It’s really not about how long you live, it’s about how well you live.
We all want to age well, but many of us only think about increasing our longevity without giving much thought to increasing the quality of the years we live. Quality of life is particularly important as we get older – you may live to be 100, but if those years are marked by poor health, limited mobility, pain and memory loss, then what have you really gained? Ageing can be beset by problems – but they’re not as inevitable as you might think. While some of the problems associated with ageing as due to genetics, many are not – and can be modified or reduced with healthy habits and smart strategies. Here are eight ways to improve your quality of life as you age – and help ensure that getting older doesn’t mean a steep slide downhill.
Meaningful relationships keep us happy and healthy, and we need regular contact with friends and family at any age. Staying connected protects us against the loneliness, isolation and depression that too often plagues older people, and provides support when we need it. Staying socially active has enormous benefits as we get older, and can improve quality of life by improving, positive feelings, decreasing negative feelings and even improving our physical health. So, look for opportunities to reconnect with old friends, seek out new contacts via activity groups or volunteer work and keep in regular contact with family members – it’s all good for your quality of life.
Watch your mental health
Mental health is crucial to quality of life, and it’s a lifelong task to ensure you stay mentally healthy. Mental health can degenerate as you age, with older people being more prone to despair, loneliness, depression and anxiety – so it’s vital to get good mental health strategies in place before problems set in. Things like staying active, getting some sunlight every day, making social connections, having a purpose, eating a brain-healthy diet, getting enough sleep, talking out your problems, finding ways to reduce stress, spending time in nature, being creative and adopting relaxation or meditation practices will all help you stay mentally healthy and well.
Exercise has been repeatedly proven to be the magic bullet when it comes to longevity – but it also has a huge role to play when it comes to quality of life. The benefits of exercise are many and varied, and include helping to prevent chronic diseases, reducing weight, reducing pain, minimising your risk of contracting dementia, alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, improving muscle tone, functional strength and balance and improving your sleep. That’s a whole lot of quality of life you can gain access to just by moving your body daily! And there are so many ways of exercising, you’re sure to find something you enjoy doing, even if it’s as simple as going for a daily walk around the block. Any amount of exercise is useful, and even small amounts during the day will add up to improved quality of life over time. And don’t forget about exercise endorphins, which make you feel happier, better and more satisfied after exercising.
Poor nutrition equals poor health over a lifetime – you may be able to get away with a bad diet when you’re younger, but it’s sure to catch up with you when you age. And a poor diet will only lead to weight gain, chronic health conditions such as heart disease, strokes and diabetes, and poorer wellbeing. Instead, focus on eating a nutritious and balanced diet high in fruit, vegetables, lean protein and nuts, and reduce bad fats, sugar and highly processed foods.
Get the sleep you need
The importance of sleep can’t be overstated when it comes to good health and quality of life. The recommendation for older adults is between seven and eight hours of sleep per night, but this amount can sometimes be hard to get on a regular basis. If you’re experiencing sleep difficulties, speak to your doctor, or practice some of the good sleep hygiene strategies you’ll find here.
Try new things and challenge your brain
Your mind needs exercise just as your body does, and there’s plenty you can do to keep your brain healthy and your mind sharp as you age. Activities such as reading books, learning new things, doing puzzles, engaging in stimulating discussions and problem solving are all great ways to exercise the mind. Participating in hobbies is also a great way to stay mentally sharp, as is travel and trying new things. And it doesn’t have to be anything too drastic – even just taking new routes to familiar places or visiting somewhere new can have wonderful benefits for your brain. Don’t stay in a familiar, comfortable rut, instead get in the habit of trying new things regularly and challenging your brain – all these things will add up to a better quality of life and a much more sharp and elastic brain.
Having a positive mindset goes a long way towards improving your health, both mentally and physically. Constant negativity can be very damaging to your wellbeing and outlook – and studies have proven that people who maintain a positive attitude not only live longer, they also have a better quality of life in those years.
So, stay aware of any negative attitudes creeping in, and challenge them when you notice them – can you reframe your thinking in some way? Don’t let limiting beliefs stop you from trying new things (you’re never too old) and practice gratitude daily – it can really help you reap the benefits of looking on the bright side.
Don’t neglect your medical check-ups
Regular check-ups with your doctor, dentist, optician or specialist healthcare providers allow you to catch problems early and get on top of them before they become much bigger problems. And having to deal with fewer chronic health issues will obviously improve your quality of life enormously.
Click here to read more about how to counter the downsides of ageing.