Myths, Facts, and Best Practices for Healthy Aging 

The good news: across the globe, people are living longer. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 6 people in the world will be 60 years or older by 2030. That translates to a senior population of 1.4 billion, up from 1 billion in 2020. By 2050, that population will have doubled. 

As the ranks of senior adults swell, so too does demand for anti-aging products, services, and procedures. Experts expect the anti-aging market to see continual growth, bringing in over $421.4 billion in revenue by the year 2030. 

Even so, no amount of anti-aging procedures can stop the march of time. There are, however, certain practices that therapists and healthcare professionals can encourage to help their patients age with grace.  

Debunking myths about aging 

Recent research is shining a light on previous assumptions about aging. Here are some of the top misconceptions about getting older and the facts behind them. 

Fiction: We lose significant cognitive abilities as we age. 

Fact: The process of aging is a process of slowing down: physically and, occasionally, mentally. Encouragingly, the incidence rates of Alzheimer’s disease (number of diagnosed individuals per 100,000) is decreasing. Due to the increase in aging population, however, experts expect the overall number of people with Alzheimer’s to grow. The Alzheimer’s Association anticipates upwards of 12.7 million people to have Alzheimer’s by 2050.   

There is encouraging news. Dementia is not inevitable. In fact, researchers at Columbia University have determined that, absent comorbidities, aging adults can take steps to stave off cognitive decline, and even improve their cognitive abilities.  

Fiction: Balance problems, muscle wasting, and weight loss are an inevitable part of aging. 

Fact: In many cases, these physical issues are preventable. According to Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, Dean Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and world-renowned gerontologist, “Exercise is the closest thing we’ve found to a magic pill for combating the effects of aging. It works on every physiological system and keeps your entire body fine-tuned. It even stimulates your brain and helps to prevent cognitive decline.” 

Related: Exercise Prescription Management of the Older Adult: An Evidence-Based Approach, 2nd Edition 

The lifelong benefits of exercise 

Research indicates that regular exercise can improve mood, control weight, improve sleep, keep bones and muscles strong, and reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. 

If your patients have never exercised before, starting a regimen in their 60s and 70s may still have benefits. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging revealed that older male participants who participated in high intensity exercise, such as lap swimming or running, demonstrated a reduced risk of a coronary event. 

In terms of impact vs. effort, walking may be the best exercise for improving an older adult’s overall health. Aim for a 30 minute walk each day. If 30 minutes sounds daunting, assure your patient that they can work up to it. Start small and increase the exercise time in increments.

Eat a balanced diet 

We are what we eat, but eating healthy doesn’t mean a restrictive diet. Encourage your patients to gravitate toward whole foods — that is, foods without long lists of ingredients, additives, or nutrition labels. Focus on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, grains, and nuts. 

Fiber is equally important. It increases feelings of fullness and can help reduce harmful cholesterol levels. Research has also shown diets rich in fiber can contribute to a lowered risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and heart disease.   

Men should aim for 30g of fiber per day and women should aim for 21g per day. 

Stay connected 

Humans are social creatures. It’s vital to maintain healthy social relationships at any age, but the benefits of staying connected are amplified for older adults, especially for those who live alone. Dementia is likelier to gain a foothold in those who are lonely. Additional research has ties loneliness to higher concentrations of stress hormones, which can cause inflammation, arthritis, and diabetes. 

Staying connected doesn’t have to involve elaborate dinner parties or long family vacations. Even a simple phone call, a mailed letter, or a coffee date can keep those connections strong. 

Related: Depression and Anxiety Disorders in Older Adults, 2nd Edition 

Catch some zzz’s 

Sleeping problems increase with age, and insomnia is very common in older adults.  Here are some simple tips to help patients get the most out of their sleep: 

  • Maintain the same wake and sleep schedule everyday 
  • Keep the bedroom dark 
  • Remove phones, clocks, and TVs from the room 
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening 
  • Limit naps to 20 minutes 

Quit smoking 

Tobacco harms every single organ of the body. Any form of tobacco use increases the risk of major health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Quitting smoking is an investment in a healthier future that pays immediate dividends. The body begins to heal within 20 minutes of quitting. Within a year, a former smoker’s chances of developing heart disease drop by 50%, increasing their odds of a longer and healthier life. 

Resources 

About The Author