a third off rail fares across the country. You will also be entitled to a free bus pass once you reach a certain age, depending on where you live.
Healthy Living = Happy Life
By following this healthy living advice, you can help to keep both your body and your mind in tip-top condition. After all, getting older doesn't mean that you should stop doing things that you enjoy and looking after yourself. If you have any concerns about your physical or mental wellbeing, please make an appointment with your doctor.
With more and more of us living by ourselves as we get older, it's only natural to have a few concerns. Lots of people worry about what might happen if they have a fall or suffer a medical emergency. Luckily, there is a simple way to find peace of mind. The Lifeline alarm service offers 24/7 support and reassurance to thousands of older people and their families throughout the UK. For more information about our life-saving personal alarm service, please get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, contact us online and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 9th May 2022 to reflect current information.