How many times have you made a split second choice that contradicts a long-term plan: Stayed in bed instead of going for that walk to improve your fitness? Eaten the cake when you are on a diet?

Trying to be healthy can feel like a constant effort in denial and fear. We all want to live as long as possible, but we are also only human and driven by all too human short-term desires.

We may want to plan for the future, but the future seems very abstract in the now. As we age, this conflict is brought into sharp relief – our health awareness needs to be nurtured, accompanied by the knowledge that we need to get the most out of each day.

You don’t get to the age of 60 and over without acquiring wisdom about what is important in life. We all have our own strengths and resources that make our lives better today. Here’s how putting these into action can actually help you live longer:

Social Engagement

Caring for others and receiving their care in return is an essential part of being human. These social relationships are one of the most rewarding parts of life. Not only is catching up with an old friend a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but this can also help illness recovery.

People with higher levels of emotional support actually have decreased risk of mortality after a hospital admission. Putting time and effort into spending time with those you love could help you live longer.

Cognitive Challenges

The old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ is very true for our brains. Our brains retain the ability to learn and change well into old age. It is not enough to keep doing the same routine; to protect our brains against decline, we need to keep challenging ourselves.

In a study of older adults who were given brain training in memory, reasoning and speed of processing, this actually improved their level of functioning in activities of daily living. Now is the perfect time to take a deep dive into learning something new.

Nutrition

Food is one of the first and last pleasures in life. In our society of easy, fast-processed food with high calories and little nutrition, it is easy to eat too much and yet be under nourished.

As we age, it is more important than ever to change how we approach our nutrition. Making a nutritious meal can seem like a lot of effort, especially for one, but if you would do this for someone you love, you can do this for yourself.

Life lesson: Focus on preparing delicious meals with as much nutritional goodness as you can fit on your plate.

Physical Activity

Almost everyone can find a form of physical activity that is fun. The best form of physical activity is the one that you enjoy and that you can fit in.

As people age, there is a loss of muscle mass. If this reaches a critical level, it can stop people doing their activities of day-to-day living, like hanging out washing. It can also contribute to a loss of balance.

Ideally, physical activity should be something that also promotes balance and strength. Activities like Tai Chi and yoga can improve balance and decrease the risk of falls.

Life lesson: Find an activity you enjoy, so it can be something you look forward to every day.

Purpose

Living with a sense of purpose provides fulfilment and meaning. Older age is a time of transition and changing roles, so it is a chance to re-evaluate your life. Purpose is directly linked with better health.

People who have a higher sense of purpose have lower levels of inflammation, which is probably why it can help people to live longer.

Life lesson: We all have skills and talents. Finding purpose can be caring for someone we love or learning a language – what is important is that it provides a sense of meaning.

Living Well

It is rare that someone can live their life making everyday decisions based on future health. It is hard to say no to the piece of cake in your hand, because of how your health might be in 10 years. The live-well age-well philosophy is about making positive changes to make today a better day.

Only you know how to live your best life. It may be starting a yoga class, or asking a friend to teach you something new on the computer or even passing on a family recipe to a grandchild.

What does living well mean to you? Please share your experiences below.

Kate GregorevicDr. Kate Gregorevic is a geriatrician and PhD candidate. Her research interests include frailty, healthy aging and illness recovery. She loves sharing the latest evidence-based healthy living tips specific to women in their sixties and beyond. Kate has three children and relaxes with yoga. Visit her website at www.elderhealthaustralia.com

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