Maintaining a healthy body and mind is one of the most important things in our everyday life.
Information and advice you need to help you love later life. We’re Age UK and our goal is to enable older people to love later life.
We are passionate about affirming that your later years can be fulfilling years. Whether you’re enjoying your later life or going through tough times, we’re here to help you make the best of your life.
This information guide has been prepared by The Leading Care Company and contains general advice only, it should not be relied on as a basis for any decision or action and cannot be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The Leading Care Company Neither nor any companies mentioned in this article accepts any liability arising from its use and it is the reader’s sole responsibility to ensure any information is up to date and accurate.
This article about Healthy Living cover the following
- Staying active
- What kind of exercise might suit you?
- Healthy eating
- Sensible drinking
- Foot care
- Healthy bones
- Tests and checks to stay healthy
- Combined sight and hearing difficulties
- Mental wellbeing
- Memory loss
- Checklist for staying healthy
- Useful organizations
What this article is about?
It’s never too late to think about adopting a healthier lifestyle. That doesn’t mean you suddenly have to change your diet and start spending every day at the gym. Just a few small changes can make a big difference – helping you to feel better, have more energy and sleep more soundly.
Research shows that having a positive attitude to life in general, and to getting older, can help you enjoy better health. Choosing activities that give you an opportunity to meet people or play an active role in your local community can help too.
It’s also important to remember to look after your body, especially your feet, eyes, and ears.
This guide highlights changes you may like to consider and the benefits they can bring.
As far as possible, the information given in this guide is applicable across the UK.
There’s no doubt that keeping active makes us feel more energetic. But it can also help to:
- manage high blood pressure and angina
- keep you at a healthy weight
- maintain regular bowel movements
- stimulate a poor appetite
- strengthen muscles and bones, which reduces the risk of falls and fractures
- prevent some long-term conditions, such as arthritis, from getting worse.
Regular exercise increases the production of chemicals in the brain that lifts your mood – so it can be a good way to deal with stress and anxiety. And it can give you more energy to do things you enjoy, such as seeing friends or grandchildren.
Stamina, strength, flexibility, and balance are particularly important as you get older and can help you to do everyday tasks more easily as well as enjoy activities more.
Stamina helps you to walk longer distances, swim and mow the lawn.
Strength helps you to climb stairs, carry shopping, rise from a chair and open a container.
Flexibility helps you to bend, get in and out of a car, wash your hair and get dressed.
Balance helps you to walk and climb steps confidently, stand from a sitting position and respond quickly if you trip.
Everyone can benefit from moving about more. Any amount of extra activity that’s appropriate for your age group and health makes a difference.
If you want to get started
Even if you haven’t been very active before it’s never too late to start.
Try to limit the amount of time you spend sitting watching the TV, reading or listening to music. Everyday activities count as exercise, so look out for simple ways you can become more active. They could include:
- walking to the shops instead of taking the car or bus
- using the stairs instead of lifts or escalators
- getting off the bus a stop earlier than usual
- choosing a parking space a bit further away from the shops
- doing the housework
Every step counts, so try and set yourself achievable goals every day. Always build up gradually and speak to your GP before increasing your activity levels significantly.
If you’d like to do a bit more
If you’re generally fit and have no health conditions that limit your ability to move around, the Government recommends that you build up to doing two-and-a-half hours of moderate activity throughout the week.
Moderate activity may leave you feeling warm and a little breathless. It can include:
- walking fast – visit the Walking for Health website.
- cycling on level ground
- playing a motion-sensor game on a computer console such as a Wii or an Xbox
- washing the car by hand.
If you’re already fairly active
If you’re already active, you can improve your fitness and health by doing 75 minutes of vigorous activity throughout the week. This can include:
- cycling fast or up hills
- climbing stairs
- playing tennis or football.
Staying active isn’t just about raising your heart rate. It’s important to keep your strength up too. The Government recommends that you build up to two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity a week.
Exercises that help strengthen your muscles can include dancing, heavy gardening, yoga, and Pilates. Lifting bags of shopping or weights can help to strengthen the muscles in your arms and wrists. For more information on improving your strength and balance, see our free guide Staying steady.
What kind of exercise might suit you?
Different activities bring a different range of benefits, so try a variety of things. Finding something you enjoy means you’re more likely to do it regularly. The benefits of some activities and exercise classes are outlined below.
