Tips for a Healthy Life

Making the changes for a healthier lifestyle is a gradual process, contrary to popular belief. New Year’s resolutions rarely result in completely new healthy you. Instead, the move toward a better health is often a gradual transformation that starts with a decision and moves forward with education and effort. Some healthy habits are common sense. Others are counter-intuitive because of the dissonant nature of our modern world. It takes time to get the hang of it, especially if you have not been living a wholesome life before. And there are so many different things that we can do for better health and wellbeing that advice can become confusing or just plain overwhelming. Beyond this, some lifestyle changes are simply more practical than others. These healthy living tips are ranked by practicality and expense, with number ten requiring more effort and number one being the absolute easiest change to make. Some of these healthy tips are simple, free and easy. Others may be very difficult depending on your circumstances, but worth their effort in gold for the payback you will receive in health, longevity and quality of life.

1) Do A Job You Love

love your jobSome healthy living choices don’t involve preventing possible harm as much as improving the quality of your life. How do you feel when you are at work? Are you happy? Do you have a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment? Or do you dread the moment your foot crosses the threshold and the hours of your life that belong to others? Most Americans spend the largest portion of their waking hours working at their jobs, preparing for work, or driving to and from work. All these hours are spent just to pay for the place where they rest their heads for the 8 hours and start again. Many go from a hectic work life to a hectic home-life with literally no time for themselves. When put in this perspective, is it not important to ensure that the largest part of your waking day, your working hours, involve doing something that you love?

How to start: If you are not happy on your current career path, consider what you would rather be doing. Does it involve gaining more education? Then go back to school. It’s never to late to learn. Learning is also healthy for the brain at any age. Recent research shows that learning can greatly improve brain function, even in the elderly. If you like what you are doing, but just not who you are doing it for, consider finding a different employer or even going into business for yourself. A study by the Pew Research Center shows that for the most part, job satisfaction is higher among the self-employed, even when they work more hours and make less money.

Practicality: Making a change of this magnitude is definitely complicated. It takes a lot of work to change jobs and an almost herculean effort to gain a higher education while working full time. This falls into the category of wanting it more than you mind the inconvenience.

Expense: This can be one of the most expensive, or most profitable changes that you can make in your life depending on the circumstances. Yet financial gain is not the point of this tip. The point is that money can’t buy you happiness, but doing what you love every day is a way to guarantee it.

2) Stay Home When You’re Sick

sickThis tip will not only benefit you, it will benefit others around you as well. Infectious diseases are just that-infectious. When you go to work or school sick, you not only risk worsening your own condition, but also spreading it to others. Influenza and pneumonia are among the ten leading causes of death in America. Every year, the flu virus spreads like wildfire through schools and offices. This has the sad result of multiplying lost workdays or schooldays exponentially, rather than simply allowing the time for one valuable employee or student to recover properly.

How to start: Develop a great relationship with your employer and don’t skip school when you aren’t sick. Save those days for when you are. Those with good work/school attendance records are less likely to find themselves in the bad position of making an appearance when contagious. If you are an employer, respect your employees’ sick days. Some will naturally have more than others, but punishing an employee for absenteeism isn’t worth catching what they have or spreading it to the rest of your workforce.

Practicality: This is a tradeoff. It’s more practical for employers to lose a little bit of labor that risk their entire workforce. As far as losing money without sick leave, you will recover faster if you rest while you are ill, resulting in less work lost overall.

Expense: There is no denying that it is expensive to lose days of work to illness. Negotiate with your employer for sick leave, and if this cannot be accommodated with your current job, save up for the unexpected. You are virtually guaranteed to face sickness at one time or another, whether contagious or not. This should be a part of your budget just like groceries or gas.

3) Reduce Stress

stressA little stress is good. It gives your life excitement. Too much of the wrong stress however can be downright deadly.

Here’s how excess stress can harm your health:

  • decrease in immune system function – Stress lowers the production of natural killer cells and seriously depletes T-cells, both of which kill infections and cancer
  • damage to blood vessels and heart – Stress constricts blood vessels and causes faster heartbeat, thus increasing blood pressure
  • weight gain – Stress causes the release of cortisol which triggers overeating and storage of fat

How to start: Foster healthy connections with other people. If a situation is causing you stress and you can’t solve it alone, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help. Do not ignore your problems. Confront them in a positive way. Meditate. Meditation does not involve sitting cross-legged and humming unless you want it to. There are many great ways to meditate. Sitting quietly by a lake or reading poetry can be just as beneficial as doing power yoga.

