When we think of “wellness,” often our thoughts turn to physical health. We think of a nutritional diet and exercise. But wellness, as a concept, is more encompassing than how our bodies feel day-to-day. Striving for wellness also includes mental, emotional, social, and financial well-being. And, while holistic wellness is important at any age, as we get older, practicing wellness can allow us to not only live longer, but also more independently.
The benefits of incorporating wellness into our lives, in addition to better physical health, as we age are many:
- More energy
- Better ability to focus
- Increased stamina
- Reduced stress
- Positive outlook
- More confidence
Additionally, focusing on wellness can help prevent chronic illnesses and lessen the effect of other conditions. So, how do you embark on improving your wellness? Most of us don’t need to make radical changes to our lifestyle to enhance our wellness. Rather, it’s adding a wellness mindset to the various areas of our lives that ultimately interconnect and provide us a healthier life. Let’s look at each component of a well-rounded wellness plan for seniors.
The cornerstone of any wellness plan is a focus on good physical health. Two primary factors that can enhance your physical health are diet and exercise. Here are some simple tips for promoting physical wellness:
- Add one physical activity to each day. This could be a walk in your neighborhood, attending a fitness class or even making a commitment to yourself to simply move more.
- Stay hydrated. Water is a simple, but powerful thing. It loosens our joints, helps our heart, and so much more. You can add more water to your diet in some easy ways. Keep a glass or water bottle on your nightstand and a table by your favorite chair. Pledge to drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up each morning. It will help you feel more energized and will give your joints some much-needed lubrication.
- Practice mindful eating. As we age, our metabolism decreases, so it is important to pay attention to what and how much you eat. Where you can, stay away from foods with added sugars, sodium or trans fats – they can make you feel sluggish. Adding more protein to your diet will prevent muscle loss. Adding fiber, in the form of fresh fruits/vegetables and whole grains promotes better gut health. If getting to a store or food preparation is difficult, look into grocery delivery or prepared meal services.
Did you know that our brains actually shrink as we age? This is why we develop memory lapses and are slower to learn new things. It’s for these reasons that exercising your mind as well as your body can help you stay mentally fit longer. And mental sharpness is a key factor in your ability to age in place. Try practicing some of these mental wellness tips:
- Keep your mind active. Rather than switch on the TV, read a book or solve a crossword puzzle. Maybe you play an instrument. Try to practice a couple of times a week. If you spend time on your computer, play Words with Friends or online chess. Keep up with current events.
- Get enough rest. It’s true that as we age, falling and staying asleep grows more challenging. You should be preparing for bed hours before your head hits the pillow. Eating dinner earlier and turning off that screen allows your mind to know it’s time to rest. Make sure your room is cool enough. Try a white noise maker to block out distractions. Lastly, our bodies are creatures of habit. As much as you can, stay to a consistent sleep schedule.
- Talk it out. If you sense you are becoming increasingly forgetful, have trouble focusing or find yourself in a depressed state, don’t wait to talk to someone. Family members and friends, as well as health professionals, can help you determine if there is an underlying cause and help find tools for coping with mental decline. You don’t have to go it alone.
Where mental health is the brain function that drives how you think and exist, emotional health is how you react to the environment and goings on around you. As our cognition level declines, it is common to become frustrated and even angry at our inability to function as we did in our younger age. Learning to manage emotions can prevent a spiral effect that can be difficult to quell once started.
- Manage your stress. Stress can do a number on our physical and mental health. It can cause high blood pressure, heart palpitations and headaches. Living in a state of stress can cause you to become anxious and irritable. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, here are a couple of easy things to try: 1) Go for a walk. Fresh air can help clear your head. 2) Cuddle with your pet. Animals have an uncanny way of soothing us. 3) Take some deep breaths. Stopping to breathe sends a message to your nervous system that it’s time to calm down. 4) Laugh. There is scientific evidence that laughter can lower your stress response – among other positive things.
