How to age gracefully (read: healthily)
Coming to terms with the ageing process can be difficult. You might feel compared to, or compare yourself with, people who are younger and at different stages of their lives.
But ageing healthily is more than looking good. It involves staying strong, feeling positive, looking after yourself, engaging with life and moving well. Changes are inevitable, but it is still possible to be your healthiest self.
So, what can you expect as you get older? How does your health change over time?
Here’s how to be the best version of yourself as you age.
Keeping healthy in your 30s
Marriage, babies and a boost to your career can lead to a busier life, with less time spent on yourself. Your body and mind are still young, but you may start to see changes in the mirror.
Wearing less makeup and drinking less alcohol can help you retain that healthy glow. But your skin may need some extra attention. You may also experience adult acne thanks to changes in hormones.
Dr Shreya Andric, Consultant Dermatologist, says that lifestyle and diet play a big part in how your skin ages. So, now might be a good time to reassess your relationship with alcohol and healthy food.
Eating healthily doesn’t mean you have to start a fad diet. In fact, GPs and dietitians don’t recommend fad diets because they often cause more harm than good.
Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Shivaun Conn, says, “With the right motivation, switching to a healthy eating plan can be quite simple.
Start by omitting as many processed foods as possible, and replacing them with as much fresh produce and lean meats or plant-based proteins as possible.
If it’s within your budget, choosing organic produce for certain fruits and vegetables is also a good idea. Finally, try to reduce the number of convenience foods and give some more home cooking a go. Take a look at the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating for some general advice too.”
Being your best in your 40s
There are some normal age related changes you can expect as you move into your 40s. You may begin to experience abnormal periods or even signs of perimenopause, including heavier menstrual bleeding and hot flashes.
For some people, menopause also brings sleep disturbance and night sweats. Sleep consultant, Dr David Cunnington notes, “Poor sleep can leave you feeling exhausted while juggling all the other menopausal symptoms. Regular exercise, establishing good sleep hygiene and going to bed when you’re tired can all help give you a better night’s sleep.”
Dealing with stress in your life can also impact your health. Whether it’s undertaking more responsibility at work, financial pressure or the kids, managing stress is vital.
Physical effects of stress can include:
- restless sleep
- racing heart rate
- muscle tension
- an upset tummy
- shortness of breath.
If you stay active, your body can handle these short-term concerns. But, try to avoid the long-term physical effects of stress to stay healthy.
Time to check get a cholesterol health check
The CSIRO says that cholesterol is an essential type of fat that's carried in the blood. But as you age, you need to ensure your cholesterol level isn’t too high. It can cause hardened arteries and an increased risk of heart conditions.
The CSIRO also encourages people aged 45 years and older to have their cholesterol and heart health assessed by a GP. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are encouraged to have this assessment done from the age of 35 years.
So, what about your skin?
Dr Shreya says, “You may notice an increase in roughness, dryness, wrinkles and pigmentation.”
It’s normal to see a loss of volume and noticeable changes in the contours of facial skin.
“Wrinkles might be starting to set in and become more permanent so you may need to use a heavier moisturiser at night,” says Dr Shreya, “The most important thing you can do for your skin is to wear sunscreen daily.”
Choose a broad-spectrum cream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or 50, both can provide protection if they are applied properly. You should apply enough of it first thing and continue reapplying every 2 hours.
Staying healthy in your 50s
This is an important decade to think about bone density and strength. So, increase your calcium intake. If you’re not sure if you’re getting enough calcium, chat to a GP or dietitian.
You can also talk to your personal trainer about ways to start some extra strengthening exercises to keep your muscles strong. And, walk up as many stairs as you can. This helps keep your bones strong as it’s a weight bearing activity. Just make sure you remember to warm up, and have a good stretch before any exercise sessions.
Keep up the aerobic exercise too. Get your heart rate up and the blood pumping for at least 150 minutes each week. Although, consider chatting to your GP before starting any new exercise regime.
What should your resting heart rate be?
Your normal resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 times per minute.
Your body contains about five litres of blood that passes through your heart every minute or so. However, when you exercise your heart can pump up to four times that amount per minute.
The fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate is. A fitness watch or a check with your GP are two ways to track yours.
Managing your mental wellbeing
As we get older, it can be hard to make new friends and even harder to maintain current friendships. But making the effort to establish and strengthen your relationships is worth it.
Consultant Psychologist, Dr Bec Jackson, says, “Talking to friends is an important way to keep check of your mental wellbeing. As we age, our physical health becomes our focal point. You tend to focus on aches and pains, but not pay attention to how these changes affect how you feel. Maintain communication with others to support yourself emotionally.”
Take time to engage in hobbies you enjoy with people you like. Avoid too much time alone – plan fun things you can look forward to doing.
Ageing positively in your 60s and beyond
As you start to move into the golden years, you should try to embrace the changes to your lifestyle. You may be working less or caring for loved ones more, but you need to find time to look after your body and mind.
Keeping physically fit might not mean running a marathon, but it should include a regular variety of exercise. A game of golf (with or without the buggy!), a long walk with friends, and some stretching and strengthening activities are a great addition to your week.
If you find it hard getting up off the ground when you’re in the garden, Pilates or yoga might be helpful. Some light resistance training can also aid muscle strength. Your GP or physiotherapist may recommend a fitness routine that’s suitable for you.
It’s time to look after your feet
As you age, the skin on your feet become thinner and drier. Years of wearing heels and restrictive shoes can leave us with corns, aches, numbness and bunions. A podiatrist can provide advice on how to take care of your feet to help you remain mobile.
Moisturise your feet, legs and arms to keep your skin hydrated. Signs of extrinsic ageing are often more pronounced and it’s a good time to check for lumps and bumps.
“Once you reach your 70s onwards, the skin’s immune function is reduced. You’re now more susceptible to infection,” says Dr Shreya.
You may find your brain gets a little foggy after you hit your 60s. Healthy fats, antioxidants and B vitamins are all good for your brain health. Eating nutrient-dense wholefoods every day, combined with physical activity, may help with your clarity and focus.
- green leafy vegetables for fat soluble vitamin K
- fatty fish such as salmon for omega-3
- nuts and seeds for vitamin E
- eggs for vitamin B and folate.
What is the concept of positive and active ageing?
Now’s the time to think positively about ageing. Positive ageing refers to maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about yourself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life.
Adopting a meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle can increase your feelings of happiness. Connect with people socially, emotionally and spiritually who put a smile on your face. More importantly, this can sustain feelings of happiness and contentment.
Practicing mindfulness, being grateful and finding simple pleasures are ways you can practice positive ageing.
It’s only a number
The good news is that age is only a number. And the people you love are with you along the way. Coping with how your body changes is your best defence.
It’s really about being willing to change your mindset. Your expectations of who you think you should be when you age.
Keeping healthy means looking after your body and mind. And knowing that you can be fabulous at any age.
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Dr Shreya Andric is a Fellow of the Australian College of Dermatologists with a wide breadth of general dermatology knowledge as well as specialist interest in areas of cosmetic dermatology, paediatric dermatology and genital dermatology, among others.
Shivaun Conn is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Nutritionist and Certified Health Coach with particular interests in nutrition, lifestyle, executive health and health behaviour change.
Dr David Cunnington is a specialist sleep physician who helps his clients to treat their complex sleep problems while also promoting sleep health through education, research and advocacy.
Dr Bec Jackson is a Consultant Psychologist with 20 years’ experience across clinical psychology, academia, therapy and education in clinical, forensic and organisational psychology.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021