Start now and reap the benefits for years to come.
1. Start exercising
The benefits of exercise continue to be trumpeted – how it may prevent and help manage everything from chronic diseases to issues such as arthritis, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, breast and colon cancer, obesity, back pain, and even dementia. For seniors, losing muscle strength and balance can appear inevitable but improving both through exercise can lead to an improved sense of well-being and the confidence to follow through on other goals.
There are many options for classes or programs in our communities geared specifically towards seniors such as yoga, Pilates, aerobics, swimming, strength training. Inquire about your eligibility for a trained volunteer coach from Self Management BC’s Active Choices program. The coach will help develop an exercise routine and check in by phone to monitor progress and provide motivation, hopefully until the program becomes a way of life.
Many seniors still feel uncomfortable about exercising in public. Fortunately, there are many safe, simple exercises that can be done at home by almost anybody, at any age. Home-based exercises can improve strength, balance and mental health. Simple activities such as gardening and walking can supplement an exercise program to increase muscle strength and balance. Adding strength training with light weights can improve upper body strength and prevent osteoporosis. Exercises can even be done in a chair.
A great online resource is an exercise program specially designed for older adults that can be done in the comfort and privacy of their home.
2. Eat a balanced diet
Poor nutrition equals poor health, sooner or later. Tea and toast is not an acceptable meal. A healthy meal for seniors should consist of half a plate of brightly-coloured fruits or vegetables (frozen are fine; they’re more economical and easy to buy in bulk), a quarter plate of low-fat proteins such as meat, fish, tofu or legumes (peas, beans, lentils among others), and a quarter plate of whole grains such as brown rice or bread. Try to reduce salt intake by substituting herbs, and use either canola or olive oil. Up your intake of calcium and vitamin D with skim milk and yogurt, canned fish with soft bones such as salmon, fortified cereals, juices, and green leafy vegetables.
The Healthy Eating for Seniors Handbook from the B.C. Ministry of Health provides nutritional information and healthy recipes. Call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 for a copy. A dietitian is also available at this number.
If cooking is too much of a challenge, stock the freezer with microwavable single-serving meals, or buy freshly prepared meals. Some supermarkets and other companies will deliver groceries if trips to the store are a burden. Better at Home, a service of the United Way that operates through volunteers in local community organizations, can help coordinate delivery of groceries and meals.
3. Keep your brain working
We’ve all heard anecdotes about people working well into old age who seem to retain all their wits, while other retirees fade both mentally and physically. Research is pointing to a connection between intellectual stimulation and good health. What type of stimulation will depend on your interests. Develop new interests or delve more deeply into old ones by signing up for courses through the universities and colleges. Many offer special courses for inquiring seniors at low cost. What about learning Italian, French or Chinese? Or developing the crossword or Sudoku habit, joining a bridge group at a seniors’ centre or a book club or discussion group at a community library or with like-minded acquaintances? Anything to keep your mind alert and engaged.
4. Seek a spiritual connection
The term ‘spiritual’ is broad and could include something as restorative as long walks in a peaceful forest or a quiet beach at sunset. Something that inspires awe at the majesty of this earth. Or it might be something more traditional such as revisiting formal religion, meditating, reading spiritual works, practicing gratitude, even exploring the spiritual side of yoga. The idea is to connect with something that may take you outside yourself.
5. Maintain links with the world
Social connection is an important determinant of health and longevity. And for many seniors, social isolation is a problem as their families get caught up in their own busy lives and friends move away, or die. Keeping connected could be as simple as rekindling old friendships over lunch, dinner or just a coffee. Any activities that encourage participation with a group are ideal to ensure this important requirement for health is met. Sitting home in front of the TV all day and evening is a recipe for disaster.
One of the best tools to keep connected, albeit remotely, is the internet. An easy-to-use iPad could be an important investment. If you’re unsure, ask you family to help you get online. Learn how to connect via Facebook, Skype, or FaceTime and to the wider world via almost limitless news and information networks. Don’t let any reluctance – “I’m not good with technology” – put you off from benefitting from this window on the world far beyond your front door.
6. Find a 'job'
The thrill of retirement can wane quickly once the initial freedom wears off. Many seniors will retain the need to feel useful, without the commitment a regular job requires. Volunteering can fill the gap. Many non-profit organizations in the fields of health care, education and societal improvement need help, and healthy seniors can play an important role in addressing some of society’s most important needs. Go Volunteer is just one source of opportunities as is the seniors’ resource centre in your community.
7. Have a best friend
Your family is, of course, the biggest source of emotional attachment, and many seniors struggle with the absence of close ties once the family unit disperses. Grandchildren can bring joy to a senior’s life and opportunities for you your grandchildren to meet regularly for ‘play dates’ can enrich the lives of both of you. Close friends are another source of emotional connectivity and efforts to cultivate new friendships and maintain old ones – despite the effort that may be required – are worth it. It’s also important to interact with strangers and develop new relationships with those with common interests, a local walking club for example. In the absence of family and friends, don’t underestimate the power of a pet dog or cat to breathe life into your world.
8. Get out of the house
Seniors who may no longer drive need to access alternative forms of transportation in their community to avoid becoming housebound. Better at Home may offer volunteer drivers in your community. Transit passes and schedules, HandyDart schedules if you can’t use regular transit, and pre-paid taxi vouchers will be welcome additions to your household. Don’t let the fact that you don’t drive keep you shut in.