There is no reason older Australians can’t stay active and remain in good health. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that 7 in 10 Australians aged 65 and older considered they had good health or better than good health.
At the same time, AIHW says that 1 in 5 older Australians have disabilities. They are limited in their physical or mental activities. Healthy ageing can help to reduce this number. If you or a loved one is growing older, you can live a full and productive life well into your 80s and 90s.
What areas of health should ageing Australians pay attention to?
Everything! Well, that’s a bit overwhelming. Healthy living involves physical, mental, and social wellness. According to NSW’s Ageing Strategy, by 2031, one in three people in the state will be aged 50 or older. While 50 certainly isn’t “old,” it is a good age to consider healthy ageing needs. Research shows that those who start living healthy lifestyles before they turn 65 have better health than those who don’t.
Healthy ageing strategies should include:
- Socialising and staying involved with family and community
- Healthy physical activity
- Healthy and nutritious meals
- A healthy living environment
The ability to reach out to others when help is needed is another important support for healthy ageing.
One of the most important parts of healthy ageing is a sense of connection with family, community, and friends. At any age, loneliness can harm one’s health.
You may have heard about the UK’s “Minister for Loneliness” who was appointed a few years ago. Australia’s Federal Aged Care Ministry believes a more personalised solution will help reduce loneliness among the older population. “Neighbours should drop in and say ‘Hey, would you like a cup of tea?'” said former Federal Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt.
There is nothing to say that you can’t drop in on your neighbour, or they can’t drop in on you — within reason, of course!
Home care can help people to stay connected as they grow older. Social connections don’t have to be elaborate, formal, or overwhelming. A cup of tea, a shopping trip, or crafts and card-playing can all be ways to keep in touch and engaged.
Can I benefit from physical activity?
The twinges and pains as we grow older can make it hard to get moving. Yet, continuing to move and be as active as possible is essential for healthy ageing.
Physical activity improves sleep, stimulates a healthy appetite, and can reduce the risk of dementia. Staying active also improves balance, and as a result, prevents falls.
Each person’s ability level and fitness for activity varies. If you or your loved one has been ill and is recovering, by all means take it slowly. Gradually building up as your fitness improves will be safest and also effective.
As one example, did you know that if you get up and walk only five minutes per hour during the day when you would normally sit, you can keep your heart strong and improve your mental capacity? This is true at any age. But moving regularly for brief periods throughout the day may be especially helpful for ageing adults.
Some recommended physical health activities include:
- Water exercises, swimming, and fast walking
- Climbing stairs, lifting and carrying weights, even light ones
- Balancing on one foot (with a chair or rail nearby)
- Yoga and other stretching exercises
Walking, gardening, or hanging the wash can serve as healthy activities.
Physical activity will improve sleep, which is important for health at any age, from young to older. As people age, they tend to sleep less, but getting a good night’s sleep will help your mental and physical health tremendously.
How important is what I eat?
Australia’s health advisors are consistent in recommendations for healthy eating. It’s nothing but common sense. However, AIHW’s report on ageing in Australia found that 7 in 10 older people are overweight or obese.
Health guidelines for older Australians advise them to drink six to eight cups of fluid a day. Water is preferred, but tea can also count. Don’t substitute sugared drinks for healthy hydration.
Eat appropriate portions of the five main food groups for daily meals. These are fruit, vegetables, protein (meat, fish, vegetable protein), cereals, and dairy.
If you’re concerned about excess weight, consult your dietitian or GP for guidance. You may find that you can choose protein, fruits, and vegetables over biscuits or pastries and lose the weight quickly. Australian health guidelines advise you may consume two drinks of alcohol safely a day, but alcohol doesn’t add nutrition. It does offer extra calories.
Above all, eat mindfully. Don’t eat while watching television and consider your food’s appearance, taste, and texture while you eat.
Why is a healthy and safe environment so important?
The environment we live in impacts our health. Your home should not only be safe and protect against falls, it should also be cheerful and pleasant.
Your environment also extends beyond your home and into your neighbourhood and community. Feeling at home and comfortable in your surroundings will help to keep you active, involved, and healthy.
A checklist for ageing in good health
Some people may focus more on physical fitness, while others may prefer to eat well or maintain a lovely and safe home environment. All of these will support healthy ageing, and home care services can support them all.
We’ve put together a simple checklist focusing on the dimensions of healthy ageing.
To continue to age with good health, grace, and happiness, 365 Care advises that you focus on:
- A healthy social life: avoid isolation and reach out if you’re becoming lonely.
- Continue to be physically active: learn simple ways you can keep moving throughout the day.
- Eat well: find healthy foods that appeal to you and make changes if necessary.
- Home environment: maintain a healthy, safe, pleasant home environment.
365 Care can support all of these healthy ageing strategies for you or your loved one who is growing older.