Written by Sarah Lockwood
Enjoying the senior years requires more than stashing away a retirement nest egg. In order to truly make the most of the golden years, seniors need to live a healthy lifestyle that supports physical, mental, and cognitive health. Here are four ways that aging adults can protect their health in the retirement years.
Stay Physically Active
Staying active in life’s later years isn’t without its challenges, but it’s an important part of maintaining quality of life in old age. Physical activity and exercise help seniors maintain functional mobility and retain their independence while also benefiting their health. Active seniors enjoy lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems, improved moods, better cognitive health, reduced arthritic pain, and lowered risk of certain chronic diseases and cancers.
The average senior may not be equipped to train for a marathon, but there are plenty of activities that even limited-mobility seniors can do. Walking can get the elderly to the daily recommended 30 minutes of aerobic activity, resistance band training can build strength and flexibility, and seated exercises offer a way to get moving without risking a fall.
Practice Brain Fitness
Brain health is just as important as physical health when it comes to a healthy retirement. Inadequate mental and social stimulation increases the risk of cognitive decline and disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
One of the best ways that seniors can practice brain fitness is by maintaining a vibrant social life. Make an effort to develop and maintain close relationships with family members, neighbors, and church and community members. Social media is a great tool for staying in touch with far-away loved ones, but stay aware of scams targeting the elderly.
Other brain-boosting activities include crossword puzzles, card games, and even video games; getting involved in volunteerism or activism; learning a new hobby; or picking up a part-time job in a field you enjoy.
Moderate Your Drinking
The body’s tolerance for alcohol diminishes with age, so seniors should take measures to avoid alcohol abuse. It’s recommended that adults age 65 and up drink no more than one drink a day and no more than two drinks on any occasion. However, nine percent of seniors drink double that amount.
Excessive alcohol consumption leaves seniors vulnerable to injuries from falls and accidents and can cause serious health problems when combined with prescription and over-the-counter medications. Mixing alcohol and medications can cause stomach bleeding and liver damage and increases the risk of stroke and depression.
Older adults should limit their drinking and avoid turning to alcohol in times of stress. Many seniors are late-onset drinkers, meaning their alcohol abuse didn’t emerge until late in life. Seniors can prevent late-onset alcoholism by finding healthy ways to cope with stress, such as social supports, exercise, and mindfulness activities.
Avoid Drug Abuse and Misuse
Dependency on medications is a growing concern among senior adults. Seniors with chronic pain may be prescribed drugs intended for short-term use and become dependent. Others may misunderstand a doctor’s instructions and take the wrong dosage of a risky medication. Either can lead to a dangerous situation: Almost 100,000 seniors go to the emergency room for medication misuse every year, and the rate of overdose deaths among adults over 55 is rising sharply.
Seniors can prevent a prescription drug dependency by informing their doctor of any prescription and over-the-counter drugs they take, organizing medications into a daily pill organizer, and opting for non-narcotic treatments for chronic pain. Therapies ranging from over-the-counter pain relievers to cognitive behavioral therapy can help reduce pain. And if you’re hesitant to leave narcotic painkillers behind, consider this: Long-term use of opioid painkillers can actually make pain worse by increasing the body’s pain sensitivity, a condition known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia.
Living a healthy lifestyle in life’s later years takes efforts, but the payoff is well worth it. By staying physically and mentally active and avoiding drug and alcohol abuse, seniors can ensure that their retirement years are a long-lived period of joy and fulfillment.
About the Author: Sarah Lockwood co-created ThePreventionCoalition to provide an online forum for people seeking information about substance abuse.