From Bones to Heart Health: 5 Conditions to Monitor as You Age
Our bodies go through a number of different processes as we enter and leave stages of our life; from growth spurts during adolescence to menopause beyond 50. As such, it's just as important to ensure that things remain in working order as we age. From bone and heart health to cognitive functioning, each of these plays an important role in maintaining our overall wellbeing, especially as we begin to slow down a little. Keeping an eye out on these 5 specific areas can help ensure that things are still ticking over nicely, so you can enjoy the things you love well into old age.
Heart health as you age
Your heart does a pretty impressive job on a daily basis, so it deserves some TLC as you age. There are five key ingredients that cultivate a happy, healthy heart: eating right, exercising more, slashing stress, quitting smoking, and watching your weight.
How to keep your heart healthy
It comes as no surprise that these common culprits should be avoided if you want to keep your heart in good shape: smoking, alcohol, stress and poor sleep quality. Smoking increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. In fact, smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to those who’ve never smoked. Giving up this habit comes with huge benefits and it’s never too late to knock it on the head for good. Monitoring your alcohol consumption, slashing stress and prioritising good sleep will also support the health of your heart.
Fuelling your body with the correct nutrition is the cornerstone of keeping your heart happy and healthy. This vital organ craves plenty of vegetables, fruits, oily fish, legumes and whole grains, and snubs highly refined, processed foods, as well as treats laden with saturated fat, sugar and salt. Cutting back on high cholesterol foods, such as fatty meat, will certainly help, too. An easy way to keep tabs on exactly what you’re eating is preparing meals yourself and keeping a food diary.
Cognitive function as you age
Although cognitive decline may be a natural part of getting old, there are many ways to cultivate better cognition and sharpen your smarts. Lifestyle, diet and mental stimulation can all positively support brain health and performance.
How to keep your brain healthy
In order for your brain to perform its incredibly important role of keeping your entire body ticking over, you need to treat it like a muscle. Providing your mind with enough stimulation is like exercising it at the gym. But instead of crunches and squats, practising mindfulness meditation, playing brain-training games like Sudoku and crosswords, or taking up a hobby such as learning a new instrument or language can give your mind a much-needed workout. After every piece of literature and culture you consume, make a conscious effort to recall what you’ve learned. This exercise is a sure-fire way to enhance cognitive retention.
When it comes to brain-boosting foods, a bulk of scientific research proposes that a Mediterranean diet – one rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes; moderate in olive oil, unsaturated fats cheese and wine; and low in red meat – is the secret to keeping your grey matter happy and healthy.i
Bone health as you age
Bones are, quite literally, your body’s support system, so its even more important to look after them as you age. As such, protecting your body against conditions such as bone fractures and osteoporosis is vital.
How to keep your bones healthy
Let’s get one thing straight: regular exercise is the key to unlocking optimal health, and your bones aren’t an exception. In fact, leading a predominantly sedentary life is thought to be a risk factor in the development of brittle bones. Weight-bearing exercises like walking, running and dancing, are the most effective way to keep your bones in tip-top condition. Resistance training can certainly help, too. Why not give those kettle-bells a swing after your run?
When we think bones, we think calcium. Calcium keeps bones strong, so dairy, nuts and green vegetables should be on your menu. But this isn’t the only mineral or vitamin you should consider for stronger bones. For instance, you can’t have calcium without vitamin D or magnesium – key nutrients that aid with its absorption. Increase your vitamin D intake with eggs, fish, or a vitamin D3 supplement; and top up your magnesium stocks with dark leafy veggies, nuts and seeds. Vitamin K also helps generate those all-important proteins for bones, so load up on plenty of kale, broccoli and Swiss chard.
Immunity as you age
As we age, we become more vulnerable to a number of common conditions that would have left our younger selves unaffected. As such, it’s important to give our immune systems an all-important boost.
How to keep your immune system healthy
It’s advice we hear time and again, but we’ll say it once more for good measure: the best way to support your immune system is with nutrition. Seriously, eating a varied diet — one that’s brimming with fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins — is the secret to defending your body against invading germs. Vitamin C is vital when it comes to bolstering immunity. An antioxidant, this supercharged nutrient protects cells from free-radical damage.
But if you really want to equip your body with the tools to fight infection, you need to think beyond food. Getting enough sleep, for instance, is vital for immunity. Research suggests sleep deprivation – or getting less than seven hours – renders people more vulnerable to common colds and flu.ii Exercise is fuel for your immune defences too. Studies show that vigorous exercise reduces the risk of upper respiratory tract infections, for instance.iii What’s more, both heavy drinking and nicotine undermine the immune system’s ability to attack and break down bacteria and viruses - another reason to cut back on these too.
Weight as you age
As we get older we become more prone to a number of conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure. With that in mind, it’s even more important to maintain a healthy weight to keep some of these risks at bay.
How to maintain a healthy weight
Some of the best weapons in your arsenal when it comes to weight loss include cutting back on sugars, starches and refined treats and ensuring your meals have a healthy serving of protein (e.g.chicken breast or meat-free alternative), fat (like avocados), and low carb vegetables (such as roasted courgette and red peppers); On top of diet, you should focus on making sustainable changes to your lifestyle, too. Getting enough sleep and reducing stress can be an easy way to drop a few pounds. Food is used by many of us as a cushion against negative emotion, so try making a smart swap to a destressing activity: meditate, go running, or start journaling.
Of course, exercise is another essential pillar of maintaining a healthy weight. Finding an activity you really enjoy will make you more likely to stick at it – be it Zumba or football. Aim to work out for 30 minutes every day, some of which you can incorporate into your work commute. Strength training (working out using progressively heavier weights) will help to burn fat, too.
Keeping a check on these 5 specific areas as you age is a great way to ensure that you continue to do the things you love for longer. For even more health advice as you age, visit our health library or why not have a look further around our active lifestyle section on Our Blog.
Bonaccio. M., Di Castelnuovo. A., Costanzo. S., Gialluisi. A., Persichillo. M., Cerletti. C., Donati. M., de Gaetano. G. & Iacoviello. L. (2018). Mediterranean diet and mortality in the elderly: a prospective cohort study and a meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition. 120(8), pp.841-854
Cohen. S., et al. (2009). Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of internal medicine. 169(1), 62-7.
Matthews. C., et al. (2002). Moderate to vigorous physical activity and risk of upper-respiratory tract infection. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 34(8), 1242-1248.
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Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.