If you’re physically able but find yourself sitting in front of the computer or television for hours at a time, try to break it up and build activity into your day. You can do this by going for a short, brisk walk around the garden or in the street – for example, during the advert breaks or after writing an email.
However, if you have a health condition that makes moving about difficult or painful, such as Parkinson’s, arthritis or osteoporosis, always consult your GP for help in choosing the right exercise for you. They may be able to suggest suitable activities and be aware of special exercises or classes for people with your health condition. In some areas, your GP may be able to refer you to a structured exercise scheme, where trained instructors introduce you to exercise over a period of 12–20 weeks.
Alternatively, you can contact the relevant organization for your health condition to find out how taking part in an exercise program could help you.
Volunteer-driver or community transport schemes may be able to help if you need transport. Contact your local council or Age UK to find out what services are available in your area.
No single food contains everything that you need to stay healthy, so the golden rule is to eat a variety of foods each day. Eating healthily doesn’t mean cutting out foods that you enjoy, it just means eating some foods less often and/or in smaller portions, and eating more of other foods.
All major supermarkets have agreed on a standard label that you’ll find on the front of food packaging to help you make healthy choices.
Keep a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is important. It’s not good for us to be either overweight or underweight. If you would like advice about how to lose weight, or if you’ve recently lost weight but aren’t sure why to make an appointment to speak to your GP. They can give you advice if you have any concerns about your weight.
Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
Research suggests that people who eat plenty of fruit and vegetables are less likely to develop heart disease or certain cancers, such as bowel cancer. To help you reach the target of five a day, think of all the fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits, fruit juices, and vegetables that you like. Try to choose five different-colored ones to have with or between meals.
Eat fish at least twice a week
You should aim to have one portion of white fish, such as haddock or cod, and another of oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines every week. Oily fish are rich in vitamin D and a type of fat that helps prevent heart disease. But grill, poach or bake fish rather than frying it.
Cut down on foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugar
Many of us eat too much salt, which can increase our risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Always think before you sprinkle salt on your meal. Compare food labels and look for lower-salt versions of foods such as processed meats, savory snacks, biscuits, cheese, bacon, soups, and ready meals. Foods that are high in fat include cakes, biscuits, sausages, meat pies, fatty meat, and cheese. They contain saturated fats, which raise the level of cholesterol in the blood and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Eat foods like these less often and in smaller amounts.
Drink plenty of fluid: about six to eight glasses each day
This does not have to be water. Tea, coffee, and low-sugar or sugar-free squash are fine. Fruit juice contains a lot of sugar so it’s advised not to drink more than 150ml (5 fl oz) a day. It’s particularly important to drink plenty in hot weather. See our free guide Staying cool in a heatwave to find out more about staying well in hot weather.
If you’re struggling with constipation, first of all, make sure that you have enough wholegrain cereals and fruit in your diet. Drinking plenty of liquids can help, too. Physical activity helps to keep the bowels moving, so try to think of ways to stay active. If changing your diet doesn’t help, then see your GP for further advice.
Look after your teeth
In order to enjoy your food, it’s important that you keep your teeth and gums in good condition and if you wear dentures make sure they fit comfortably. You can keep your teeth and gums healthy by brushing them twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and by visiting your dentist regularly for a checkup. Even if you have full dentures, a regular check-up is still important. The shape of your mouth changes over time, so you are likely to need new dentures every five years. See our free factsheet Dental Care: NHS and private treatment for information on dental services. In Berkshire, see Age Berkshire’s version of this factsheet.
Use the NHS Choices website
The NHS Choices website has information on nutrition, healthy cooking, exercise, weight loss and more. It also explains the Government’s Eat Well scheme, which offers recommendations on how to have a balanced diet. If you have a smartphone or tablet, look at the NHS Choices health apps and tools library to download useful apps at www.nhs.uk/tools. In Wales, visit the ‘Live Well’ section of the NHS Direct Berkshire website.
Many of us enjoy an alcoholic drink now and then, perhaps, to help us relax or to mark a family occasion. Drinking alcohol in the evenings – maybe with your meal or while watching TV – has not received the same media attention as binge drinking. But regular drinking like this can damage your liver, brain, blood vessels and organs.
Government guidance says that we should drink in moderation, which means:
- Men and women shouldn’t regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
- You should spread your drinking over three days or more if you do drink as much as 14 units a week.