Practicality: Implementing these changes can be very difficult. The problem with making these changes is that it involves addressing life relationships, problems at work and personal habits. It takes bravery to confront the things that cause us stress in a productive way. It can help to seek professional help if stress is severe or life problems cannot be handled individually.

Expense: This can go either way. If handling stress involves changing jobs, it can be very expensive. If counseling is needed, insurance may absorb the costs, but perhaps not all of them. Some life changes, such as meditating and spending more time on things you enjoy are easy and free. Soak up the good moments. Life is for living well.

Staying Healthy in Your 70s, 80s, 90s…

Aging can be defined as: “progressive changes related to the passing of time.” While physiological changes that occur with age may prevent life in your 70s, 80s and beyond from being what it was in your younger years, there’s a lot you can do to improve your health and longevity and reduce your risk for physical and mental disability as you get older.

Research shows that you’re likely to live an average of about 10 years longer than your parents—and not only that, but you’re likely to live healthier longer too. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 40.4 million Americans (about 13 percent) were 65 years of age or older in 2010 and by the year 2030, almost 20 percent of the total U.S. population will be 65+.

So how do you give yourself the best possible chance for a long, healthy life? Although you aren’t able to control every factor that affects health as you age, many are in your hands. Some keys to living a long, healthy life include:

  • Make healthful lifestyle choices—don’t smoke, eat right, practice good hygiene, and reduce stress in your life
  • Have a positive outlook
  • Stay as active as possible—mentally and physically
  • Take safety precautions
  • See your health care provider regularly and follow his or her recommendations for screening and preventative measures

One of the most important things you can do to stay healthy in your golden years is to maintain your sense of purpose by staying connected to people and things that matter to you. However, this isn’t always easy—especially in a society that all-too-often views older people as a burden.

Visit your local senior center. Spend time with at least one person—a family member, friend or neighbor—every day. Volunteer in your community, attend a local event, join a club or take up a new hobby.

According to our sister publication REMEDY’s Healthy Living Fall 2014, walking may help prevent physical disability later in life. In a large study of older Americans, researchers focused on sedentary men and women between the ages of 70 and 89 who either met twice a week for a supervised walk around a track and received instruction to walk or do balance and flexibility exercises three to four times a week at home or attended weekly workshops on healthy aging.

After an average of 2.6 years, the walkers were 28 percent less likely to have become persistently physically disabled than the non-walkers, suggesting that it’s never too late to start.

Stress and Aging

Stress can have an enormous impact on your health and your quality of life at any age—and even more so as you get older. In fact, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, depression and anxiety are linked to physical decline in seniors. Concerns like: “Will there enough money now that I’m retired?” and “What will happen if I get a serious illness or become disabled?” are common in older adults.

Elderly Woman Stress Image

As you age, you’re also more likely to experience emotional trauma associated with loss—the deaths of people close to you (friends, family members, spouse), your own health, and/or your independence. For many seniors, dealing with the loneliness caused by multiple losses can lead to a diminished investment in life—especially when combined with other issues, like financial concerns.

Try these tips to help deal with difficult changes:

  • Focus on being thankful. Appreciate and enjoy your life and don’t take people or things for granted.
  • Acknowledge your feelings and express them. Talk to a friend, family member or health care professional, write in a journal or join a support group.
  • Embrace your spirituality.
  • Accept that some things are out of your control.
  • Try to keep your sense of humor.

Seniors are at increased risk for depression. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or unable to cope or deal with stress, it’s important to reach out to family, friends, caregivers and health care providers. To locate services for older adults (and family members) in your area, visit the Eldercare Locator provided by the U.S. Administration on Aging or call 1.800.677.1116.

