Want to get healthier for your retirement years? Try setting specific goals and finding positive reasons for change. Research from Harvard Medical School suggests that tangible goals and positive motivation lead to higher success rates among people who want to change their lifestyle.
“This is good advice for older adults who may be at or nearing retirement and are worried about their health,” said John Moore, DO, FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the U.S. Northeast Region. “Even if someone hasn’t routinely exercised or never quite committed to a well-balanced diet, it’s never too late to start with a simple plan to adopt a healthier lifestyle.”
Healthy habits are a lifestyle
Research shows that people who made a lifestyle change based on self-motivation and from positive thinking had higher success rates with long-lasting change, according to Harvard Medical School. Harvard researchers also found it’s easier to achieve goals if they were specific. For example, choosing to eat two cups of fruits or vegetables per day, compared to “eat healthier.”
Change happens in five stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action or maintenance. The time it takes to successfully navigate through each stage varies from person to person and it’s not uncommon to relapse. Despite this, researchers from Harvard say a person learns lessons about themselves as they progress through each stage. Their advice: Don’t give up.
Try more physical activity
Older adults in 2013 reported more unhealthy days than younger adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Aging and Health in America report. An unhealthy day was defined in the study by whether an individual experienced pain, discomfort or impairments associated with chronic conditions. The CDC’s report found older adults who met physical activity guidelines were less likely to experience physical distress.
Maintaining some type of physical activity is especially important for women, Moore said. “Women are more prone to osteoporosis, so they need to be active because their bones start to lose density if they’re too sedentary.”
Getting used to a more active lifestyle can take time. Between 30 minutes and an hour of activity a couple of days a week is a good range to strive for in the beginning, according to Moore. He recommends starting with 10 minutes of exercise, such as a walk, each day and working up to 30 minutes five days a week. Moore emphasized a person doesn’t have to exercise for 30 minutes at one time. Instead, he encouraged breaking it up into smaller bouts of exercise throughout the day.
Some examples of moderate physical activity include doing yard work or gardening; hiking; vacuuming and playing actively with children. Hard physical activity includes jogging; mowing the lawn with a push mower and weight lifting. Very hard physical activity includes running; playing basketball or tennis and in-line skating.
Paired with a sedentary lifestyle, improper eating can lead to obesity over time, Moore said. Excessive weight gain can lead to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, joint pain and heart troubles. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends eating foods rich in fiber, avoiding saturated fats, and eating at least two fruits and three vegetables daily. Older adults should also check the sodium and sugar levels in their food, which can contribute to cardiovascular diseases.
“Getting in some physical activity each day helps the body, but eating right is important, too,” Moore said. “These lasting lifestyle changes can ultimately contribute to better health in retirement.”