- Having a few alcohol-free days a week is a good way of cutting down how much you drink.
If you’re not sure what a unit is, a pint of beer (4 percent alcohol) and a (175ml) standard glass of wine (13 percent alcohol) both contain 2.3 units. A 750ml bottle of wine (13.5 percent alcohol) has 10 units.
You should avoid alcohol with certain medicines so always read leaflets that come with any medicine and if in doubt, ask your pharmacist.
Sometimes we may feel that a drink can help us to deal with a difficult situation. However, it isn’t advisable to use alcohol to lift your mood because, in the long term, it can actually make you feel lower. If you regularly have a drink to help you cope, speak to someone you trust about how you’re feeling.
If you are worried about your own or another person’s drinking, speak to your GP. For more information about drinking sensibly, visit the Drinkaware website.
Even after many years of smoking, it’s still worth giving up. The encouraging news is that older smokers who decide to give up have been shown to be more successful at staying away from smoking than younger people.
Whatever your age you can expect a range of benefits if you stop smoking, many of which you may notice quite quickly. You’re likely to:
- be able to breathe easier
- feel better overall
- find that any existing heart and lung problems you have are less likely to become serious
- be less likely to have a stroke, or heart and lung
- recover more quickly after an operation
- live longer.
Most people know how unhealthy smoking is but because they enjoy it, they find it difficult to give up. The first step is to convince yourself that you would like to be a non-smoker. Why would being a non-smoker be right for you? Ask your GP practice about local one-to-one or group support to help you. Medication to help you stop smoking is available on prescription.
It’s vital to look after your feet and basic daily foot care should include:
- washing in warm soapy water (but don’t soak your feet too long – it destroys their natural oils, causing dry skin)
- drying carefully, particularly between the toes
- applying foot cream containing urea which hydrates the skin (don’t apply between the toes)
- lightly applying foot powder
Wear clean socks each day. Don’t wear the same shoes every day and always choose ones that support your feet but aren’t too tight. Wearing natural materials such as leather, wool, and cotton will allow your feet to breathe.
It’s important to pay attention to any changes to your feet. Contact your GP if they become painful, feel noticeably hot or cold or if there is a change in their color. If you have corns, bunions, an ingrown toenail or other common foot problems, report these to your practice nurse too.
Cutting toenails regularly and straight across prevents ingrown toenails. You could file them daily instead if you find that easier. If you have health problems such as diabetes you may be able to get NHS help with cutting your toenails. Talk to your GP to find out more.
Your local Age UK may offer nail cutting for a fee or know where help is available. In Berkshire, contact Age Berkshire.
Your bone health is largely influenced by your genes but it is affected by your lifestyle too.
You can keep your bones strong by doing a regular weight-bearing activity (this means exercise where your legs and feet support your weight, such as walking, jogging, and tennis) and by eating a healthy diet with plenty of calcium-rich foods. Good sources of calcium include dairy foods, fortified soya products, and canned fish (with bones). It is also found in fortified breakfast cereals, white bread, pulses and nuts such as almonds.
Vitamin D is also important for strong bones and helps us to absorb calcium. Most of us get the vitamin D we need from regular exposure to summer sunshine rather than from food. Try to go outside every day from March to October without sunscreen for short periods (around 10 minutes), although it’s important not to let your skin redden or burn. Try to do this once or twice a day, depending on how dark your skin color is. You need to be outside – your body can’t make vitamin D from sunshine coming through windows.
The Government recommends that certain groups of people take a vitamin D supplement of 10 µg daily, including people aged 65 and over. If you think you could be at risk of not getting enough vitamin D, particularly if you stay indoors a lot or cover your skin for cultural reasons, raise this with your GP. Always speak to your GP before starting to take a vitamin D supplement or over-the-counter medicine on a daily basis.
Everyone has some degree of bone loss as they get older, especially women after menopause. Osteoporosis is the term used when bone loss makes bones significantly more fragile. It commonly affects bones in the spine, wrists, and hips. It means that you’re more likely to break a bone if you fall or experience chronic pain if bones in your spine collapse.
You are more at risk of osteoporosis if you:
- are a woman who had early menopause or hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries
- are a man who has low levels of testosterone following surgery for some types of cancer
- have a parent who broke a hip, particularly after only a minor fall
- use or have used certain medications, such as anti-epileptic drugs, some cancer treatments or long-term use of corticosteroids
- are underweight or have suffered from an eating disorder
- have been a smoker or heavy drinker
- have a condition such as Crohn’s or coeliac disease
- have a medical condition that means you’re immobile for a long time.
