Look after yourself so your senior years can be enjoyed to the full.
Planning for ageing should start well before your first wrinkle or grey hair makes an appearance. More often than not, the senior years are when the transgressions of youth come home to roost. But instead of being beset by chronic illness and disability, experts advise now is the time to set yourself up for a happy and healthy later life.
“The World Health Organisation talks about a life course approach to ageing which means that through our life we need to recognise that we will get older and the choices we make in early life affect how we will be in later life, particularly with regard to exercise and looking after ourselves.” Council on the Ageing (COTA) chief executive Ken Marston said.
“If we don’t look after ourselves when we are young then it is much more difficult when we are
older and we are much more likely to suffer the unpleasant consequences of ageing, whereas if we look after ourselves throughout life we are likely to enjoy a much happier and healthier later life.”
This was why some people were old when they were in fact numerically young whereas others were young when they were numerically old.
“Exercise has been shown to mitigate the effects of all the things that we commonly associate with ageing, from arthritis to heart disease,” he said.
“Exercise and good diet can prevent many of the awful things that we think of being characteristic of being old. We don’t need to be old in that way if we look after ourselves.”
And to make a difference, it is never too late to start. More than 6000 people aged over 50 are enrolled in COTA’s Living Longer Living Stronger program which provides individually supervised strength-training programs, shown to reduce falls and improve health, fitness and quality of life.
Mr Marston also urged people to have regular health checks. “Men, in particular, don’t tend to visit the GP from the time they turn 35 to 65 and by the time they get there they are
falling apart … and that makes retirement difficult because they fall into chronic illness or disability,” he said.
“The three pillars — health, security and participation — are powerful levers in people’s lives and if they can tap into those then they can have the good retirement we all hope they have.”
Curtin University Centre for Research on Ageing director Barbara Horner said as the baby boomer population bulge moved from “young old” to “older old”, it would bring new issues and challenges.
Increasing longevity was also prompting marked growth in the number of people aged over 85, referred to as the “old old”, and an associated increase in the prevalence of co-morbid health conditions, neurodegenerative disease and related care needs.
“Dementia, for example, affecting one in four people in this older group, is one of the challenges facing individuals and their carers, as well as the entire community,” Associate Professor Horner said.
She said many people worried about getting older because they feared declining health, isolation, loss of income, independence and the ability to make choices for themselves. But, she said, there were ways to combat this by taking a positive approach to ageing.
“There are a number of ways to prevent, delay or manage some of the physical, psychological, social and personal challenges people face as they age,” she said.
It was important to maintain a positive attitude to ageing, stay connected with the community, be physically and mentally active and maintain a good diet.
“The way you feel about yourself and the ageing
process can affect how you view life and the extent to which you are involved in activities and the opportunities life offers. If you can make choices and have control over important
aspects of your life and take part in and enjoy activities, you are more likely to feel good about yourself and get more out of life,” Professor Horner said.
STRATEGIES FOR POSITIVE AGEING
- Maintain a positive attitude: The way you feel about yourself and the ageing process can affect how you view life and the extent to which you are involved in activities and the opportunities life offers. If you can make choices and have control over important aspects of your life, and take part in and enjoy activities, you are more likely to feel good about yourself and get more out of life.
- Stay connected: Social interaction and relationships with family and others are associated with positive ageing and feeling optimistic about life. Maintaining social networks through membership of clubs, engaging in voluntary work and keeping in touch with family encourages interaction with others, prevents isolation and promotes good mental health and physical activity.
- Keep your brain active: Keeping the brain active, alert and flexible can promote good mental health and positive ageing throughout the lifespan. Having an active mind can be as simple as reading a book, learning a new hobby or problem solving (e.g. doing crosswords). Learning new skills is exercise for the brain and makes it work a little harder.
- Maintain engagement/work status: Many older people findpart-time employment or voluntary work rewarding and a chance to give something back to the community. Any type of work can help to keep your mind sharp and can provide a social network outside of the home and family.
- Monitor health: Older people who have fewer medical conditions have a better quality of life, better mental health and are less restrictedin their daily activities. By having regular medical check-ups, engaging in illness prevention (e.g. not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation) and having regular tests or check-ups (e.g. blood pressure, dental) you can help to reduce the possible onset of chronic conditions.
- Engage in physical activity: Regular physical activity is vital for improved health and wellbeing. It is never too late to get moving – the human body responds to exercise, regardless of age. Exercise is a great way to maintain good health, helps you thinking positively, recover from illness and reducethe risk of disease. It has been demonstrated that physical fitness is more important than weight loss.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet is important to maintaining a healthy weight, which will help to reduce the likelihood of developing conditions such as diabetes. A healthy weight will also improve energy levels and make it easier to participate in daily activities.
- Have fun/enjoy yourself: Holidays, new adventures, hobbies, friends, fun and happiness are all important and often more available as you get older.
- Manage disappointment/sadness/stress: Stress is a natural part of life. While a little stress can be beneficial, when things become too much and usual methods of coping fail, stress may become unhealthy. High levels of stress can produce emotional, behavioural, and even physical symptoms. Significant changes associated with ageing can cause both short term and chronic stress and can be caused by everyday hassles or be a result of difficult relationships, adjusting to retirement, financial concerns or chronic illness. It is important to recognise the symptoms of stress and develop mechanisms to deal with it.
SOURCE: Associate Professor Barbara Horner, Curtin University Centre for Research on Ageing