Five tips to help you stay healthy as you get older

Dr Lynsey Baird
Lead Physician at Bupa Health Centre Glasgow
04 December 2018

There are lots of things to look forward to as you grow older – retirement, travel or simply having more time to do the things you enjoy. But it’s also natural to worry about your health and wonder how you can look after yourself in the years to come.

There’s no one thing you can do that will guarantee you won’t become unwell. But there are many things you can do to help look after your health and improve your quality of life. And it’s never too late to start practising healthy habits. Here I’ll share my top five tips to looking after your health as you get older.

1. Keep moving

Exercise is a key part of staying healthy at every age. But as you get older, it’s even more important to stay active. Regular exercise can help you to:

  • look after your heart health
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • keep your muscles and bones strong
  • stay mobile and independent
  • keep your brain and thinking skills sharp
  • keep your balance
  • look after your mental health

Staying active as you get older will also reduce your likelihood of having a fall and becoming injured, or developing osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Try to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, over the week, along with some strength training twice a week. You can try breaking this up into small chunks and gradually building up your fitness. Walking, gardening, dancing, yoga, pilates, tai chi and swimming are all great ways to stay active.

If you have a medical condition which makes it difficult to exercise, speak to your GP or a physiotherapist who will be able to recommend exercises that are suitable for you. They may even be able to show you some seated exercises to do at home.

You could also try teaming up with a friend to go for a walk or try an exercise class together. It’s also worth finding out if there are any exercise schemes run in your local community.

2. Eat a balanced diet

As you get older, your nutritional needs change. Your body doesn’t need to as much energy (in the form of calories) as it once did, so you might find that your appetite decreases. There are also some vitamins and minerals you should aim to get more of. Try to eat a varied diet, have smaller meals, but more often and remember to drink plenty of fluids too.

Aim to eat a diet that’s high in:

  • fibre to help look after your bowels – for example, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains
  • omega-3 for your heart health – oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are good sources
  • B vitamins – particularly B6, B12 and folate which are found in fish, meat, fortified cereals, and eggs
  • calcium to keep your bones strong – found in yoghurt, cheese, salmon and kale
  • vitamin D, also for your bone health – good sources include oily fish, fortified cereals and eggs

If you’re over 65 and find it hard to get out into daylight regularly, it’s recommended that you take a vitamin D supplement.

Although a little bit of what you fancy is OK, try to limit foods that are high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. Keep your alcohol intake to no more than 14 units over the week too.

Eating a healthy diet will also help to look after your teeth as your get older.

3. Have regular medical check-ups

Although you might be tempted to skip these, it’s important to have regular health check-ups as you get older. If you do develop any health issues, in many cases, spotting them sooner rather than later will give you and your medical professional the best chance of managing them or preventing them from getting any worse.

Checking your sight and hearing regularly can help to keep you safe when moving and balancing. The NHS provides free eyesight tests for over 60s and you can ask your GP for a hearing test. Some pharmacies and opticians also offer free eyesight and hearing tests.

Most people aged between 40 and 74 will be invited for a free NHS health check every five years. Some employers also offer health assessments, or you can pay to have a private health assessment if you prefer.

If you’re taking any medication, be sure to have these reviewed regularly with your GP so you can make sure they’re working well for you.

4. Socialise and stay connected

Maintaining relationships and feeling connected are very important for your mental wellbeing. But if you can’t get around as easily as you once did, or have lost loved ones, growing older can leave you at risk of isolation and loneliness.

Try to stay connected with friends and family and spend time with others where you can. Use email and phones to stay in touch with loved ones who may have moved away. Other ways to meet new and like-minded people could include

  • volunteering for charities
  • getting involved in your local community
  • going to a beginners group exercise session
  • taking a class, for example, in art or a craft
  • signing up to a group holiday, such as a cruise or a walking holiday

5. Keep your mind active

No matter what your age, it’s not just your physical health that you need to look after, but your mental health too. Keeping busy through hobbies and learning new skills can help to keep your brain active and stimulated. Many people are worried about developing dementia as they get older, but it’s important to remember that some age-related memory loss is normal. But if you’re becoming confused or regularly forgetting basic things, speak to your GP for advice.

Although there’s not enough evidence just yet that brain training can prevent dementia, things like crosswords and puzzles can help to keep you mentally active. So why not take the time to do something you’ve always wanted to do, like writing a book, travel or learning to play an instrument?

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

Dr Lynsey Baird
Dr Lynsey Baird
Lead Physician at Bupa Health Centre Glasgow

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