Holistic health tips for seniors

Senior couple hikes in the trees amidst sunlight

We all aspire to age gracefully. That’s not just about maintaining our good looks, although we’ll never say no to that. Keeping our minds sharp and spirits high are also big parts of ageing well.

Taking a holistic approach to health can make our golden years even brighter. Holistic health focuses on the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and emphasizes the importance of balance and harmony in achieving optimal well-being. For seniors, incorporating holistic health practices into our daily lives can improve our physical and emotional health, which are deeply connected.

How are physical and emotional health connected?

“They are completely integrated,” says Erin Billowits, owner of Vintage Fitness, a personal training business focused on clients aged 50 and up. “People who move more feel better.”

Research backs this up, with studies suggesting cases of depression and anxiety are lower among people who exercise regularly. And nutrition habits are linked closely to our moods and energy levels, which influence our mental health.

And mental health is something that those aged 50 and up need to pay specific attention to. “Getting older is probably one of the most emotionally taxing times in your life,” Erin says. In fact, she works with many clients who struggle with depression. This can be due to aging-related difficulties like the loss of independence, declining physical health, social isolation, and grief from the passing of loved ones.

However, she finds that exercise helps pull her clients out of a bad headspace. From a brain chemistry perspective, when you exercise, you release positive pheromones like endorphins, which help reduce stress, relieve pain, and promote happiness.

Exercise also releases brain-derived neurotrophic factors that essentially clean your brain’s pathways. Studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's by up to 30%. Finally, regular exercise also plays an important role in reducing stress and can be a social outlet, which helps prevent feelings of isolation.

So, if we know our physical health and emotional health are connected, how do we make sure we’re taking care of both? Here are five holistic health tips Erin recommends to get you started.

Tip 1: Find your ‘emotional goal’

Having a clear goal can motivate you to take better care of your physical and mental health, ultimately improving your overall well-being. An emotional goal is not about how you look, but what you can do.

For example, an emotional goal could be developing the strength and endurance to travel to that country on your bucket list. Another common emotional goal is building up stamina to keep up with active grandchildren.

If you don’t know where to start, a great emotional goal is simply the desire to maintain independence as you age.

Tip 2: Commit to being active 2-4 times per week

Senior couple walk in nature

If Erin has one argument for seniors to get active, it’s that it helps you live longer. “Exercising adds years to your life, and life to your years,” she says.

Regular physical activity can stave off the Four Horsemen of Chronic Disease — heart disease, cancer, metabolic diseases (like Type 2 diabetes), and cognitive diseases (like Alzheimer’s).

According to Health Canada, adults aged 65 and up should get 150 minutes of exercise per week. Erin recommends dividing this up with 30 minutes of cardio per day and strength training twice weekly (the latter is much more important as we age because we begin to lose muscle strength. As we get older, there is a progressive decline in muscle mass. That leads to a loss of strength and function.

Regular physical activity in older adults is luckily associated with better outcomes and more successful aging, as well as other favorable health outcomes, such as reduced mortality, including The Four Horsemen. No matter your exercise of choice, engaging in regular physical activity is crucial for seniors to help maintain muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.

While we may not have control over our genetic predispositions, adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity can significantly impact our susceptibility to chronic diseases and improve our overall quality of life.

Tip 3: Wake up to the benefits of sleep

Quality sleep is essential for overall health, especially as we age. Unfortunately, about one in three Canadians aged 35-65, and a quarter aged 65-79, aren’t getting enough sleep. Many also report trouble falling or staying asleep and waking up not feeling refreshed.

There are plenty of potential reasons for this, including chronic stress and staying sedentary. Proper sleep isn’t just about having enough physical energy. It’s also closely linked to our mental and emotional well-being.

Exercising regularly can help improve sleep quality by making you tired and promoting a more restful night's sleep. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring a comfortable sleep environment all contribute to better physical and mental health. And, laying off caffeine and nicotine can also support better sleep.

Tip 4: Embrace healthier eating

Erin encourages healthy eating with her clients – but acknowledges changing our habits can be difficult, especially if we’ve been eating a certain way for a long time.

Introducing a wider variety of fruits and veggies into your diet is a good place to start. To avoid picking up too many tempting processed foods, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store as you shop.

A decreasing appetite is also common among some older folks. If you find yourself eating less, make sure you’re still getting enough of what you need, including protein and the right vitamins and minerals.

Tip 5: Limit or eliminate alcohol

Older individuals simply don't digest alcohol the same way as younger folks. That can take a toll on us physically, including increasing the risk of heart problems and cancer. Erin also often sees alcohol use as an unhealthy way to cope with this challenging phase of life.

So, enjoying your beer, wine or cocktail here and there is okay, but be conscious to measure a true standard drink and keep count. Take a peek at Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health to better understand the risks.

Preparing for what’s ahead

Living a longer, healthier life is even better with less stress – and preparing financially can free up mental energy in a big way. FiftyUp Final Expenses Insurance, specifically designed for seniors, can help cover funeral costs, unpaid bills, and other end-of-life expenses. Get peace of mind and confidence your loved ones will have money to depend on at their fingertips, even after you're gone.