Health Concerns in Your 70s and Older

The risk for certain medical conditions—including heart attack, stroke, dementia, diabetes, lung disease, chronic pain, some types of cancer and other health concerns increases with age. However, healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk for many of these issues. Helpful tip: Put “ICE” (in case of emergency in your cell phone contact list in front of the name(s) of family member(s)/friend(s) to call if something happens to you so bystanders or first responders will know who to get in touch with.

Here are some other common problems that can develop, even in relatively-healthy seniors:

Elderly Man Image

Balance Disorders—Many older people experience problems with balance and dizziness (vertigo). There are many different causes for balance disorders, so contact your health care provider if you feel unsteady or dizzy. Falls and fall-related injuries (including hip fractures) are serious concerns that can have a significant impact on your life and your ability to live independently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of adults 65 years of age and older fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in seniors.

Memory Problems—It’s important to know: While some degree of forgetfulness is normal with age, significant memory loss or cognitive decline is not an inevitable part of normal aging. If you experience mental lapses that interfere with daily life, contact your health care provider. Serious memory problems or a decrease in cognitive function may be caused by a treatable, underlying condition—such as dehydration, malnutrition or sleep deprivation—or a medical problem like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Inadequate Nutrition—As you get older, it’s more important than ever to eat right to stay healthy and maintain energy levels. However, good nutrition is a challenge for many seniors. Changes in your senses of taste and smell can affect your appetite. Slower digestion and metabolism can change how your body processes food. You may have difficulty shopping for, purchasing or preparing nutritious foods and meals.

If you’re having trouble maintaining a healthy diet, talk to a family member or your health care provider. Many communities have programs that provide healthy meals to seniors.

Changes in digestion also increase choking and food-borne illness risk in older adults. As you age, your body produces less saliva and stomach acid and your digestion slows down. These changes make it easier to choke on foods and make it harder to get rid of harmful bacteria in your system. Also, changes in smell and taste may impair your ability to know when a food is spoiled.

Slower digestion also can cause constipation. Make sure to get enough fiber—found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains—in your diet.

Lack of Exercise—Exercise is an important part of a good health at every age; however, many older adults don’t get the recommended amounts of physical activity. Staying active can boost vitality, help maintain strength and flexibility, improve mental function, reduce your risk for health problems, and even help relieve chronic pain. Be sure to talk to your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.

Senior Man Woman Tennis Image

Find an activity you enjoy and begin slowly. Try to incorporate endurance activities, strengthening exercises, stretching and balancing exercises into your exercise program. Good choices include walking, swimming, biking, gardening, tai chi and exercise classes designed for seniors.

Trouble Sleeping—Many older adults do not get enough sleep. Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) and excessive daytime sleepiness are common problems. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, enlarged prostate), which affects as many as 90 percent of men in their 70s and 80s, can cause frequent nighttime urination that disrupts sleep.

If you’re having problems sleeping, talk to your health care provider. These good sleep hygiene tips might be helpful:

  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet and that it’s not too warm.
  • Adjust your bedtimes. Go to bed when you feel tired and get up at the same time each day.
  • Turn off the TV at least one hour before going to bed.
  • Wind down before bed by taking a bath or listening to soft music.

Other Concerns in Your 70s and Older

Safety is a serious issue for many seniors—especially those who are living alone and experiencing varying degrees of physical and/or mental decline. In addition to falls and choking hazards, concerns include the following:

  • Driving safety (Giving up driving means giving up a measure of independence. Seniors may be unwilling to stop driving, even though continuing to drive can pose a safety risk for themselves and for others.)
  • Fire/smoke safety (Memory lapses, which are more common in older adults, increase the risk for household fires caused by cooking, candles or smoking. It’s important to have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.)
  • Extremely hot or cold weather. (Seniors are at increased risk for health problems caused by hot or cold temperatures, especially when the cooling or heating systems in their homes aren’t functioning properly.)

Older adults are at increased risk for certain types of crime, including burglary and fraud—identity theft, fake check and wire transfer scams, investment and credit card fraud and fake online charity solicitations.

Unfortunately, many also are at risk for another type of crime that takes place in their home, in the home of a family member, or in a living facility or nursing home and is committed by people responsible for their care. Called elder abuse, this type of crime can take many forms. Elder abuse can be physical, emotional (psychological) or sexual. It may involve neglect, abandonment or financial exploitation. Physical elder abuse is the non-accidental use of force against an elderly person that causes injury or pain. It includes hitting, shoving and kicking, as well as misusing drugs, restraints or confinements on a person who is elderly.

