According to the National Institute on Aging, 61% of Americans aged 65 or older have multiple chronic conditions. Aging is an inevitable part of life. There’s no avoiding it, but there are things we can do to age in a healthy manner. In honor of Healthy Aging Month, we are sharing some tips for focusing on healthy aging.
What is healthy aging?
There are several components to consider when thinking about healthy aging. There is the obvious one: physical health. But it is also important to focus on others like mental health, social health, and even financial health.
Exercise is one of the most important ways to care for your physical health. Scientific evidence suggests that people who exercise regularly not only live longer, but they also live better. Keeping your body moving by doing things like walking the dog or gardening can help you stay independent as you age. Practicing exercises that focus on your balance can help you to avoid falls, while stretching can improve flexibility which can help your body maintain the freedom to do everyday activities.
Making smart nutrition choices is also important in helping maintain physical health. As we age, our bodies change, and thus so do our nutritional needs. AARP’s MyPlate for Older Adults breaks down exactly what a balanced nutrition plan looks like for older adults. It includes fruits and vegetables, healthy oils, herbs and spices, fluids, grains, dairy, and protein.
Regular health screenings are also important for maintaining physical health. There are many debates about how often an older adult should see their doctor, but it’s common to hear a recommendation of at least once per year.
Another incredibly important part of our overall wellbeing – at any age – is mental health. When your mental health suffers, it can have a negative impact on your physical health, as well. Clinical psychologist Carla Manley, PhD says people with mental illnesses can experience a variety of physical symptoms, including muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, and feelings of restlessness.
So how can we take care of our mental health as we age? One way would be to participate in activities that bring you joy. Research shows that having a hobby is linked to lower levels of depression and may even prevent depression. Some examples of hobbies that are good for our mental health are playing music, gardening, fishing, yoga, and writing. Puzzles like word searches, crossword puzzles, or sudoku are great hobbies that help to keep our mind sharp.
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to a higher risk of physical and mental conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Engaging in meaningful activity with others gives us a sense of purpose which ultimately leads to a boosted mood and longer life. We can focus on several aspects of our health at once by taking our hobbies and making them a group activity. This could be in the form of a gardening or book club or simply taking a walk with a friend.
With most of the focus being on our physical health as we age, we can’t forget the importance of our financial health. This can be a little trickier to manage, and with all the information that is available online, it is tough to determine what is reliable. Senior Finance Advisor put together a list of reliable resources that help with investment advice and financial protection resources.
They also recommend finding a trusted fiduciary planner who can help you manage your money. The law requires them to always act in your best interest, and they tend to be more transparent in discussions of financial opportunities.
Healthy, happy living
Remember, what we do today impacts tomorrow. It may feel overwhelming to think about changing bad habits or creating new healthy ones, but it’s the key to living a longer, healthier, happier life. Start small and remain consistent and dedicated to your goals. It will pay off!
National Wellness Month
Did you know August is National Wellness Month? Although we all know we should always try to make wellness a priority, at times we drop the ball. Unfortunately, sometimes focusing on wellness takes a back seat to everything else in our busy lives. This is what makes August the perfect opportunity to re-focus on our wellness and kick start a healthy lifestyle. Don’t know where to start? No worries, we’ve put together a list of five simple habits to incorporate into your routine each day!
Drink more water
Health experts often recommend we follow the 8×8 rule: eight 8-ounce glasses per day. Water is essential for the kidneys and other bodily functions. It provides a boost in energy and physical performance; curbs cravings, which aids in weight loss; and it also results in smoother, healthier skin.
How can you be sure you are getting enough water each day? There are a ton of fun water bottles out there that help you keep track of your water intake. Some, like this one, even have time stamps on them so you can be sure to stay on track throughout the day.
Get outside and exercise
It is no secret that exercise is good for you, but did you ever think about how the location of where you choose to work out can benefit you? Exercising outside has plenty of benefits! It gives you the chance to be physically active in a constantly changing environment. Walking on a treadmill or using another machine indoors can get redundant and boring. But when you get outside, you can go to different trails or parks for a change of scenery. Not to mention, the wind’s resistance can help you burn more calories.