Complete the bone health quiz on the National Osteoporosis Society’s website to find out which factors could affect your bone health. You can print out a factsheet based on your answers that you can take to your GP if you’re concerned about osteoporosis.
Tests and checks to stay healthy
There are free checks offered to older people on the NHS to help you stay healthy. These can help to pick up on any problems early on, reassure you if you have any concerns about your health and give you advice on how to stay well in later life.
NHS health check
In England, these are offered free every five years to people aged between 40 and 74 who don’t have a pre-existing condition. It’ll usually take place at your GP surgery or local pharmacy. At the check, you’ll be asked about your family history and your lifestyle and you’ll have some routine tests, including a test of your cholesterol and blood pressure. This will give you a personalized report on your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes. You’ll also get personalized advice on how to stay healthy and how to reduce your risk of certain conditions.
For women aged 50 to 70, breast screening is offered to detect early signs of breast cancer, although in some areas this may be offered from age 47 to age 73. If you are registered with a GP you should be automatically invited for screening every three years. After the age of 70, you’ll usually stop receiving invitations for screening but you can still request an appointment with your local screening unit.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screening is offered to men when they turn 65. It detects if there is any swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs down from the heart. Swelling in the aorta causes no symptoms but could be fatal if it bursts. The test is a 10–15-minute ultrasound of the stomach. If no swelling is found you never need to have the screening again. If any swelling is detected, you will get to see a specialist within two weeks who can advise if you need any treatment.
If you are aged 65 or over, you’re entitled to the free flu jab every year. This can help to protect you against catching flu. Other people are also entitled to the flu jab, including those with certain long-term conditions, or those who care for someone who is elderly or disabled. It’s best to get the flu jab as early as possible to protect you over the winter – most surgeries and pharmacists start to offer it in September or October. You need to get the flu jab every year as the flu virus can change.
People over 65 are eligible for pneumococcal vaccination, which protects against bacterial infections that cause illnesses such as pneumonia and meningitis. You only need a single vaccination that offers protection for life.
There is a shingles vaccine for certain people aged between 70 and 79 but when you can get this vaccine will depend on your date of birth. Ask your GP surgery for more information about eligibility. You can have the vaccine if you’ve had shingles before, as it will boost your immunity against shingles in the future. You can have the vaccination at any time of the year and you only need to have it once.
Checks you can do yourself
It’s important to check yourself regularly for any symptoms of cancers, including between screenings. That includes, for example, keeping an eye on any moles you have to see if they change, or getting a persistent cough checked out. For all the signs you should look out for, see www.nhs.uk/ be-clear-on-cancer or contact Cancer Research UK.
As we get older we need to take extra care of our eyes. Doing the following can help you to keep your eyes healthy.
- Protect your eyes from the sun, particularly if you are near water or snow – they can be damaged by UV rays. Always wear sunglasses on a sunny day. Remember that not all sunglasses fully protect your eyes from UV rays, so choose sunglasses labeled with the CE mark or the European Standard EN 1836:2005. For even higher protection choose sunglasses labeled UV400, which means that they protect you from 99 to 100 percent of UV light.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk of developing AMD and cataracts.
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- If you use a computer, adjust the settings to make the screen as easy to view as possible. For example, increase the size of the text and change the brightness or color settings.
Even with the right glasses or contact lenses, you may still find it hard to see things clearly. Day-to-day tasks can be made easier by good lighting and using low-vision aids or other equipment. If sight problems affect your ability to carry out everyday tasks safely, ask your local social services department what equipment and services they can offer.
If you care for someone who is unable to recognize or communicate sight problems, for example, someone with dementia, remember to arrange regular eye tests for them. You can ask the optician about using special non-verbal tests. Encourage the person to wear glasses if they need them.
Contact the Macular Disease Society or the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) for more information about eye health and the services they offer for partially-sighted and blind people.
Hearing loss is common as people get older. You may find you need the TV volume to be louder or that you cannot always hear conversations, particularly in a crowd. If you’re worried about your hearing, try the free telephone or online hearing check run by Action on Hearing Loss. It will tell you whether it’s advisable to see your GP.
