There's an old Chinese proverb that states: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today."
The point of it is simple: it's never too late to make a positive change in the world, and that applies to your health as well¹. Even if you're getting into your golden years, there's always something that you can do to improve your health. Consider the case of Fauja Singh of India. At the age of 89, he resumed competitive running, 53 years after his last competitive race. Eleven years later, he became the first 100-year-old to complete a marathon successfully, and he still runs to this day.
You don't have to exercise as vigorously as Fauja Singh, but there are a lot of things that you can do to improve your health through your golden years, even if you've never done anything to try to achieve that goal². Here are just a few things that you can try:
Getting the right foods in your diet is vital to good health at any age, but especially so in your later years³. As your metabolism starts to slow down, your body needs to get the right foods to help it do its job at turning food into energy rather than storing it as fat. Adding supplements is a great way to get your body the nutrients you need, but the bulk of your body's fuel should come from the food you eat.
Lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are essential staples in a healthy diet, as is eating at home. If you aren't that skilled in the kitchen, it's OK to start small and try a few simple recipes, then gradually build up to more complex cooking. Or you can ask a family member to cook for you if you have one nearby. Whatever your situation might be, it's always possible to improve your diet.
Nobody says that you need to get out and run a marathon this month, or even a 5K. Instead, what you need to do is find an exercise that you like doing and stick with it. Maybe you're a fan of pickleball and have a friend who enjoys the sport as well. That's an excellent way to get active; so are swimming, racquetball, cycling, and walking.
Whatever you choose, make sure that it's an activity that you enjoy, because when you enjoy something, you're going to want to keep doing it. Getting active is all about getting into a routine, and if you start playing squash every Wednesday at 10 a.m., you'll find yourself planning your day around that appointment, which ensures that you're making exercise a priority.
Sleep is when your body takes the time it needs to recover from a long day. Unfortunately, many Americans don't get the sleep they need, and that's especially true for older Americans. Roughly half of all seniors suffer from poor sleep quality which makes it harder for your body to recover from a long day. When you don't take time to recharge, you find yourself exhausted the next day, which becomes a challenging cycle to break.
It's easy to forget about your mind during the day-to-day pursuit of your interests and better physical health. But a healthy mind is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and a few mental exercises can go a long way toward keeping your brain in tip-top shape.
Just like with physical activity, the key is finding something that interests you enough to keep returning to it regularly. Maybe you're drawn to creative hobbies, such as painting or building models. Perhaps you prefer puzzles, such as crosswords or sudoku. Or you may love the idea of sitting down with a good book and immersing yourself in another world. All are great ways to keep your brain active and will go a long way toward maximizing your mental health.
Remember, just because it takes time to build good habits doesn't mean that you don't have time to start them at a late stage in your life. All it takes is a commitment to an idea, and you're well on your way to developing a healthier lifestyle. Every journey starts with a single step, so why not take that first step today?
(1) Crain, E (July 2014) Why It's Never Too Late to Get Healthy
(2) The Great Run Company (October 2017) 106 Year Old Fauja Singh To Start Birmingham Marathon
(3) John Hopkins Medicine; It's Never Too Late: Five Healthy Steps at Any Age