The New Year is right around the corner. We’ve put together a list of 15 resolutions in honor of 2015 so you and your loved ones can get a head start on healthy aging — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
With the holidays and the accompanying family hubbub out of the way, we have the opportunity to take a few moments to focus on our own well-being, and our hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. Of course, there’s never a bad time to make plans for better health, but the end of the year gives us a chance to articulate our goals in the form of clear, doable New Year’s resolutions. We’ve put together 15 ways for you to take charge of healthy aging in 2015, whether you plan to attend to your mind, your body or spirit.
1. Choose healthier foods. Make sure your diet includes plenty of whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein such as fish and chicken, low-fat dairy products, healthy fats such as canola and olive oils, as well as a multivitamin supplement. The right diet will help you maintain a healthy weight and contribute to positive emotional and cognitive health, too.
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2. See your healthcare provider regularly. An annual physical can help you detect and prevent illnesses and medical conditions that tend to pop up as we age, like high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Also, your doctor should be kept apprised of all your medications and other supplements to ensure that you’re taking them safely and avoiding any drug interactions. Lastly, make sure to ask if you need any immunizations, vision or hearing tests, or screenings for certain types of cancer or other conditions.
3. Amp up your fitness. We often put “exercise more” on our New Year’s resolution list, but the key to successfully getting fit is to set reasonable goals and pick an activity that appeals to you — it’ll increase your likelihood of sticking to a workout plan, up your chances of success and boost your feelings of accomplishment as you get there. A great way to start is by joining a walking or sports club or trying a new exercise class: fellow fitness companions can provide encouragement, accountability, and social interaction.
4. Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake. Simply by quitting smoking, you can reduce your risk of a myriad of health problems as you age, such as heart disease or COPD. You’ll also sleep better and have more energy. Excessive alcohol consumption, too, can contribute to physical and mental health issues; the recommended maximum for older men is 14 drinks per week and for older women it is 7 per week, according to the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation.
5. Get enough sleep. Contrary to popular wisdom, older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults: about 7-9 hours per night, says NIH Senior Health. Aging brings on some natural changes in sleep patterns, such as increased difficulty falling asleep, but very poor, disturbed sleep is cause for concern. Poor sleep can lead to depression, cognitive problems and lower quality of life, so contact your doctor or a sleep specialist if you have trouble sleeping at night or have excessive sleepiness during the day.
6. Assess your home for safety. Help prevent falls — a leading cause of injuries and death in older adults — by checking your home for hazards such as stray electrical cords or loose throw rugs. If needed, improve the lighting (particularly in walkways and bedrooms) and install grab bars in bathrooms or anywhere a handhold is necessary.
7. Get organized about health, fitness, and medications. At the beginning of the year, get down on paper your plans for physical exercise (such as fitness classes), annual checkups, health screenings, dental visits, and so on. Also make sure you have an updated list of prescription and over-the-counter medications for your doctor, and throw away any expired medicines.
8. Learn something new. Reading a book, joining a book group, or enrolling in a class at your local community college or learning annex helps keep your mind engaged and stimulated, which in turn can help ward off cognitive decline and protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
9. Challenge your cognition. Another great way to strengthen your brain and prevent dementia is by challenging your mind in the short term, with games, puzzles, brain teasers, trivia quizzes and other types of mental activities.
10. Reach out if you feel depressed or anxious. According to Health in Aging, approximately 20% of older adults suffer from depression or anxiety. If you experience signs such as sadness, irritability, excessive worry, and/or loss of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed — or if you notice these symptoms in a loved one — be sure to reach out to a healthcare provider if they last more than two weeks. Don’t forget to reach out to friends or family for support, too.
11. Practice yoga or tai chi. Not only are these gentle forms of exercise great for older adults because they increase balance, strength and flexibility, they are also wonderful for improving mood, reducing stress and promoting mental tranquility. There are even yoga and tai chi classes aimed specifically at the needs of older adults or those with physical impairments.
12. Learn how to meditate. Contrary to some of the stereotypes, meditation isn’t esoteric, exotic or New-Agey — in fact, it’s one of the most effective non-drug approaches to stress reduction. Meditation has recently been proven to have biological effects, too, including the possibility of helping us live longer: studies on people who meditate have shown that they have longer telomeres, the caps at the ends of our chromosomes which tend to wear down with age.
13. Travel somewhere new. Whether it’s a weekend away, a fun-filled cruise, or the trip of a lifetime, vacations can help us reconnect with our selves, learn about other places and meet new people. If you enjoy group travel or organized tours, check with your college alumni association, which may offer educational travel, or research the options available from Elderhostel’s Road Scholar program.
14. Laugh more. You’ve read again and again about the mental and physical health benefits of laughter — according to the Mayo Clinic, it can help with immediate stress relief, muscle relaxation and stimulation of the heart and lungs, as well as improving your mood, boosting your immune system and relieving pain. Get a few more laughs into your life, whether it’s reading a funny book, seeing a comedy movie with friends, or even trying laughter yoga.
15. Change how you think and talk about aging. The Huffington Post’s Rachel Adelson recommends that we all make fewer “old” jokes (which can fuel stereotypes and making people feel worse about the aging process), and try to view aging more positively and realistically. “Speaking realistically will make it easier to talk pragmatically about changing needs; it will reduce denial and open the door to important cross-generational discussion,” Adelson says.
Whether you’re planning to get healthy, get happy, or learn something new, if you approach the new year and your new goals with optimism and energy — and set achievable milestones — you’ll have plenty of reason to be proud of yourself by the time another year has passed.
What are your personal New Year’s resolutions? How do you plan to tackle healthy aging in the upcoming months? Share your goals with us in the comments below.