It may seem like there are many downsides to ageing – and of course, like anything, there are certainly some elements of ageing that may not be particularly desirable. But not all of them may be as inevitable as you might think – and some of the problems associated with ageing can be alleviated to a significant degree by preventative measures taken earlier. You can achieve greater results if you start young – but even if you’re older, there’s still plenty you can do to counter the downsides of ageing.
It’s easy to think that you get more and more immobile the older you get – and while this is somewhat true up to a point, immobility is not a given with age. We’ve all seen or heard news stories about people in their 90s running races, or playing golf or participating in long hikes or some other active pursuit. Clearly, some people are able to stay fit and mobile well into old age – and while we often think they just hit the good gene lottery, this may not represent the full picture.
In actuality, problems with immobility aren’t simply caused by ageing, but rather by inactivity. Recent studies have shown that around half of the physical decline associated with old age could in fact be due to a lack of physical activity.
The less you lose your muscles, the less they are able to do, and thus the less you can use them. It’s a vicious cycle that can be broken by maintaining an active lifestyle and incorporating plenty of exercise and movement into your daily routine. The old saying, “Use it or lose it” holds plenty of truth.
Try to spread small bursts of gentle to moderate exercise throughout the day, and limit the amount of sitting that you do. If you can, consider exercising outside as much as possible. There are many physical and mental health benefits to be gained by spending time in nature, plus it’s more enjoyable and you’ll be able to get some fresh air and Vitamin D as well.
And it doesn’t matter how old you are when you start exercising – you can still significantly reduce the risk of further health problems and improve any current symptoms. While starting as young as possible is the best option, it’s never too late to make a start.
Keep in mind though that certain medical conditions will also cause mobility problems – but exercise can help prevent many medical conditions as well. Many chronic health problems (such as arthritis, diabetes or heart disease) will be improved with exercise, which can often provide just as many benefits as medication.
Loss of balance
Older people tend to fall a lot – which can have extremely serious consequences as you age. Falls can lead to injuries such as broken bones, which can take a long time to heal, as well as head injuries and other more serious injuries. As well, feeling unsteady on your feet can lead to loss of confidence and a decreased likelihood of getting out and doing things, due to fear of falling.
Loss of balance is also not inevitable, however. Loss of balance and increasing unsteadiness can most often be attributed to increasing muscle weakness and lack of use, rather than ageing. And the solution to that is – you guessed it – exercise! The stronger your muscles are, the less likely you are to become unsteady and fall, so incorporate strength and weight bearing exercises into your routine on a regular basis. The earlier you start this, the better – but it’s never too late to take up exercise, and you’ll reap the benefits whenever you start.
As well, incorporate balance exercises to help you stay steady on your feet. Balance, like anything else, needs to be practiced, especially as you get older. Google ‘balance exercises for seniors’ to find a wealth of useful exercises, or see an exercise physiologist for a more tailored approach to balance exercises or if you need more help. Find an exercise professional near you here.
Of course, some medical conditions, such as inner ear conditions, as well as some medications, may cause dizziness and subsequently unsteadiness. This is a different issue though, which needs to be dealt with by your GP or health practitioner.
Click here to read more about preserving your balance as you get older.
It gets harder to keep the weight off as you get older, but again, excessive weight gain is not an inevitable part of ageing. While some weight gain is likely, a lot of weight gain will only cause health problems. Your metabolism does slow down as you age, and you’re likely to be less energetic than a younger person, but incorporating moderate, healthy eating and plenty of exercise will help keep the weight at bay, even as you age.
Weight gain may also be caused by certain medical conditions, which will need treatment by a medical professional. But exercise and healthy eating will certainly help with these as well.
The doddery old person always forgetting where they put their glasses is a common perception of older people – but it doesn’t have to be. While your memory will decline to some degree as you age (we start to lose brain cells in our late 20s), there are steps you can take to slow this decline. Exercise is one of them, as it increases blood flow to the brain. It’s also wise to keep your brain active and in use, by reading, doing puzzles, playing games and challenging your brain to learn new things on a regular basis.
Click here to discover how to slow the clock on brain ageing.
Ageing can sometimes be a lonely time, as you retire and move away from your circle of work acquaintances, and as friends and loved ones inevitably pass away. Don’t give in to loneliness and isolation though, as loneliness can have extremely negative effects on physical and mental health and wellbeing. Make an effort to spend time with friends and family members, and stay active and involved in the community. Moving into retirement or aged care facilities can also help, as you’ll be surrounded by an in-built community to socialise with.
It IS natural for your skin to wrinkle more as you age – but keep in mind, there are two types of wrinkles that you will develop:
- Genetic wrinkles (unavoidable)
- Situational wrinkles (semi-preventable)
Genetic wrinkles will affect us all, as gravity takes its toll on our skin over time. Despite any attempts at prevention, they will occur eventually (and you’ll need to accept that this will happen).
Situational wrinkles are different (think expression wrinkles, fine lines from smiling, frown lines or wrinkles from unprotected UV exposure). There’s nothing wrong with these wrinkles – you know what they say: wrinkles only go where the smiles have been – but there’s also nothing wrong with trying to delay their onset.
There are a few things you can do to strengthen your skin structure and minimise the extent of these wrinkles – and the most important is to apply sunscreen whenever you’re outside for any length of time. Not only will this help prevent wrinkles forming, it will also help prevent skin cancer. As well, keep your skin well moisturised (at least once daily), drink plenty of water, try a collagen supplement and choose skin care products containing strong active ingredients (such as retinol and bakuchiol).
While you can’t completely prevent situational wrinkles from forming eventually, you can slow them down and minimise their effects. The younger you start, the better the outcome will be.
While not every older adult experiences depression, it is quite common among seniors.
For many people, medication is the answer, but if you don’t want to go down that path, there are other options, such as mindfulness and meditation, that you can try. Exercise is also a great reliever of depressive symptoms, and can increase energy levels, improve sleep and mood, improve brain function and increase self-esteem and confidence.
Remember, the downsides of ageing are not inevitable – and many are not actually caused by ageing itself at all. You can always change your habits – you can exercise more, eat better, sleep more and stop smoking. And if you do, you’ll reap the benefits of better health well into old age.