  • Emotional or psychological elder abuse can be verbal or non-verbal. It includes intimidation (e.g., through yelling or threatening), humiliation and ridicule, as well as ignoring, terrorizing or isolating the elder from family and friends.
  • Sexual elder abuse involves sexual contact with a senior without his or her consent, as well as forcing the elder to view pornographic material, watch sexual acts or undress.
  • Neglect and abandonment are the most common type of elder abuse. They involve failing to fulfill care-taking obligations—either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Financial exploitation elder abuse involves the unauthorized use of the elder’s assets—funds or property. It also includes health care fraud and abuse, which is carried out by unethical health care providers and involves charging for health care services not provided, overcharging for services, over- or under-medicating, and insurance fraud.

Health Care Recommendations in Your 70s and Older

Senior Couple Healthy Image

The risk for a number of medical conditions increases with age. In fact, some studies show that the average person 75 years of age has three chronic medical problems—ranging from minor to serious. If you have concerns or questions about your health, talk to your health care provider. You may find it helpful to have a trusted family member or friend accompany you to your medical appointments.

One of the most important ways to stay healthy in your 70s and beyond is to seek the care of a geriatric physician, also called a geriatrician. Geriatric physicians are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and disability in older adults. They are specially-trained in the aging process and provide comprehensive health care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicators that can be used to help assess health in older adults have been identified. These indicators are related to health status, health behaviors and compliance with preventative care recommendations and include the following:

  • Number of physically unhealthy days reported per month (due to illness or injury)
  • Frequent mental distress (depression, stress, anxiety or emotional problems reported on 14 or more days per month)
  • Complete loss of natural teeth
  • Current smoking status (smoker or non-smoker)
  • Lack of leisure time/physical activity
  • Regularly eating fewer than 5 fruits and vegetables per day
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or greater)
  • Reported disability (physical, mental or emotional) that limits activity or requires special equipment (cane, walker, wheelchair, hearing-impaired telephone)
  • Hip fracture
  • Receiving a yearly flu vaccine
  • Following routine health care / screening procedure recommendations (cancer, high cholesterol)

General health care recommendations in your 70s and older include the following:

  • Blood pressure screening—every 2 years or as recommended
  • Bone mineral density test—as recommended to screen for osteoporosis (bone loss)
  • Cholesterol screening—every 5 years or as recommended
  • Colorectal cancer screening—as recommended
  • Dental exam—every 6 months or as recommended
  • Diabetes screening—every 3 years or as recommended
  • Eye exam—every 1 – 2 years or as recommended by an ophthalmologist
  • Hearing test—yearly or as recommended
  • Immunizations—yearly flu vaccine, herpes zoster vaccine (to prevent shingles; if not previously vaccinated), pneumonia vaccine (as recommended, if not previously vaccinated), tetanus (every 10 years)
  • Mammogram (women)—as recommended by your health care provider
  • Pelvic exam (women)—yearly or as recommended
  • Pap test (women)—as recommended by your health care provider (Most women over the age of 65 usually do not need this test.)
  • Prostate cancer screening (men)—as recommended by your health care provider
  • Thyroid test (TSH)—as recommended by your health care provider

Clean Eating

You’ve probably heard of clean eating, but you may not know what it is exactly or how to go about cleaning up your diet. It’s about eating more of the best and healthiest options in each of the food groups—and eating less of the not-so-healthy ones. That means embracing whole foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus healthy proteins and fats. It also means cutting back on refined grains, additives, preservatives, unhealthy fats and large amounts of added sugar and salt. And avoiding highly refined foods with ingredients you’d need a lab technician to help you pronounce.

Some clean-eating plans call for eliminating lots of food groups—think coffee, dairy, grains and more. We don’t believe in being that restrictive. Not only will you take away some of the enjoyment of eating, but there isn’t much science to back up any benefits. You need to find a clean eating style that works for you, even if that means eating a little “dirty” sometimes. If you only take a few steps toward eating cleaner—cutting back on processed foods, for example, or eating more fruits and veggies (and, if it works for you, buying a few more organic)—it can still make an impact on your health. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.