- Rest your brain. Quieting your mind is important to maintaining good emotional health. Meditation or listening to relaxing music will give your brain a needed break. Set aside even 15 minutes a day in a tranquil space to let your nervous system unplug.
- Declutter your space. Believe it or not, living in a cluttered home can cause anxiety and depression. It can trigger fight/flight responses. If you can tackle the mess, not only will you have a great sense of accomplishment, but a healthier living environment. Remember, you don’t have to tackle everything in a day or even a month. Make a plan and take it a room at a time. Ask for help from family and friends. And, services like we provide at Life Managers & Associates can do the metaphorical heavy lifting for you.
- Adopt a hobby. A hobby can be a fantastic way to boost social wellness. By its nature, it is something you like to do and it provides a built in community. There are some simple ways you can work your hobby into your social life. 1) Join a club or community center that offers classes or meetups centered around hobby-like activities – think Bridge or gardening. 2) If getting out is difficult, find an online forum focused on your hobby. Do research before joining to ensure you aren’t falling victim to a scam.
- Volunteer your time. Studies have shown that giving of your time isn’t just good for your community, it’s excellent therapy for you as well. Whether it’s working with children, caring for animals or helping those in need, you can find ways to volunteer. Start by googling “volunteer opportunities near me” and see what interests you. Have you been a long-time supporter of a charity or cause? Contact them about helping out. If transportation is an issue for you, talk to the organization and see if they have other volunteers who can drive you. Or, better yet, convince a friend to buddy up with you. It’ll be more fun with a pal.
- Utilize technology. Today, apps like FaceTime and Zoom allow us to stay connected to friends and loved ones anywhere and anytime. Set a time each week or month to have a video chat, with grandkids or friends that have moved away. If the technology intimidates you, talk to a friend or family member who can work with you to make the process of “seeing” people a snap.
We all come to an age where we are spending our retirement money rather than saving for it. That transition can be stressful. Especially in inflationary periods, we all wonder how far our money can go. A good plan that focuses on short-term and long-term financial health will provide peace of mind and a better quality of life. How do you make that plan?
Track what you spend versus your income. It’s important to understand what your monthly expenses are and quickly pinpoint any shortfalls with your income. Creating a budget can help you raise red flags and identify where you need to bring your expenses more in line. Some ways to trim expenses are finding senior discounts at stores and for services, making sure your insurance coverages are in line with your current requirements, and keeping a journal of where you spend money. You might just find some things you were paying for that you simply don’t need anymore.
- Get help with finances. Maybe your spouse handled the bills and budgets in the past and managing finances is foreign to you. The main thing to know is that you can ask for help. Financial advisors can help you with long-term plans. If paying bills is becoming more difficult and you aren’t interested in auto payments, there are services, like we provide at Life Managers & Associates, that can assist you to make sure your bills are paid correctly and on time. An added bonus is an extra set of eyes to spot irregularities and overspending.
- Stay organized. When an issue arises, say a need for an important document, having a system to easily locate that document will reduce your stress level. If you are comfortable with technology, there are platforms that will store your important documents in the cloud. If you would rather have the security of knowing your information is under your roof, having a single, secure place where you store your documents will make them easier to find. How do you start? Gather all your documents together and sort them by subject. Whether online or at home, create a folder system that allows you to easily access your documents. Pro tip: make sure you let a family member, trusted friend, or advisor know where and how to retrieve your documents.
Wellness is a Journey
Did you notice the interconnectedness of all the various wellness components? Your financial health affects your emotional health. Poor mental health will cause your social health to deteriorate. And eating better and maintaining physical activity impacts all aspects of your life – and ultimately your ability to live independently into your senior years.
Our goal with this article was to give you a roadmap to better wellness. We wanted to offer simple, incremental things you can start doing today to enhance the quality of your life. Begin with the ideas that resonate with you the most. With the interconnectedness of wellness, improving one area will inevitably make the others more achievable.
One final note. This article was written with you in mind. But, wellness for those who care for you is equally important. Make sure your caregivers are making their wellness, as well as yours, a priority.