Last updated January 2022
Little things can make a big difference – that’s true in many areas of life and especially staying healthy. It’s never too early or too late to create new habits to care for your mind and body. We’ve rounded up a list of recommendations and information about aging well to help you.
There’s a good chance you’re already doing a lot of these things – and that’s something to celebrate! See if there are other ideas you could incorporate into your life.
Here’s what we’ve covered:
Health is more than the absence of disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.
Genetics determine about 25 percent of your health. There’s a lot of potential for variability. At every stage of life, you can make choices that support health or diminish it. Overall health is also impacted by factors you have less control over, including income, social support networks, inclusion and services in your community. These factors are often called the social determinants of health.
Being free from disease isn’t a requirement of healthy aging. Many people will develop different conditions as they age and, when managed, the conditions will have little impact on well-being.
Your mental and physical health impact each other. Here are some areas of focus to support your overall well-being.
Deep breathing involves breathing air in and down to your abdomen, so your belly expands. Try to create a habit of deep breathing during your day. A simple technique is to breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Then breathe out slowly for a count of four, and hold for a count of four.
Deep breathing is a great way to trigger relaxation when you’re in fight, fight or freeze mode due to a stressful situation. Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and other issues. Shallow breathing, just in your chest, can increase tension.
Canada’s Food Guide says that fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at any meal – it’s as simple as that! And the good news is, it doesn’t always need to be fresh vegetables and fruit. Canned and frozen can be just as nutritious. Just aim for variety and watch out for added sugars or sodium (salt).
Fruits and vegetables contain the essential nutrients you need. They’re full of fibre too, which can help your digestive system and make you feel fuller longer. Upping your vegetable intake can help protect you from different diseases, including heart disease and stroke, some types of cancer, and lower the risk of eye problems.
There are things you can do to keep your eyes healthy and maintain your vision. Wearing sunglasses, looking up from screens and into the distance every 20 minutes and wearing protective eyewear while working with chemicals, wood, or other materials are significant preventative steps. It’s also essential to get your eyes checked regularly. Some eye diseases, like glaucoma, can be slowed when caught early. Vision coverage is included in the RTOERO extended medical plan – make sure to book your exams!
How our bodies respond to alcohol changes as we age. Knowing this can help you prevent over-consumption that can lead to immediate or long-term issues. Aim to follow Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines of 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than two drinks a day most days and 15 drinks a week for men, with no more than three drinks a day most days. Always be aware of how alcohol may interact with any medications you take.
Our feet help keep us active. Foot problems can increase as we age, so it’s important to pay attention to your toes (and the rest of your feet!). There’s a lot you can do to take care of your feet at home, including making sure your shoes are the right fit and properly cleaning and caring for any cuts or scrapes. If you notice any changes or pain you’re concerned about, be sure to consult a doctor because foot issues can be an early indicator of other problems.
It turns out annual check-ups won’t necessarily make you healthier. Choosing Wisely Canada provides information on when and why check-ups might be necessary. Choosing Wisely Canada is organized by a small team from the University of Toronto, Canadian Medical Association and St. Michael’s Hospital (Toronto). It’s a national voice for reducing unnecessary tests and treatments in health care.
Spending time outside is linked to various benefits, including improved mental health, more focus and faster healing. Taking a walk outside can help you pair the benefits of fresh air and nature with physical exercise – a double-dose of goodness!
Journalling can help you clarify your thoughts, understand yourself better, reduce stress, and benefit your physical health. There are different types of journaling, so you can find one that works for you.
Improved balance, decreased risk of certain conditions, social engagement and improved mental health are some of the benefits of regular physical activity. Even if you’re not active now, there are exercises you can start doing! Simple stretches, walking, or aquafit are good options.
The Canadian guidelines for adults over 65 say to aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. And to do muscle strengthening using major muscle groups at least twice a week. It’s always a good idea to talk to a health care provider before starting a new exercise program.
Pay attention to your thoughts and notice if they’re persistently positive or negative. Not surprisingly, more positive thinking is good for your health.
Oral health relates to your overall physical health. You can promote your oral health with regular brushing and flossing, eating a healthy diet low on sugar, and having your teeth cleaned and checked regularly. Some health conditions can impact your oral health. For example, diabetes is linked to gum disease. Plus, poor oral health has can lead to other conditions, including pneumonia.
Lack of sleep can impact our judgement, increase risks of accidents and lead to health problems, including cardiovascular disease. The Canadian guidelines for adults over 65 say to aim for seven to eight hours of good quality sleep. Try to keep your bedtime consistent and try ways to wind down before bed, including limiting time on screens.
Many older adults experience sleep problems that are caused by other issues. The good news is, treating the underlying issues can help to improve sleep. So if you’re struggling to sleep, talk to your doctor.
Stretching helps reduce body aches, improve posture, create a calm mindset, and maintain your joints’ motion. Try simple stretches to get started!
When it’s hard to hear people in social settings, you may start to avoid going out, leading to social isolation. If you notice that you’re struggling to listen to people, or you find yourself nodding and pretending you’re following a conversation when you’re not, test your hearing. If you have hearing loss, the RTOERO extended health plan includes $1,100 per person to purchase or repair hearing aids every three successive calendar years.
It’s hard to deny the value of a calm mind. Chronic stress takes a toll. A little advanced planning can go a long way to creating peace of mind. Here are some suggestions.
