10 Healthy Habits for People Over 50

Being healthy isn't something you have to leave up to fate. While it's true that some conditions and predispositions have a genetic component, there are certainly ways to impact your overall health with the choices you make every day. By equipping your body (and mind) with everything it needs to thrive day-to-day, it will be much better positioned to fight back when illness does come. Putting forth the effort of being proactive isn't always easy, but if you take it one step at a time and gradually incorporate habits that work for you, you can make a significant difference in your health.

Your later years can be some of your healthiest yet. Below are ten practical ways to improve and maintain your health through healthy habits, particularly if you are aged 50 and above:

  1. Daily walks

    You already know exercise is crucial to staying healthy, but it doesn't mean you have to join a Crossfit gym or train for a marathon. Even something as simple as taking daily walks can have a significant impact on your health. Getting your body moving and keeping your heart rate up for about 30 minutes a day can make a big difference, especially if you have a desk job or spend most of the day sitting.

  2. Annual check-ups

    Preventive care can be difficult to prioritize because it doesn't feel urgent. Many people feel that going to the doctor when nothing is wrong is a waste of time and money. It's hard to be proactive because the benefits are intangible and affect "future you," but the truth is, preventive care saves lives. Many diseases can be treated and even cured if caught early enough, and many serious diseases like carotid artery disease do not cause any noticeable symptoms until it's too late. People with carotid artery disease often don't know they have it until they have a stroke. Be sure to keep up with annual checkups with your doctor to stay informed about your health and allow your doctor to assess and evaluate your specific needs over time so they can recommend the right treatments and procedures in the future.

  3. Avoid excessive alcohol

    According to Johns Hopkins medicine, moderate drinking is considered one drink per day for women and one or two for men. (It's also important to note that "one drink" refers to about 12 oz. of beer, 4 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz of 80-proof spirits.) Drinking more than that on a regular basis can significantly weaken your heart over time and cause a number of other health issues, like high blood pressure and weight gain. Keeping your alcohol consumption under control is a key part of keeping yourself healthy, especially as you age. If you feel your alcohol consumption has become difficult to control or that it's negatively impacting your life, reach out to your doctor or your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.

  4. Avoid food high in cholesterol

    Cholesterol can cause major health problems, especially as we age, including heart disease and diabetes. It's important to eat well whenever possible, particularly by watching your cholesterol intake. Avoid fast foods, fatty meats, butter, cream and other rich foods to keep your levels down, and be sure to monitor your levels with your doctor.

  5. Preventive screenings

    Like regular checkups, non-invasive preventive screenings can save lives. When you reach age 50, you are more at risk for many health conditions, so it's important to get screened regularly for things like carotid artery disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Once you have been screened, you can maintain the optimum screening schedule (typically every 1-3 years depending on the test) to stay informed about your health and stop serious problems before they start. If you exhibit additional risk factors for any particular disease, like a family history or regularly high blood pressure, ask your doctor about which screenings they would recommend for you. Learn more about available preventive screenings here.

  6. Keep tabs on your mental health

    For many of us, mental health was not prioritized in our younger years — whether by our parents, society, or our community. Now most people are aware of the importance of mental health and the effects it has on our wellbeing, including our physical health. It's important to keep your doctor informed if you have been experiencing regular anxiety, panic attacks, feel it's difficult to get out of bed in the morning or perform your day-to-day tasks, or simply just feel "off." You know yourself better than anyone else, so if you don't feel like yourself, reach out to your doctor or a professional therapist. If you're hesitant to visit a therapist in person (especially in light of COVID-19), there are also online options like TalkSpace, which connects you with one of thousands of licensed therapists virtually.

  7. Drink water

    As you may have learned in elementary school, your body is made up of 50-70 percent water. It depends on the stuff to survive. Dehydration is a serious problem that can hinder your body's ability to perform its regular tasks properly. We lose hydration every day by breathing, sweating and using the bathroom. It's important to replenish that water to make sure our bodies can get rid of waste, lubricate and cushion joints, regulate temperature, and protect sensitive tissues.

  8. Get enough sleep

    It's not breaking news, but sleep is extremely important to your mental and physical health, especially as you age and are at a higher risk for problems like heart disease and diabetes. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says "sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke." The immune system also relies on sleep to function properly and keep you healthy. It's therefore extremely important to prioritize sleep every day. Practical things you can do to promote regular, restful sleep include: limiting blue light before bed (no phone screens or TV right before bed); commit to a regular bedtime and wake time (your body will clue into this rhythm and get sleepy around the same time every day); avoid caffeine after about noon; keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool; spend time outside and exercise during the day; and try relaxation techniques like a warm bath or deep breathing before bed.

  9. Note irregular symptoms

    Keep track of anything you notice in your body that doesn't feel normal. Write down specifics and note the date so that you can track whether or not this is a recurring issue and if so, how often it occurs. Having information like this will be extremely beneficial when discussing it with your doctor and finding the right treatment.

  10. Stand up

    Many of us live sedentary lifestyles, and it's affecting our health on a large scale. Even if we exercise at a regular time each day, the effects of sitting at a desk for eight hours daily can still be damaging to our health. According to a study from the American College of Sports Medicine, "even those participating in 1 hour of daily MVPA [exercise] could not negate the effects of inactivity on glucose metabolism and cholesterol if they were sedentary for the remainder of the day." So in addition to making an intentional effort to exercise, there are small things you can do every day to keep those negative effects at bay. If you stand up or walk around for about 10 minutes every hour, you're getting your blood pumping and changing up what your body is doing, giving it more stimulation (you could also use this time for a screen break!)

Try choosing one of these habits you're not currently doing and decide how you can incorporate it each day this week. Remember, it takes several repetitions over time to become a habit, so don't give up!

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References

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Alcohol and Heart Health: Separating Fact from Fiction"

American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal Improving Health by Breaking Up Continuous Bouts of Sedentary Behavior

Mayo Clinic. "Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?"

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency"

Topics:

Life Line Screening

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