Ageing and health
Dr. Faozat Aragbaye
Healthy ageing is about creating the environments and opportunities that enable people to be and do what they value throughout their lives. Being free from disease or infirmity is not a requirement for healthy ageing as many older adults have one or more health conditions that, when well controlled, have little influence on their wellbeing.
WHO defines Healthy Ageing “as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age”.
Functional ability is about having the capabilities that enable all people to be and do what they have reason to value. This includes a person’s ability to:
meet their basic needs
to learn, grow and make decisions
to be mobile
to build and maintain relationships; and
to contribute to society
Functional ability is made up of intrinsic capacity of individual, relevant environmental characteristics and the interaction between them.
Intrinsic capacity comprises of all the mental, physical capacities that a person can draw on and includes their ability to walk, think, see, hear and remember. The level of intrinsic capacity is influenced by a number of factors such as presence of diseases, injuries and age- related changes.
Environments include home, community and broader society, and all factors within them such as the built environment, people and their relationships, attitudes and values; health and social policies, the systems that support them and the services that they implement. Being able to live in environments that support and maintain the intrinsic capacity and functional ability is key to Healthy Ageing.
Factors influencing Healthy Ageing
Research has identified action steps we can take to maintain our health and function as we get older. From improving our diet and levels of physical activity, to getting health screenings and managing risk factors for disease, these actions may influence difference areas of health.
Exercise and Physical Activity. Exercise and physical activity are considered a cornerstone of almost every healthy aging program. Scientific evidence suggest that people who exercise regularly not only live longer, they live better. And being physically active- doing everyday activities that keep your body moving, such as gardening, walking the dog, taking stairs instead of the elevator- can help in continuing what one enjoys to do and stay independent at old age.
Specifically, regular exercise and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that often occur with aging.
Exercise may be an effective treatment for certain chronic conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Weight and Shape. Many health problems are connected with being overweight or obese. People who are overweight or obese are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, sleep apnea, and osteoarthritis. But the data show that for older adults, thinner is not always healthier, either. Researchers found out that older adults, who are thin with BMI less than 19, have a higher mortality rate compared with those who are obese or of normal weight.
Healthy Food. Food has been shown to be an important part of how people age. “Healthy “ eaters had the highest intake of foods like high-fibre cereal. Low-fat dairy, fruit, nonwhite bread, whole grains, beans and legumes, and vegetables, and low intake of red and processed meat, fast food, and soda. Foods with low glycemic index value ( such as most vegetables and fruits and high fibre, grainy breads) decrease hunger but have little effect on blood sugar and therefore are healthier.
Foods like white bread have a high glycemic index value and tend to cause the highest rise in blood sugar.
Low concentrations of micronutrients or vitamins in the blood are often caused by poor nutrition. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables can lead to a low carotenoid concentration, which is associated with a heightened risk of skeletal muscle decline among older adults. Low concentrations of vitamin E in older adults, especially in older women, are correlated with decline in physical function.
So, eating well is not about your weight. It can also help protect you from certain health problems that occur more frequently among older adults. And eating unhealthy foods can increase your risk for diseases.
Participate in Activities You Enjoy. People who are involved in hobbies and social and leisure activities may be at lower risk for some health problems. For example, a study linked leisure activities like reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing with a lower risk for dementia.
Other studies have found that older adults who participate in what they see meaningful activities, like volunteering in their community, reported feeling healthier and happier.
Ten Tips for Healthy Aging
Live an active life. Regular exercise is one of the greatest keys to physical and mental wellbeing
Eat healthy foods. Eat nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods; avoid sweet, salty, and highly processed foods. Keep in mind that each person has different dietary needs.
Maintain your brain. Never stop learning and challenging your mind.
Cultivate your relationships. Maintain communication with your family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change. Reach out to friends who might be isolated or feel lonely.
Get enough sleep. Develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine. Stay away from caffeine late in the day.
Reduce stress. We cannot entirely avoid stressful situations but we can learn better techniques to cope with stress. Remember to always keep things in perspective- try to accept and adapt to the things you cannot control
Practice prevention. Many accidents, illnesses, and common geriatric health care conditions, such as falls, chronic illness, depression, and frailty, are preventable.
Take charge of your health. Most of our health is not controlled by the health care system but by our own actions, environment, our genes, and social factors. Think about the ways that your health can improve by changing your lifestyle, and make those changes.
Make community connections. Older adults who engage in meaningful community activities like volunteer work report feeling healthier and less depressed.
Complete your Advance Directive.