For National Senior Citizens Day, Learn About Healthy Ageing

5 minute read

We’ve all heard how Canadians are living longer than ever before, but here’s an ageing-related fact that surprised me: Older people are still experiencing age-related health complications, like chronic disease and injury, at a similar age onset as the previous generation.

This means that, while people are living longer, they are living longer with underlying health complications. Many health problems older people face are related to chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Luckily, there are things we can all be doing (regardless of age) to prevent or delay the onset of disease and stay healthy as we get older. 

In February 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health. Its aim is to build “a world where adults will live not only longer but healthier lives.” Part of the WHO’s ageing strategy was the creation of the WHO Guidelines on Integrated Care for Older People, which propose recommendations on how to live independently for longer, such as being able to do the things you want to do and remain living in your own home. Two of the six recommendations focus on physical activity: to improve function and mobility, and to prevent falls. In short, it is recommended that older people take part in multimodal exercise, which includes strength/resistance training, balance, flexibility, and aerobic training. 

Canada’s physical activity guidelines for adults over 65 follow the WHO’s recommendations. As for adults aged 18-65 years, older adults should accumulate 150 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, in bouts of ten minutes or more, and to engage in muscle and bone strengthening activities at least two days per week. Older adults should also perform physical activities to enhance balance and prevent falls. As we get older, we start to lose muscle mass, strength, and flexibility, and can have problems with balance. This is something that affects all adults, as your muscle mass and strength slowly start to decline in your 30s and 40s, with more profound changes starting in your 50s. Studies report that after age 50, you lose about 15% of your muscle strength each decade. 

The key to bucking this trend: STAY ACTIVE as you age!

Physical activity also boosts your confidence, gives you energy, helps prevent chronic disease, and helps you stay independent. Here are a few tips to stay fit and nimble as you age:

1. Talk to a fitness professional.

  • Whether you’re new to physical activity, or want to update your routine, fitness professionals can design personalized exercise programs that are safe and tailored to your needs. Some are even free, such as HealthLinkBC.

2. Be active often.

  • It’s safer and more effective to be physically active often, such as everyday or every second day, rather than just one long workout on the weekend.

3. Take a class at your local recreation or community centre.

  • Bring a friend along if you’re feeling a bit timid — they’ll also help you stay motivated. Group classes also allow you to meet new people and socialize.

4. Maintain your muscles with weight bearing activities.

  • Examples of weight bearing activities include walking, dancing, climbing stairs, gardening, yoga, tai chi, golf, tennis, etc. 
  • You could also try lifting weights at the gym or at home. Many parks across the country have outdoor exercise equipment you can use for free. If you want to improve strength, set goals and track your progress.

5. Avoid sitting for long periods of time. 

  • If you are doing something that requires sitting, try to get up and move around or stretch every 20-30 minutes.

6. Eat a healthy diet. 

  • Aim to eat food that contains protein at each meal, such as milk or dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts. Protein helps build muscle and, when combined with resistance training, can help you stay mobile and avoid falls. 
  • Follow the Canadian guidelines for calcium and vitamin D. Calcium keeps your bones and muscles healthy and strong. Vitamin D allows your body to absorb calcium. Talk with your doctor about how much vitamin D and calcium you need.

7. Keep on top of medical appointments. 

  • Schedule regular checkups with your doctor and ask about screening tests you may need as you get older. 
  • Some prescription medications can increase older adults’ risk of falls if they are not taken with care. If medications cause dizziness or fatigue, adjust activities to minimize the risk of falling. A health care provider or pharmacist should do regular reviews of prescription medications and supplements.
  • For more on making the most of medical appointments and taking charge of your health care, click here 

What are your favourite activities to stay physically active? Comment below!

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