Know your baseline health
It’s really important to gauge changes in your health as you get older. Keeping a check on signs and symptoms can nip problems in the bud, before they become issues that affect your quality of life.
Take your blood pressure on a regular basis – there are affordable home monitors on the market, or many GP practices now have a ‘self-help’ machine in their waiting rooms.
Take advantage of ‘health check’ clinics and screening programmes. Problems can sometimes be picked up before they show any signs. You can have high cholesterol levels, for example, without suffering any symptoms – but you’re at risk of stroke and heart attack.
Keep a note of your medical history – both your personal history and that of your family. Any genetic predispositions will come to the fore, and your GP can then keep an eye out for symptoms that may indicate trouble brewing.
Look after your eyes and ears
Poor hearing has been linked to social isolation and even to dementia. One study, for instance, showed that even mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Hearing loss can develop gradually, so even if you haven’t noticed any changes, it’s a good idea to get an annual check.
In the same way, maintaining your eyesight can help to keep you independent. Poor vision can lead to the loss of your driving licence, or even the ability to enjoy books and newspapers. Your optician can also check for other health issues – early signs of diabetes, for example, can show up in the eyes.
Eat well – not only ‘what’ but ‘when’
We all know how important good diet is to our health. That’s even more important for ageing well, as many diseases are linked to a state of inflammation in the body. A healthy diet is the first line of defence. For example, increasing fibre intake has been shown to tackle inflammation. This may be because it slows digestion, meaning a steadier release of insulin, which helps to control inflammation. Another theory is that fibre digestion produces short-chain fatty acids which counteract inflammation. Aim for 30g of fibre a day with wholegrains, wholemeal bread and cereals, pulses and nuts.
Evidence also suggests that when you eat is important. Or, more accurately, when you don’t eat. Keeping your mealtimes within set hours, eating your evening meal early, and avoiding constant snacking will help your digestion and improve your sleep. If your body’s always having to process food, you’ll always have insulin swirling in your system. This can lead to insulin resistance, and eventually to diabetes.
Staying connected, not just with family and friends but with your local community, comes with a raft of benefits. Consider volunteering for a local cause that you find worthwhile, or where you can make use of the skills and knowledge you’ve built up. It’s well-documented that volunteering can improve self-esteem, but this effect seems to be most significant in the older population. Maintaining a sense of purpose can bring fulfilment that often gets lost when we retire. Taking up a voluntary role can ease what many find is a tricky transition from a hectic work life into retirement.
Challenge yourself both cognitively and physically by learning a skill that combines both! Some things that we class as ‘physical exercise’ are also great for mental stimulation. Try ballroom dancing for joint mobility, heart health, spatial awareness, coordination, memory – and great fun! Or Pilates – learning the movements and positions keeps you sharp, while evidence shows that the activity improves balance and reduces the risk of falling – a significant problem for older people.
Don’t let aches and pains slow you down
Many people think aches and pains are an inevitable part of getting older. But this isn’t really true. Although there can be a cumulative effect of wear-and-tear on our bodies, it’s perfectly possible to stay fit and well into late age. The evidence shows that manual therapy can be highly beneficial for the older population.
Get in touch with your osteopath or your physiotherapist who can treat you for many of life’s little niggles. Pain associated with arthritis, postural changes, strains and stiffness are all excellent candidates for manual therapy. Your therapist can also advise you on exercise and self-management, so you can stay in control of your health.
Keep ageing well for a happy and healthy retirement – you’ve earned it!