Secrets to living a longer, healthier life

Grandmother with teenage granddaughter

From watching your grandkids graduate, to witnessing your long-suffering hockey team finally get the championship they deserve, we all have our reasons to live longer.

Of course, simply growing older isn’t enough – the quality of that extra time matters, too. Millions of over 50s are seeking ways to maintain good health, independence, and a vibrant life.

We haven’t discovered the magic secret for adding years to your life quite yet (we’ll let you know when we do). In the meantime, we’ve got the scoop on a few ways to grow older, better.

Get moving (even a little!)

Chances are, you’re reading this sitting down. And while there’s a time and place for lying about, Canadians have some work to do.

Only about half of us are meeting the physical activity recommendations in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, according to Statistics Canada. But making time to stay physically active is essential as we get older, since exercise plays an important role in reducing the risk of chronic illnesses.

If you’re not exactly ready to sign up for a marathon (or even a 5K), there’s no need to panic. As our movement guidelines point out, “the routine rituals of daily living” can all make a difference. That’s anything from gardening to a casual neighbourhood walk.

Personal training expert Sid Finkelstein agrees small steps can make a big difference to your overall health and well-being, even among older people who haven’t been active in years. He and his team at Vintage Fitness specialize in helping senior Canadians with personal training and nutrition goals. While they work with anyone over 50, they’ve also catered to clients as mature as 101 years old.

Whether you want to take on a triathlon or simply age well in your own home, small steps – and making it fun – matter, says Sid, whose career at Vintage Fitness is a second act after retiring from another profession.

Helping others with their wellness goals has been a big part of his own strategy to stay healthy. “[Our trainers] spend a lot of time focusing on the goals and making sure that it's something that we can make fun, make interesting, and keep people accountable.”

For some people, that might mean making sure their dog is part of a new exercise routine. For others, it could be incorporating the right music. Having someone like a family member, friend (or even pet) involved is a powerful way to stay motivated and accountable.

You might even accomplish more than you set out to do. Sid gives the example of one client with osteoporosis who planned to move abroad. Her goal was to navigate the stairs in her soon-to-be Parisian home more easily.

The simple daily strength activities she took on with that goal in mind made a major difference to her bone health. “She didn't realize that she'd made so much progress that they reduced her medication actually by half,” he says.

Evolve your eating – and shopping – habits

A daily doughnut with our afternoon coffee might feel harmless, but as we get older, our food choices matter more than ever to our energy levels, overall wellness and longevity.

Specifically, maintaining a healthy diet and weight can reduce the risk of developing chronic health concerns, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Eating well can also prevent bone and muscle loss, which is important for recovering from injury if you slip and fall (a more common risk as we age).

Our individual dietary needs vary, but in general, Canada’s healthy eating guide for seniors makes some key recommendations:

  • A variety of vegetables and fruit, especially dark green vegetables (such a kale or bok choy) each day, plus orange vegetables (such as carrots and sweet potato) most days
  • Whole grain foods, such as oats and wild rice
  • Protein foods such as eggs, nuts and seeds, beans, peas, and lentils

The government guidelines also recommend adults in Canada over 51 take a vitamin D supplement.

Sounds straightforward, right?

Maybe so, but in the years when you’re aged 50 and up, lifestyle and income changes can make it more difficult to shop and cook in a way that supports your health. For example, if your household is smaller than it once was, or if you’ve never been the primary cook in the house and now are, you may need to make some changes.

In fact, overeating and weight gain are common challenges among the seniors Sid and his team work with. The nutritional coaching aspect of their job involves going through clients’ pantries to see what they’ve been buying, and occasionally even going to the grocery store with them to help them make better choices.

“For many of them, it's really an eye opener,” he says. They may realize they’ve been indulging a little too much or may need to start working healthier ingredients into their menu planning.

Finding a friend to plan, cook, and eat with may help you make wiser choices in the kitchen. In any case, consider taking time to rethink your shopping list to incorporate a variety of healthy ingredients.

Cut back on alcohol (and yes, it’s time to quit smoking)

A glass of wine or pint of beer is a common fixture in many households, but it’s wise to keep an eye on your consumption, especially as you get older.

Since being over 50 is often a time when routines change, that might lead to changes in your consumption, too. That means indulging more could be something that creeps up on us, according to registered psychologist Sandra Primiano.

“You might be more stressed, you might be looking for ways to relax, it might be social for you,” she says. “You're not sure what to do with your evening. So, [you think] why not have a couple more drinks?’”

Finally, quitting smoking is always a good idea at any age. It’s never too late, either. People over 50 who quit smoking can gain about six years of life expectancy over those who continue to smoke, according to the Canadian government.

Stay connected and stay kind

Our golden years are a time of big transitions.

While some of us might be throwing a party the moment our kids leave the nest, others might feel a little lonelier. The same goes for leaving our professional lives. Hitting retirement is a huge milestone, but also one that comes with the loss of routine and social circles.

“It’s a phase in life that people really need to plan for,” Sandra says. “You don't want to just decide you're retiring and then retire. You need a plan for what you're going to be doing. What's important to you? What's valuable to you? How are you going to be spending your time?”

Social isolation can take a toll on your life expectancy, so it’s important to consider how you’ll stay connected. Keep in touch with family and friends, but also consider finding ways to give back.

Sandra points to research in The How of Happiness as just one source of evidence that simple connections can improve our quality of life. “The researcher really set out to understand ‘why are some people happier?’,” she explains. “And it has nothing to do with things like money or status or physical appearance…It has to do with things like social connection.”

Helping people, whether by volunteering, holding a door or offering to pick something up at the store for your neighbour are the things that make people happier, Sandra adds.

So, there may be no such thing as eternal youth – and we’re not sure we’d want that anyway. Growing older is a gift.

And fortunately, there are plenty of ways to keep that gift coming.

Protect your loved ones from unexpected end of life costs

Gain peace of mind and avoid placing the pressure of final expenses on your loved ones. FiftyUp can help, so you can focus on what you do best – living. We’re committed to helping you stay in control of your finances with flexible insurance products and payment options made for people aged 50 and up. Find out more about FiftyUp Final Expenses Insurance.