Just thinking about becoming the victim of an online scam, hacking or identity theft can be stressful. But by being aware of the risk and taking precautions, you can prevent it from happening. You might receive emails that look like they’re coming from a reputable source – like your bank or the CRA. If you receive anything asking for money, don’t hesitate to follow up by phone – using a number you find on the organization’s website, not in the email – to make sure it’s legitimate.
If you’re like most Canadians, you probably want to stay in your home or community as long as you can—that’s called aging in place. Good news is, you can do things to support your goals. Working with an occupational therapist can help.
Many have us have an idea of plan A – our hopes and goals for the future. But have you consider plan B, C or D? It’s worth thinking about what you will do if your health or mobility changes, if you lose your spouse sooner than you imagined, or if staying in your home doesn’t seem like the best option for your well-being. If you journal, try writing about each of these situations. You’ll remind yourself you can adapt, which is helpful should anything unexpected happen.
You may have access to insurance benefits while you or your spouse are working, but they usually end when you retire. If you’re retiring from the education sector in Canada, you’ll have different options for insurance. It’s a good idea to look into what’s available for you, compare providers and consider the pros and cons of purchasing or increasing your coverage.
It’s a good idea to review your estate plan after major life events, like marriage or divorce, an addition to the family or the death of a beneficiary, and after a significant purchase or loss.
Make sure you have a power of attorney for both personal care and property. Keep these tips in mind when selecting your power of attorney:
Thirty percent of Canadians are at risk of becoming socially isolated. Major life transitions, like retirement, a spouse’s death or health and mobility changes, can be risk factors for isolation. And social isolation can take a significant toll on your physical health. But you can prevent it! Many of the tips in this post will help, and here are some more about finding community.
Having a sense of purpose can provide more meaning in life. You may find it fulfilling to lend support to issues you care about to help create change. At RTOERO, we advocate for critical policy improvements to address urgent needs now and create a more secure and compassionate future for everyone – you can join us!
Ageism has been called the most socially accepted form of prejudice in our society – it’s discrimination based on age. Ageism can look like aging stereotypes in film, TV, and media that depict older adults as frail and helpless or societies and systems designed from the perspective that everyone is young, so don’t take into account accommodations and services people might need as they age. You can help address ageism by sharing accurate and positive images of aging, by staying active yourself and by speaking out to create more age-friendly communities.
We’ve heard countless success stories from our RTOERO members that started from choosing to try something new. You could get back to activities you enjoyed at another stage of life, or you could make a list of activities you’ve always wanted to try. Trying new things is a great way to meet people, develop and practice skills, and uncover new talents or passions. You never know what opportunities will appear when you leave your comfort zone.
Research has shown our supportive relationships are critical to overall happiness and well-being. Relationships take effort. They also require vulnerability. Building supportive relationships is a great way to form allies who will look out for you in social situations.
Look for opportunities to share your unique gifts, skills and knowledge, to contribute to something important to you. This is another way to achieve a sense of purpose at any stage of life. Here are ideas for achieving this involvement:
Our health needs change as we age. They can become more complex as concerns can be interrelated. Understanding aging-related health challenges can help you support yourself and your loved ones.
Geriatrics is the care of older adults. A geriatrician is an expert in treating conditions that affect older adults. There’s a shortage of geriatric specialists across the country—there are just over 300 in Canada. Increasing access to geriatric care is a priority of the RTOERO Foundation and a focus of RTOERO’s advocacy work. This includes making sure general practitioners and other health care professionals have training in supporting older populations.
Prescribing cascades can happen when one medicine’s side effects lead health care providers to prescribe new drugs. We’ve covered this topic, including advice on preventing it, in the spring 2018 issue of Renaissance Magazine. Improving providers’ understanding of how to more safely and effectively prescribe drugs to older people is an area of focus for Dr. Paula Rochon, the RTOERO Chair in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Toronto.
It’s a good idea to educate trusted friends about what’s happening in your life health-wise. They can be your allies who look out for you in social situations (and you can be theirs!). When you have people who understand what you’re going through, you’re less likely to avoid social events, and that will protect you from becoming socially isolated.
The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. An estimated two to ten percent of older adults will experience elder abuse or neglect each year. It can include psychological, financial, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect. We partner with Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario to provide relevant information to our members.
Sometimes injuries can snowball into more significant issues. It’s wise to take steps to prevent injuries and illnesses. Here are some suggestions to help.
Not only is spring cleaning an excellent chance to dust and let some fresh air into the home, but it’s also an opportunity to remove any clutter that may have built up over the winter months. This is especially important if you’ve accumulated anything on the floor – like stacks of magazines or books – as extra items on the floor can be trip hazards. If it’s in your budget, consider if you want help with cleaning – especially hard to reach places. Reaching or climbing increase your chance of injury too.
Many of us want to age in our homes. As you age, it’s a good idea to start to think about small upgrades that could make your home safer. Make this a game! Invite a friend to take a walk around your home and make a list of things you each think could be hazards in the future. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
Did you find these tips helpful? If so, share this post with a friend! Is there something you think we should add? Please send us a message!
If you work in or are retired from any role in Canada’s education sector, and you’re not already a member, join us! We’d love to be part of your healthy aging journey. Your membership is free until you retire.