When we’re young it seems as though we have our whole lives ahead of us, and the bodies we were born with feel virtually indestructible. As we get older, however, our bodies can feel less and less reliable. Our lifestyles can prevent our bodies from being at their healthiest and most robust. An entire professional lifetime spent sitting, years of smoking and drinking, a diet full of heavily processed fatty, sugary and salty foods, stress, lack of sleep, lack of nutritional supplementation. All of these things can lead to an increase in health risk factors as we get older.
As such, many seniors find themselves at great risk of a range of chronic diseases. In fact, since 2012, around 117 million US adults had one or more chronic health conditions. That’s around 50% of the adult population. What’s more, 25% of adults had two or more chronic health conditions.
Chronic disease: The facts
Chronic diseases are accountable for most of the top 10 causes of death according to 2017 data from the CDC. Cancer and heart disease alone account for almost 50% of deaths in the US. Two of these chronic diseasesâ€”heart disease and cancerâ€”together accounted for nearly 46% of all deaths.
Obesity is also a huge health concern in an era where so many of us lead a sedentary lifestyle and subsist on fast and processed foods. Recent data indicates that 2 out of 3 adults in the US are either overweight or obese. Diabetes, on the other hand is not only responsible for deaths via kidney failure but limb loss and blindness.
Fortunately, even if you are advanced in years, your fate is not set in stone. Many chronic diseases are not an unavoidable fate written in our genetic code. They are lifestyle related and it’s through small but meaningful lifestyle changes that seniors can mitigate their chronic disease risk.
1- Get up and get active once an hour
Mobility is an issue for many seniors, but spending all day sitting can lead to increased risk of no less than 14 diseases including chronic diseases like heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease and even some forms of cancer.
Breaking up every hour of sitting with just 2 minutes of standing or light activity can mitigate disease risk by improving cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.
2- Eat more plants and less of everything else
Veggies are nature’s greatest source of phytonutrients, which are instrumental in protecting our bodies from chronic diseases. Numerous studies have indicated that wholefoods, plant based diets which eschew large quantities of meat, dairy and sugary snacks for veggies, legumes, cereals, herbs and spices is one of the most effective ways of preventing chronic disease.
3- Stub out your last cigarette
Many seniors started smoking in an era where the health risks were not widely known. In this enlightened age, however, we can no longer keep pulling the wool over our eyes. Hundreds of billions is still spent on direct medical care for patients experiencing health problems as a result of smoking. Smoking not only increases the risk of a range of cancers but also heart disease, diabetes and bronchitis.
The good news is that there are more solutions than ever to help you quit from nicotine gum to patches or even vaping.
4- Think before you drink
Alcohol plays a large part in many people’s lifestyles. But one would be hard pressed to find a more addictive and potentially dangerous substance when consumed regularly and to excess. Alcohol is linked to a range of chronic diseases from cirrhosis and hepatitis to chronic pancreatitis.
You don’t necessarily have to go tee-total, but it’s a good idea to make a friend of moderation.
5- Take a hike
It can be harder to stay active in our later years. But there’s no denying that regular cardiovascular exercise is a great way to keep chronic diseases like heart disease at bay. Even a brisk walk once or twice a day can make a big difference even if you sometimes need a walker.
6- Stay social
Loneliness is in itself considered a chronic disease and a major health risk. Loneliness can also exacerbate existing chronic illnesses. When we feel isolated and out of touch with those around us this can raise our stress levels and place us at increased risk of depression. This in turn can lower immune function and place additional stress on the cardiovascular system.
There’s a reason why we call it heartbreak, folks!
7- Relax and enjoy your retirement
Chronic stress and chronic disease go hand in hand. The whole point of retirement is that it’s meant to allow us to enjoy our senior years free of the stress of the working environment.
However, retirement has been linked to stresses of its own, which is why it’s more important than ever to relax and enjoy your retirement, taking the time to do the things that bring you happiness. Invest time in your hobbies, relationships and pursuits. Otherwise you could fall victim to boredom, depression and isolation.
8- Drink plenty of water
Staying well hydrated is one of the easiest and yet most important ways in which we can stay healthy. Every organ in the body needs water and when we don’t get enough of it, it placed greater stress on our vital organs and thus greater risk of chronic disease.
While we’re asleep our bodies carry out the routine maintenance and repairs that keep us fit and healthy. Without sleep, our bodies cannot function optimally and the immune system is compromised. Not to mention the stress and psychological harm that comes with a chronic lack of sleep.
Seniors should aim to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. If you’re having trouble sleeping, do not self-medicate with alcohol as this actually deprives the body and brain of REM sleep. See your doctor instead, which brings us to...
10- Don’t be a stranger to your doctor
Finally, regular visits to your primary healthcare provider can help you to identify risk factors before they become problems. The better your doctor knows your body, the better positioned they are to help you to lead a long, happy and healthy life.