In addition to the physical benefits, outdoor exercise can also have a positive impact on your mental health. There is quantifiable research that suggests that outdoor exercise can actually provide greater benefits than indoor exercise. This study found that exercising outdoors was associated with increased energy and decreased tension and depression. Not to mention the fact that you can make it a family affair by heading to a nearby park or bike trail!
Since there is an app for everything these days, it’s no surprise that there is an app you can use to find walking, hiking, and biking trails nearby. All Trails is a great way to find your next work out spot. It even allows you to filter by difficulty level and features like pet friendliness!
Eat healthy snacks
There is often the misconception that snacking will lead to weight gain. However, the right types of snacks can actually contribute to weight loss. The secret is to choose snacks with about 100 calories and a mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. So what are the benefits of adding a healthy snack to your day? Appetite control, increased energy, and better concentration can all be results of a healthy snack.
Here, you will find 30+ healthy snack ideas! Bon appétit!
Destress by practicing deep breathing
Every day, you already take thousands of breaths without even giving it a second thought. So why not take a few minutes to really focus on your breath? Deep breathing has numerous health benefits, including stress reduction and reduced blood pressure. It can even promote core muscle stability to help you tolerate intense exercise.
Struggling to calm your racing mind for bedtime? Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique! It forces your mind and body to focus on regulating your breath rather than all the worries of the day. The steps for this technique are:
Let your lips part and make a make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth
Close your lips and inhale silently through your nose as you count to 4 in your head
Hold your breath for 7 seconds
Exhale from your mouth for 8 seconds, making another whooshing sound like in the first step
It is recommended that you start out by doing four cycles of these steps then eventually work your way up to eight full cycles.
“Enjoy the little things.” It has become a bit of a cliché that we hear all the time. However, there is scientific evidence that enjoying the little things actually has health benefits. A 2012 study found that greater appreciation led to increased life satisfaction. Taking time to appreciate even the smallest pleasures of life can promote satisfaction even when things do not go as planned.
We often focus on the big events that we are looking forward to and rush through the small day to day things but stopping to focus on the joy in the little things can have a positive impact on our mental well-being. So how exactly do we do it?
This healthline articlediscusses eight ways to truly enjoy the little things, starting with waking up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. While you may feel groggy at first, it will allow you to take your time in the morning rather than feeling rushed. This might even mean actually sitting down at home to enjoy your morning coffee rather than sipping (and probably spilling) it in your car on the way to work.
So join us in celebrating National Wellness Month and take this opportunity to focus on your well-being. It’s time to make taking care of YOU a priority!
By: Patricia Hudak, RN and Chelsea Cassidy, LCSWStress Management
Most individuals can relate to the feelings of stress even if they are not able to relate to the specific circumstance you may be experiencing. There are different responses to feelings of stress, depending on your own coping techniques and how you address the stressor in your own life. Stress depends on the duration of the stressor, intensity of the stressor and capacity of the individual to withstand the stress.
What is Stress?
Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes several reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.
The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimized. This can lead to an inability to ‘think straight’; a state that is a great hindrance in both our work and home lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health. The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels, and a decrease in libido.
FIGHT: When your body goes into a state of stress, we may feel agitated and aggressive towards others; this can be due to our bodies’ natural reaction being “fight”. This can be a helpful reaction to ward off predators, but in unnecessary situations, it can negatively affect relationships and ruin reputations.
FLIGHT: Some of us avoid our stressors, removing ourselves from the situation instead of tackling it. This can be a sign of the “flight” survival instinct; a function that can save our lives if we find ourselves in dangerous surroundings. However, in everyday life, this instinct can lead to a stressful situation escalating and increase our stress levels when we realize that the stressor is not going away and we need to face it.
FREEZE: Unknown by many, there is a third mode that stress can cause; freeze. For some people, becoming stressed sets the stage for ‘dysregulation’. The energy mobilized by the perceived threat gets “locked” into the nervous system and we ‘freeze’. This response sometimes reveals itself when we breathe. Holding our breath and shallow breathing are both forms of freeze. The occasional deep sigh is the nervous system catching up on its oxygen intake.
