Taking care of your health as you get older
As you get older, there are a number of common health conditions that might affect you. Not everyone will experience them, but it's very important to have annual check-ups with your doctor, who can identify any potential risks and symptoms and offer you the best possible advice.
If your doctor does diagnose a condition, it's important not to panic. Most common health conditions are manageable as long as you make some essential changes to your diet and your daily fitness. Here are four common health conditions that affect older people in the UK.
With diabetes the body doesn't produce enough insulin to function properly. Glucose stays in the blood causing blood sugar to become very high. There's two main forms of diabetes - type 1 and type 2. Type 2 tends to be diagnosed in older people and often comes with a risk of high blood pressure. Making lifestyle changes can help prevent and monitor diabetes.
The NHS recommends increasing the amount of fibre in your diet, such as wholegrain bread and cereals, fruit and vegetables and beans. Opt for foods that are low in fat, replace full fat milk with skimmed milk and choose low-fat spreads. It's also a good idea to swap fatty joints of meat for lean cuts and fish.
If you're classified as overweight or obese (with a body max index of over 30), try to lose weight in a gradual way by reducing your calorie intake. Ideally your BMI should be within a healthy range of around 18-25.
Increasing physical activity is really important for preventing and monitoring diabetes and reducing high blood pressure. If you're in good health, incorporate more exercise into your weekly routine. A pedometer or activity tracker is great for tracking daily exercise and can help with setting targets to gradually improve your physical activity levels.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance, mainly made by the liver, and is important for a healthy functioning body. However, high levels of cholesterol in your blood can have a negative impact on your health. When cholesterol builds up in the artery wall it restricts the blood flow to the heart, brain and rest of the body. Making changes to your diet and lifestyle can help to reduce your cholesterol levels.
- Cut down on high cholesterol foods which contain a lot of saturated fat: butter, cream, sausages, pies, cheese, cakes and biscuits.
- Swap the saturated fat in your diet with modest amounts of unsaturated fat: almonds, avocados, walnuts, vegetable oils, mackerel, salmon, and seeds. Be careful with portion control, as these foods are still very high in calories.
- Instead of frying your food, try grilling, boiling or microwaving.
- Stop smoking.
- Increase your physical activity. Staying active is a great way to keep your heart healthy.
Arthritis causes pain and inflammation in the joints. There are two main types of arthritis - osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis generally affects people over the age of 50 and commonly causes pain in the hands, knees, spine and hips. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women and occurs when the immune system targets specific joints, causing pain and swelling. There's steps you can take to relieve the pain of arthritis.
- Manage your weight. If you're classed as overweight or obese this can put extra strain on the joints and contribute to arthritis pain.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, starchy foods, meat, fish and eggs which will help you to maintain a healthy weight.
- Protect damaged or inflamed joints. Don't grip too tightly and reduce the stress placed on your joints by using other parts of your body if you can.
- Prevent your joints from stiffening up by keeping active. Do some gentle exercise in the evening such as getting up and walking around every half an hour to stop your joints from feeling stiff in the morning. Your doctor should be able to advise you on other helpful exercises.
Symptoms of poor circulation, including tingling, numbness, pain and coldness, occur when the blood flow to a certain part of the body is reduced. It's most common to experience poor circulation in your extremities, such as hands, legs and feet. Many different conditions can cause poor circulation including diabetes, obesity and heart-related illnesses. The below advice can help to relieve the pain associated with poor circulation.
- Try to incorporate gentle exercise into your daily routine, such as walking, house work or swimming. Exercise will help to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping around the body.
- Increase the amount of fibre you eat by eating more fruit and vegetables.
- Don't stay in one position for too long. If you're sat down for a lot of the time, try to get up and stretch your legs regularly.
- Wear extra layers to keep warm. Socks can help to keep feet toasty but make sure they're not too tight.
This guidance should not be treated as professional health advice. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with the conditions in this article, please seek advice from an appropriate medical practitioner.