Kewal Kapoor, Director & Creative Strategist, CHAI Creative and Return of Million Smiles
Increasing life expectancy and improvements in longevity have ensured that we are facing the prospect of a burgeoning elderly population the world over. Medicinal advancements have resulted in remarkable decline in infectious diseases – that were the bane of the last century – and have also ushered in advanced treatments of non-communicable diseases to help prolong lives and improve wellness. However, as we witness a rise in the population of the elderly, it is also important to change our attitudes and approach towards ageing.
Entering the other side of 60 doesn’t mean that you must start preparing for the end of your journey. Rather, this new phase must be looked upon as an enriching second innings of life. Paying complete attention to healthy living practices, staying physically active and mentally agile and finding new purposes and horizons can help you lead productive and healthy older lives. An American study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found that a 70-year-old man has a 54% chance of reaching the age of 90 if he does not smoke or have diabetes, has healthy weight and blood pressure, and exercises. This clearly demonstrates what we already know anecdotally – that health and wellness in old age is a direct function of your lifestyle and living habits.
As we move towards the era of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression, among others, let’s take a look at some factors that can play critical roles in improving health and wellness after 60 years of age.
Watch your plate
In many ways ‘you are what you eat’! If you want to enjoy a long and healthy life, it is imperative that you make some necessary dietary changes. While the importance of healthy eating must never be underestimated, it becomes all the more pronounced once you cross 60. Limit processed foods and foods rich in sugar. Aim to consume a wide variety of foods rich in wholesome nutrition and anti oxidants. Lean meats and proteins such as chicken and legumes, fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium rich dairy products and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables must be part of your daily diet. So should be a lot of fibre. Our digestive system slows down as we age as the problem of constipation tends to become more pronounced. Eating fibre rich foods keeps the digestive system healthy. Also, consult with your doctors about the need for consuming calcium, vitamin D and magnesium supplements.
Stay physically active and maintain healthy weight
Exercising daily is the key to long-lasting health. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily but make sure you do what is appropriate for you. It is all the more important to choose an activity that you enjoy – walking, yoga, swimming and mild aerobic exercises are very critical for maintaining good heart health and flexibility.
Stimulate your mind
A growing body of evidence suggests that regularly indulging in mind stimulating activities can help elderly people stay mentally sharp and reduce the risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline.It is important therefore to keep yourself engaged in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, playing board games, crossword puzzles or Sudoku. If you haven’t ever tried your hand at any of these activities, 60 is a good time to start. Afterall, you will have more time post retirement.
Stay socially active
Ageing must not turn you into a recluse. We often observe elderly people, especially in India, cut themselves off from social lives and start spending greater time alone. An increasing turn towards nuclear families has meant that a large number of elderly parents are today staying alone with their children placed in distant locations for work. There is evidence that loneliness increases chances of depression and illness. This is why elderly people must make especial efforts to stay socially active, keep in regular touch with relatives and be an active part of the community you live in. A Gallup poll conducted in 2011 suggested that senior citizens who were socially active were happier and were less likely to be stressed up.
Find a new passion/purpose
If you are past 60, it doesn’t mean you must stop looking for new things to learn or new avenues to conquer. There is always something new to learn in life and there is no age for pursuing a passion. We often observe elderly people lose interest in life or suddenly feel purposeless after their children leave the nests to pursue their lives. It is important for parents of all ages to ensure they retain a passion in life, something they can always look forward to even if their family and friends are not around. Finding a passion or purpose in life is very critical to the overall well being of an individual who is ageing.
Learn to play the guitar, start volunteering for a social group, teach the under privileged neighborhood kids or start writing poetry. It is never too late to find a purpose in life.
Join a support group
Your objective of staying fit and active can find motivation if you are connected to a community of like-minded individuals. Social support groups for the elderly can put them in direct touch with a large number of people who are sailing in the same boat as them. Having similar objectives and similar purposes can not only offer emotional and psychological support but also provide the right motivation. Join a support group of the elderly and find suitable friends who can join you in your daily routines and new interests — walking, yoga, book reading – it is always good to have buddies around.