Dr Jennifer Burns
President, British Geriatrics Society and Consultant Geriatrician, Glasgow Royal Infirmary
It is vital throughout life, especially in later years, that you keep yourself fit and healthy. Small changes are effective in improving health.
When it comes to ensuring good physical and mental health, it’s never too late to get started. Whatever your age, the most effective things you can do are to take regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight, consume alcohol in moderation (or not at all) and stop smoking.
Get up, Get active
Physical activity is not only important for maintaining good health, but also vital in helping with the process of recovery from illness or injury and to prevent further deterioration. Even a little physical activity is better than none at all.
If you have limited mobility, try to vary your position and use regular tasks such as brushing your teeth or washing your face to move around. If you have more mobility, stand up from your chair regularly and move about within your home. If you are more fit and active, you will be able to go for walks and do exercises. Whatever level you are at, it’s worth persisting so that you gradually build your strength and mobility.
Physical activity is not only important for maintaining good health, but also vital in helping with the process of recovery from illness or injury and to prevent further deterioration.
Eating and drinking
Nutrition and hydration are important to ensure good health in later life and prevent illness. Older people can experience a loss of appetite, which might be as a result of a long-term condition, a sense of sadness arising from loss and bereavement, or because of the strains of caring responsibilities. Eating a balanced diet and drinking water regularly throughout the day are essential to good health and wellbeing.
Alcohol in later life
Cutting back on alcohol comes with clear benefits to health. There are specific problems associated with excessive alcohol use in older people, spanning a range of physical and mental health conditions. Alcohol can cause or exacerbate anxiety, depression, and memory problems. When it comes to physical health, alcohol can increase risk of falls and serious injury. Guidelines for a maximum of 14 units a week may still be too much for an older person.
It’s worth cutting down on smoking or, preferably, quitting completely. Smokers are more likely to develop frailty than non-smokers and there is strong evidence that smoking increases the risk of developing dementia. Local ‘stop smoking’ services are free, friendly and can help your chances of quitting for good.