What is Healthy Ageing?
Healthy ageing involves an individual taking steps in maintaining their functional ability and health as they grow older. Taking a healthier approach to ageing incorporates a focus on improving diet, increasing physical activity and participating in community social events to appropriately manage potential risk factors of disease that can appear while ageing.
Healthy ageing allows for older individuals to give themselves a head start into the later years of life and preventative measures for potential illnesses by being healthy from the beginning.
Why is Healthy Ageing Important?
Australia has an ageing population with an increasing number of older individuals living a full and productive life well into their 80s and 90s. In response to a growing ageing population, communities, society and governments should adapt and rethink what defines ageing and who ageing health services may be for. Ensuring there are appropriate health support systems and preparations for an ageing population is therefore vital for our older generation.
Where the true importance of healthy ageing lies is in facilitating and fostering a lifestyle of health, positive well-being and independence for older people. The facilitation of a healthy environment that supports older individuals through active social communities is critical to prevent potential illnesses and ensure they will get the care they need if they do fall sick.
While healthy ageing is a concept to ensure an older person’s health longevity, living a healthier life from the outset is even more beneficial. Actively thinking about how to maintain physical and mental health throughout life is a form of active ageing that benefits older individuals even more in the long run.
Defining Older Age
Older age usually refers to individuals who are nearing an average life expectancy. However, as people are beginning to age late into their 90s, old age is becoming quite clouded in definition.
The definition of older age is truly dependent on a multitude of factors including their living environment and physical, economic and social situation. These factors can also influence how a person ages. A standardised ‘older age’ can therefore never be truly achieved as older populations continue to grow.
In terms of healthy ageing, the specifics are not important. Being healthy should ideally start in adolescence and a lifelong perspective should be taken rather than one later in life. But, it is never too late to start.
What Are the Benefits of Healthy Ageing?
Healthy ageing has some serious payoffs not only for an individual later in their life but also for the economy, their close network of community and society as a whole. An older adult that remains healthy is able to keep up with modern, fast paced society, can extend their working life, and reduce unhealthy habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
There are a plethora of benefits that healthy ageing can have for an individual beyond maintaining their physical and mental capacity. It can have positive implications on their community and those around them, including:
- Community engagement with work, friends, family, colleagues or activities to combat social isolation to preserve brain health.
- Promote lifelong learning through constant mental and physical stimulation.
- Reduced pressure on the public health care system and long term residential aged care systems as residents can take care of themselves for longer
- Can halt chronic disease and health issues such as obesity, cancer, heart disease
- Gets individuals to stay physically active to retain their physical capacities and consume healthy food, promoting a healthier life
- Can increase the digital literacy of individuals to lessen the digital divide between generations
- Promotes inclusive communities (dementia friendly communities)
How Can We Promote Healthy Ageing?
The promotion of health literacy in older people and the aged care system should begin as early as possible to maintain good health and prevent potential illness. The main challenge here is applying this existing knowledge to help older people change their behaviour to look towards a healthy life.
Exercising regularly and being physically active
A relatively simple way to ensure healthy ageing is to keep physically active.
It is important to do a range of activities that target overall fitness, strength for muscles and bone density, balance for stability, cardiovascular health for the lungs and heart and flexibility for the whole body.
If there is a lack of motivation to exercise alone, getting a community or close network involved could give momentum to start some healthy habits.
How much physical activity is enough?
It is important to get at least 30 minutes of medium intensity exercise a day. This time can be split into three lots of ten minutes or a full 30 minutes depending on fitness level.
A physical activity does not have to be extremely strenuous by definition. Going about daily activities such as lawn bowls, golfing, swimming, clothes washing, gym workouts, shopping or bush walking could account for physical activity. However, ensuring that there is enjoyment from the activity is the most important aspect as if a person enjoys the activity they will stick with it.
It is always important to consult with an allied health professional or career in regards to the limitations of an individual’s physical function or health conditions that they may have.
Socialising with others
Older Australians are always looking for a chat. Joining in with the local community’s social engagement or creating groups with new or old friends is a great way to maintain contact with those on the same path.
Adapting to change in this way is great to meet new people or to start hobbies or participate in events and activities that were previously too hard to commit to or out of reach. Activities like learning a new language, playing an instrument, volunteering or teaching, developing computer skills, painting or just playing games are great ways to involve others, stay mentally active and improve social health.
Maintaining a healthy diet
An important aspect for healthy living at any age is a well balanced diet that will promote health and vitality. Including a variety of healthy, nutritious foods in a diet can improve an individual’s energy levels, mental health and physical health. Having regularly scheduled nutritious meals, when paired with physical activity, can increase strength and fight infection.
In its simplest form, having six to eight cups of water and three meals from the five main food groups a day is the easiest way to maintain a healthy diet. Eating foods with low saturated fat and reducing alcohol intake is also important in having a healthy diet.
Paying attention to your health
We know our bodies best. Therefore, constant attention regarding health and any existing health problems should be a top priority.
Watching your health as you age is very much an individual matter. Ageing increases the chance of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, sleep apnea, and osteoarthritis. It is important to recognise any concerns in health or deteriorating mental health to ensure that proper care is given to an individual who needs it.
Ignoring symptoms out of fear of ageing will only create more roadblocks in the long run, recognising a problem and attempting to fix it is the best way to move forward.
Consider your environment
Having a warm and welcoming community that promotes inclusivity is important for anyone’s wellbeing and has great impacts on a person’s quality of life. A productive and positive environment promotes healthier ageing and allows an older adult to remain active while connected to others on a similar journey.
By surrounding yourself with likeminded people, you can fully realise life’s purpose and understand future goals and aspirations.
Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
It is important to understand that preventing disease does not begin later in life, rather, it begins from adolescence and should be consistent throughout an individual’s life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including regular physical activity, appropriate mental stimulation and good nutrition plays a key role in preventing disease in older adults.
- Physical activity is the number one benefactor for maintaining functional ability and capacity for daily tasks, independence, self-sufficiency and quality of life for older people. Such activity can help break down barriers regarding social isolation through participation and community activities.
- Mental stimulation, socialising and learning new skills is a great way to keep individuals’ cognitive functions engaged and revitalise previously lost passions. Brain stimulation is also a great measure that one may take in order to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as it promotes healthy brain function.
- A balanced and healthy diet can reduce serious risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, bowel cancer and breast cancer. There has also been evidence of links between nutrition and mental health.
Strategies for Healthy Ageing
Creating a plan for your own or a loved one’s healthy ageing will promote their own health and could motivate even greater change. Some strategies for healthy ageing include:
- Creating time for people who are important to you
- Being aware and recognising your health issues and conditions
- Keeping your brain active by trying something new
- Regular physical activity or getting involved with lifestyle services
- Maintaining a healthy, well balanced diet
- Retaining a positive outlook and having fun
- Connecting with the local community, people of the same age and social groups
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Adapting to the changes in life instead of rejecting them
- Planning for age later in life