Healthy aging is something we hope that our senior loved ones are doing and we will do ourselves someday.
But just what is it?
Healthy aging is defined by some as the development and maintenance of optimal mental, social and physical well-being and function in older adults.
EuroHealthNet and Swedish Institute of Public Health refer to healthy aging as “optimising opportunities for good health, so that older people can take an active part in society and enjoy an independent and high quality of life.”
Are our seniors making the right choices for their well-being each day so they can optimize their health and enjoy the highest quality of life as long as possible?
What exactly are the right choices?
How can family caregivers encourage their seniors to adopt healthier lifestyles so they will live a long and healthy life?
Scientists have been trying to figure out which lifestyle actions will help us all age well for years.
Are there preventive strategies, superfoods, or some magic that will increase our seniors chances of aging well?
Aging Study Findings
There have been researchers working to uncover the secrets of healthy aging by studying the actions and habits of those who are aging well right now.
The Pacific Health Research Institute studied 5,820 Japanese-American men in Oahu and found that, in order to live to be greater than 85 years old (oldest-old category), there were common factors that you can adopt to age well.
- Maintain high grip strength – the more physically active you remain, the higher your grip strength will be as you age; this has been thought to be indicative of healthy functional status and independence in mobility as we age.
- Maintain a healthy weight – appropriate caloric intake combined with physical activity
- Avoid hyperglycemia – eating a wide variety of healthy foods including fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help keep your blood sugar in control; weight management
- Avoid hypertension – watching your salt intake and keeping your overall sodium intake below 2500 mg/day will help you control your blood pressure, regular exercise and reducing stress will also help
- Stop smoking or never start
- Moderation in alcohol consumption
- Keep your mind active through lifelong learning
- Keep your triglyceride level in normal range – eat a low fat diet (avoid saturated fats in favor of healthier fats), exercise and reduce excess calorie intake for weight maintenance
- Marriage – keeping a solid partnership and companion
If you achieve all 9 of the above goals, it is thought your likelihood to successfully age in good health to 85 years old will increase by 55%, according to researchers.
Achieving 6 or more of these goals increases your probability to successfully age in good health to 85 years old by 9%.
We all want to age healthfully staying disability free and living independently as long as possible. Achieving all 9 goals is within our reach!
Author Dan Beuttner travels the world to answer the question what can we do to age successfully and wrote his findings in The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.
He examined why people living in certain areas across the globe, such as Okinawa Japan, Sardinia Italy, Costa Rica, Loma Linda California and Ikaria Greece, were experiencing improved health and longevity greater than the rest of the population. What do they do that we need to do to improve our own healthy aging?
Dan found that aging well encompasses many aspects of our life, including lifestyle, diet, outlook, and stress-coping practices.
One action alone will not increase our longevity or quality of life.
These Blue Zones have several commonalities such as:
- good genes formed by living in areas that supported health goals
- purposefulness to daily activity
- good diet without overeating, mindfulness to recognize when you are full
- activity – environment encourages physical movement
- stress reduction or improved coping
- community engagement and reverance to family
- spirituality – participate in faith based services
- avoiding disease
- moderate alcohol consumption not avoidance
Family Caregivers Support Healthy Aging
Family caregivers can help their seniors improve their lifestyle choices that will benefit their quality of life with a few relatively easy changes.
How many of the Pacific Health Research Institute’s 9 lifestyle actions can your senior adopt?
Are there changes your senior can make to mirror what the people living in the Blue Zones are doing?
Here are some changes you can help your seniors make now.
- Getting up and moving in any activity that your senior enjoys; take a walk, go swimming, play golf or dance
- Eat a more healthy diet, including lower fat, more plants, including plant based proteins such as legumes, limit portions sizes and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
- Manage weight through diet and activity changes
- Stay mentally engaged through learning a new skill, participating in community or family activities or adopt technology for communication and family involvement
- Socialize with family, friends, faith based activities and community events
- Drink alcohol, especially red wine, if desired, but not in excess
- Stop smoking
- Reduce stress or learn to find ways to cope with it so that it doesn’t negatively affect health
- Participate in meaningful activities so they will have a purpose, a reason for living
We all want to live as long as possible, but actually we want to have as much life in our years and not just years.
If we are not healthy as we age, our ability to enjoy a good quality of life and independence won’t sustain us through our years.