Zucchini Lasagna Rolls in a white baking pan

1. Load Up On Fruits and Vegetables

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, most of us aren’t getting enough. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 percent of Americans don’t get enough fruit each day and a whopping 87 percent aren’t eating enough servings of vegetables. Eating more fruit and vegetables can help significantly reduce your risk for a number of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. The fiber in whole produce also helps keep your microbiome (the collection of good bacteria that live in your gut) happy, which can reduce your risk for autoimmune diseases, fight off pathogens and infections and even improve your mood. Choose organic produce where you can, focusing on buying organic foods from the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list and cutting yourself some slack with the Clean 15 foods list.

Lemon-Pepper Linguine with Squash

2. Go Whole Grain

The cleanest whole grains are the ones that have been touched the least by processing. Think whole grains that look most like their just-harvested state—quinoa, wild rice, oats. While some people abstain from eating any processed grains, we think that whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain bread made with simple ingredients are part of eating clean. Sometimes you just need a hearty slice of avocado toast or a bowl of pasta. Don’t get duped by “whole-grain” claims on labels though, to eat clean packaged whole grains you’re going need to take a closer look at the ingredients. Whole grains should always be the first ingredient, the ingredient list should be short and recognizable, and it should have minimal (if any) added sugar. When you swap out refined carbs (like white pasta, sugar, and white bread) for whole grains you’ll get more fiber, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients. Plus, people who eat more whole grains have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off long term.

Kale Salad with Spiced Tofu & Chickpeas

3. Eat Less Meat

More and more research suggests cutting back on meat is healthier for you and the planet. Veganism isn’t a requirement for clean eating though—just eating less meat can help reduce your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease and help keep your weight in check. Plus, eating more plants helps bump up the fiber, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals in your diet. And if you’re worried about getting enough protein by cutting down on meat—that shouldn’t be an issue. Most Americans get much more than the recommended 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (approximately 56 grams daily for men and 46 grams daily for women) and it’s easy to get that much protein eating a vegetarian or even vegan diet. Eggs, dairy (for a clean option, choose dairy with no added sugar and simple ingredients) beans and nuts all offer protein—see our list of top vegetarian protein sources for even more options. When you do eat meat, choose options that haven’t been pumped with antibiotics and even better if they’ve lived and eaten like they would in the wild (think grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon). Clean eating also means cutting down on processed meats like cold cuts, bacon and sausage.

Homemade Trail Mix

4. Watch Out for Processed Foods

We’re not opposed to all processed foods. Technically when we chop, mix and cook at home we are processing foods. The trouble is that so much of processed food at the grocery store is processed beyond the point of recognition. Nature certainly didn’t color those chips that neon color of orange or make blue candy-colored cereal. Keep an eye out for anything with lots of sugar and refined grains, super-long ingredient lists with foods you don’t recognize and anything with partially hydrogenated oils. Clean processed foods exist like plain yogurt, cheese, whole-wheat pasta, and packaged baby spinach. And while you can make salad dressings, pasta sauce, mayo, hummus and broth at home you can also find clean versions at the store. Just read the ingredient list. Our bodies digest processed and unprocessed foods differently. In the case of white bread vs. whole wheat bread the machine has already started to process the white bread for you—stripping away the bran and germ—and leaving your body with less work to do. Limiting packaged foods can also reduce your exposure to BPA (found in some canned foods) and other chemicals found in plastics.

No-Sugar-Added Oatmeal Cookies

5. Limit Added Sugar

Most people eat too many added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends no more than about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. The average American gets about 4 times that amount—28 teaspoons of added sugar per day. To clean up your diet, cut down on added sugars by limiting sweets like soda, candy and baked goods. But it’s more than just desserts—keep an eye on sugars added to healthier foods like yogurt (choose plain), tomato sauce and cereal. Look for foods without sugar as an ingredient, or make sure it’s listed towards the bottom, which means less of it is used in the food. And you don’t have to worry as much about naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy. They come packaged with fiber, protein or fat to help blunt the effect of sugar on insulin levels. They also deliver nutrients so you’re not just getting empty, sugary calories.