Your GP will check your ears and may refer you for a hearing test. If you need them, hearing aids and batteries are free on the NHS.
Tinnitus, often described as a ringing sound in your ear or head, is another hearing-related problem. It can be distressing but there are many ways to manage it.
Combined sight and hearing difficulties
You may have difficulties to varying degrees with both sight and hearing but there are things that can be done to help you enjoy a better quality of life.
If you have a sight or hearing difficulty, or both, contact social services and explain how your day-to-day life is affected. They may have a specialist team who can help.
Feeling well is not just about being physically fit and healthy: it’s equally important to your overall health that you feel good mentally. Mental health is sometimes called ‘mental wellbeing’, ‘emotional health’ or ‘wellbeing’. It means how you think and feel, and how you cope with life’s ups and downs. Your mental health is just as important as good physical health and there are several things that you can do to help support your own mental wellbeing.
Do the things that you enjoy
Think about the things you enjoy and make time for them. All of us are different. Perhaps you enjoy cooking or laughing at reruns of your favourite TV programmes. Or why not treat yourself to your favourite magazine or a good book? Whatever it is, think about what makes you feel good and try to set aside some time for it every week.
Stay in touch
If you have family and friends nearby, try to meet up with them regularly or ask them to call around. Otherwise, regular phone calls can help you to stay close. The internet has opened up more ways to stay in contact and meet new people, such as exchanging emails, using online forums and using Skype to make video phone calls. Feeling that people care about you can make a big difference to your outlook. If you aren’t confident using the internet, ask your local Age UK for help – many offer training sessions and advice on getting online for older people. UK Online Centres also help people who want to learn basic computer skills.
Make plans and stay active
Most of us look forward to retirement and having time to ourselves. But when it comes it can be hard to adjust to the loss of structure to your day and the purpose that working life gave you. Retirement doesn’t have to mean an end to keeping active and discovering new things. Setting yourself goals, however small, can give you a sense of achievement and motivation. Your goal could be anything from finishing a crossword puzzle or making a phone call to a friend, to doing some gardening or going swimming or for a walk. Planning days out or arranging activities for the week or month ahead will give you something to look forward to and keep you feeling positive.
If you’re feeling down for a while
Although no one feels 100 per cent happy all of the time if you are feeling out of sorts and have any of the symptoms below for two weeks or more you may be suffering from depression.
- loss of self-confidence and feeling down
- feeling anxious
- not being able to enjoy the things you usually enjoy
- unexplained aches and pains
- avoiding people, even those you are close to.
Depression is just as significant as any physical illness and is not an inevitable part of getting older. If you have any of the symptoms above, speak to your GP and explain how you’re feeling. Together you can then agree on what may be best for you. They may suggest talking treatments, which involve talking to someone who is specially trained to help you manage your thoughts and feelings and the effect they have on you.
You may be worried that you’ve become noticeably more forgetful or confused. Perhaps you’re struggling to remember things that happened recently even though you can easily remember things from long ago, or you’ve been getting confused in a familiar place, or having trouble remembering names and following conversations.
You may be worried that these are early signs of dementia but most of us experience these things from time to time. They can be symptoms of many common conditions, such as stress, depression, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, constipation, dehydration or urinary tract infections.
If you’re worried about memory loss you should talk to your doctor to find out what’s causing it. This can either set your mind at rest or allow you to get the help and support you need. A diagnosis of dementia won’t make things worse but it can help you plan for your future.
Your sleeping patterns will change naturally as you get older and you may not get as much sleep as you used to. Everyone is different – some people need less sleep than others. What’s important is that you get enough good quality sleep to enable you to function during the day.
Many older people suffer from insomnia – ongoing difficulties with getting to sleep and staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed the next morning – which can make you feel tired, low on energy and depressed.
You can improve your sleeping patterns by:
- cutting down on daytime naps
- going to bed at the same time each night
- reducing the amount of caffeine you have during the day, perhaps by trying decaffeinated (decaf) tea and coffee
- getting up and walking around if you can’t get to sleep or doing something for half an hour before going back to bed.
If you are caring for someone, you may find getting a full night’s sleep difficult because of your caring responsibilities. If you’re struggling to get a full night’s sleep, consider getting a carer’s assessment from your local council to see if there is some support you could get to make life easier.
Checklist for staying healthy
Use this handy checklist to see the key things you can do to stay healthy.