By Dr. Bilal Shirazi | 10 Sep 2020

Staying Healthy as You Get Older

September is Healthy Ageing Month in the United States.


While Healthy Ageing magazine dedicates Healthy Ageing Month to the over 45s, as a global population we're increasingly staying active for longer. Meanwhile the cost of health cover can start to escalate as we age, so it pays to ensure we become more health-conscious as we get older.

In addition to Healthy Ageing magazine’s take on the topic, which looks to inspire over 45s to reinvigorate their lives, the World Health Organization (WHO) looks at healthy ageing from a socio-economic perspective.

To complement these useful resources, we're going to look at some of the lifestyle and mindset changes you can adopt to ensure you stay healthy as you get older.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

We all know that eating a healthy diet is good advice, but what you won't often read is why you might find it tough to maintain a healthy diet as you age.

  • Your senses of smell and taste evolve as you age. As a result, you might not enjoy eating the same foods you did earlier in your life. If you're averse to trying new foods or little appeals to you, it's easy to get stuck in a rut with your nutrition.
  • As we age, we need to eat less. As such, it can be more challenging to ensure we're eating enough to get all the essential nutrients our bodies need.
  • Medicines, smoking, and alcohol can all affect our body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Telling yourself to simply ‘eat healthier’ isn’t always effective. So what does eating healthier mean as you get older?

  • Think colour and texture when it comes to varying what you eat - the more the merrier! Try to ‘eat the rainbow’ with lots of different colour fruit and vegetables to ensure you are getting a range of nutrients.
  • Experiment with different herbs and spices to bring flavours to life and get maximum enjoyment from your food.
  • Remember that it is OK to allow yourself to be tempted by great tasting, less healthy foods from time to time. As long as you don't eat these all the time, you're unlikely to give yourself a health problem.

Manage Your Weight

You can find managing your weight a challenge at any age, but it is often tougher as we get older. As you age, it’s also important to be aware that you’re as much at risk of falling underweight through not eating as you are at becoming overweight by not eating the right foods.

Being underweight can leave you more susceptible to infection and weaken your immune system. In contrast, being overweight can increase your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. In fact age itself is a primary risk factor in all three of these conditions, so it’s important to try to reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight.

Why does weight management become more difficult as we age?

  • Our bodies and metabolisms slow down. It can be easy to gain weight if we don't adapt our diet to our lower activity level. However we also need to ensure we're getting our essential nutrients.
  • Our body composition changes most of us will lose muscle mass and add fat, which can reduce our energy levels.
  • If we eat less to compensate for our reduced energy levels we can then drop underweight.
  • Our hormones change too, making it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

As we age we may find ourselves heading towards an unhealthy weight without even realising it. It’s therefore important to stay on top of your weight by keeping track and if you have any concerns, talk to your family doctor for advice. It’s better to monitor and take action before the situation gets out of control.  

Make Food Swaps

One of the easiest ways to maintain your diet and manage your weight as you get older is to make simple food swaps that you’ll barely notice.

  • Swap “regular” meats for lean, extra lean, and organic meats.
  • If you consume dairy, opt for low-fat cheese and milk, and swap butter for a plant-based spread.
  • Try swapping out some carbs for healthier options, such as replacing regular potatoes with sweet potatoes, or white bread with wholegrain.
  • When you treat yourself, hold off on adding extras. For example, a biscuit or an ice cream are both delicious without adding chocolate or marshmallows!

The UK National Health Service has some helpful ideas here. You can come up with your own food swap ideas as you experiment with different ingredients too.

Stay Active

Staying active is usually associated with losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, but the full benefits of being physically active are far more wide-ranging.

By staying active, you can help to:

  • Increase your life expectancy.
  • Reduce your risk of developing heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Maintain a healthy appetite for your age and body composition.
  • Strengthen, maintain, and potentially build muscle mass.
  • Maintain flexibility and mobility which often deteriorate with age.
  • Improve your mood and sense of well-being and improve your mental health overall.
  • Have more opportunities to meet people and build new social connections.

The great thing about staying active is that you don't need to be running the equivalent of a marathon each week to reap the overall health benefits. A brisk walk for 30 minutes, five days a week, is enough to keep you healthy. Although if you're eating well and feeling energetic, why not do even more?

Getting older can be a fantastic opportunity to try a new active hobby too. Why not join your local tennis club, learn to play golf, or rediscover a lost passion such as gardening? If you have any injuries or experience pain while exercising as you get older, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor to address the problem and ensure you can continue to stay active. 

Don’t Forget Your Brain Health

Eating a varied, nutrient-rich diet and staying active both play a role in maintaining brain health. However it’s also vital that you actively stimulate your brain as you age, particularly if you are retired and no longer working.

How can you do this?

  • Play games and puzzles. If sitting doing a crossword isn't your thing, take a walk to meet a friend to play chess over coffee. If you have grandchildren, introduce them to a new board game.
  • Read books and magazines. Or why not try learning that language you always meant to, but never had the time for?
  • Vary the routes you take when out on your walks or take a drive to a new location. Anything new is brilliant for engaging your brain and keeping your mind sharp!

Drinking plenty of water is vital for brain health too, as well as helping to regulate your weight and appetite.

Staying Healthy as You Get Older

Staying healthy as you get older doesn't have to be tough. It’s best to start good habits sooner rather than later, as it can be more difficult to change your behaviour later in life. However, if you have the desire to make a positive change, there are plenty of great tools to help motivate you and keep you on track.

Committing to staying healthy as you get older will benefit you, your family, and your bank balance! All you need to do is make a few simple changes to your eating and exercise habits to suit your changing body as you age.