Health and Wellness Advice for Adults Ages 60+
Use it or lose it — it's never too late to start
This rapidly approaching phase of life has motivated me to learn from my elders. Observing patients and colleagues, family and friends, I search for secrets from those who thrive.
With the stress of performing in a career and raising a family behind, those facing retirement often welcome new venues. Horizons are endless for those who approach their 70th, 80th and even 90th birthday experiencing strong physical, emotional, spiritual and financial health. Success follows those who continue along a path of healthy habits. This is not to say that everyone excels in all aspects of well-being. Rarely does anyone person have it all, but the stronger the commitment to each of these, the more satisfying, joyous and peaceful this phase of life. One can excel in some areas without all, for instance, many successful 80-year-olds achieve meaning from volunteering, taking up new hobbies, focusing on family or pets, even if they are limited physically. Those with strong family connections can feel appreciative and grateful for their lives by knowing they are supporting family.
Two principles apply to well-being for the octogenarian and beyond. The first is “use it or lose it: It’s never too late.” The second is “never give up, just modify.”
While individuals approaching retirement who lack any prior attention to self-care will certainly have a bit of catching up to do, those with positive attitudes and willingness to commit to hard work can achieve amazing success. It is astonishing to see even health professionals approach this stage, having not followed any previous guidelines, and state, “Now it’s time for me!” Starting from scratch has obvious disadvantages but it is never too late to improve your health. Studies have shown that exercise programs begun at any age, even in your 90s, increase strength, endurance and flexibility. Seeing the glass half full is a powerful personal trait when facing personal change. Positivity and gratitude for what is going well, even if many areas are not, is key to self-improvement at any age.
Many, however, get discouraged with the aging body or mind that no longer performs as it had. We can often become negative and fall into distorted thoughts of personal failure. Fear of death can be overwhelming, and frustration with inabilities can be devastating. Adaptation is key and cognitive flexibility is critical, particularly when physical flexibility diminishes. Acceptance of change and resetting of goals adjusting for limitations allow for continued success on different levels. For example, computers offer opportunities to learn and connect.
The top causes of death over the age of 60 are heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease. Following the basics guidelines and avoiding behaviors outlined for those 20-40 and 40-60 will have already established a strong baseline of health. Additional contributors that impact health and happiness in these golden years include attention to intellectual and social well-being.
Intellectual and social stimulation prior to this age are often taken for granted as both are likely part of a daily routine. Sustaining mental stimulation and social connections adds health benefit for us and those we love.
To help assess what you may need to improve, after reading each category — intellectual and social well-being — ask yourself these three questions:
What behavior(s) above am I doing well?
What behavior(s) need improvement?
What behavior(s) might I consider changing to improve my physical health?
Intellectual well-being refers to the concept of being cognitively energized by participating in stimulating activity and exposure to new experiences (e.g., arts, theatre, science, computers). Consider your daily activities and reflect on the following: “Do I …”
- Learn something new every day?
- Make time to read, write and share daily?
- Stay engaged with social media and maintain electronic skills?
- Remain current with local, national or world news?
- Seek regular advice from advisors and/or mentors?
- Belong to a community of learners?
- Listen to others and question myself?
- Observe and explore the world around me?
- Develop new knowledge and skills?
- Apply problem solving skills?
- Promote lifelong learning principles?
Social well-being is the sense of connection to others, a perception of belonging within a community, supporting others and receiving support in times of need. Reflect on your relationships and consider the following: “Do I …”
- Nurture old friendships as well as form new ones?
- Contribute positively to my community?
- Stay connected by scheduling regular time with significant people in my life?
- Interact with people of different ages, backgrounds, races and lifestyles?
- Demonstrate appreciation for family and friends?
- Have a mentor?
- Mentor others?
- Communicate on important matters to those I love?
- Grant forgiveness to myself and others?
- Trust others to support me when I need it?
We cannot avoid aging, but we can prepare for a long, healthy life by prioritizing prevention and self-care. Healthy habits are cumulative, and planting the seeds for well-being early and often with good habits become the foundation for longevity. Daily reminders of what is important and what you value provide permission to make changes and reroute as needed. Never give up on yourself. Start today and enjoy tomorrow! Our legacy lives on long after we are gone and our health habits shape the lives of the next generation. Caring for ourselves is also caring for others. For more details on successfully changing health behaviors, read “A Doctor’s Dozen; 12 Strategies for Personal Health and a Culture of Wellness.”