Mindfulness is a great practice to implement when under stress. Mindfulness is about being present with what is happening without judgement. Often our stress will raise when we allow our thoughts to take us to the past and re-experience the event over and over (ruminate) or place our thoughts in the future. We create a larger space mentally for the stress by giving energy to the past and future. The purpose of mindfulness is to stay in the present with your feelings and emotions. We then can react from a place of intelligence and kindness. (NPR)RAIN is an acronym that can remind you how to practice mindfulness:Recognize
Sense the feeling that you are having in the moment
Pause. Give space for the feelings. It is okay to not be okay.
Take a screening of your body internally and externally. Can you identify places of pain or discomfort? What has your attention? What are you believing right now? What thought patterns can you track? What do you need in this moment?
Be kind to yourself. Give grace to yourself. Place a hand on your heart and make a positive affirmation statement.
The goal of RAIN is to practice mindfulness by being present with yourself which can create a shift in the way you feel.
Breathing technique: 4-7-8
Breathing techniques are great to have in your stress management tool kit. They can be done any place without others even noticing. This provides quick interventions during high moments of stress. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is designed to reduce anxiety, help people fall asleep, manage cravings, and reduce anger (Medical News Today).
To start, get yourself into a comfortable sitting position and place the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth.
Empty your lungs of air (exhale)
Breathe quietly through your nose for four seconds
Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds
Exhale with force through your mouth, pursing your lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for eight seconds
Repeat breathing exercise up to four times
As with anything, including mindfulness and breathing techniques, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. One will also see the positive effects of mindfulness and breathing techniques over time. A good starting point is to practice these techniques twice a day – morning, and evening. Giving your first thoughts and last thoughts to yourself. Emily Ley has recently stated in her podcast “be where your feet are”. Take the challenge to be fully present in body, mind, and spirit where your feet are and watch the stress dissolve.
Personalize Your Plate with National Nutrition Month® 2021
This year’s theme of “Personalize Your Plate” emphasizes the importance of understanding there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to nutrition and health. We are all unique and our approach to healthy living should be, too!
Creating healthy eating habits can be a daunting task, with an overwhelming amount of information thrown at us, the latest eating trends, and buzz-worthy ingredients. However, good nutrition really is all about having a well-rounded diet.
Nutrition Made Simple
Keeping in mind that we all have different nutrition goals which require different approaches, the CDC website provides the following four general tips for working towards a well-rounded diet:
Add healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, olives
Reduce overall sodium intake – start by reading ingredient labels and recipes to find alternatives to sodium
Increase fiber for digestion
Aim for a variety of colors on your plate during every meal
Test Your Culinary Skills!
National Nutrition Month® is the perfect time to learn new and healthy recipes! With the internet at our fingertips, there are endless resources available to you. Most recipes include the nutrition information at the bottom that will help you to determine if the recipe meets your nutritional needs.
For those of us who just don’t know where to begin, there are meal kit services like ‘Hello Fresh’ and ‘Blue Apron’ that delivers recipes and the necessary ingredients to your home based on your nutritional preferences at a frequency of your choosing. These services can be a great starting point and helpful resource in a busy world where we don’t always have the time to dedicate to planning our meals.
If you are still lost on who to turn to for help, Registered Dietician Nutritionists can assist with developing a customized plan tailored to our unique bodies and nutritional needs.
So let’s use National Nutrition Month® as motivation to put our healthiest foot forward and strive for a well-rounded diet. And remember to Personalize Your Plate!
During Healthy Aging Month, we focus on celebrating the many positive aspects of aging. Here are some tips to incorporate in your daily routine that can lead to a healthier lifestyle, allowing you to live your life to the fullest.
Exercise – Get moving and active on a daily basis!
Socialize – Stay in touch and find safe ways to connect with friends and loved ones!
Stay balanced – Try new methods such as yoga to reduce stress and improve your overall balance!
Rest – It’s important to make sure you are getting a good, quality rest each night.
These are important tips to keep in mind for all ages and stages of life. Not only this month, but from now on, remember to take care of yourself and those who surround you. Healthy aging starts with you and your health decisions.