Maintaining healthy habits during the holidays

The holidays are a time of gathering with friends and family to show gratitude, share a meal, and spend quality time together. In the midst of celebrating, it’s easy to let healthy habits slip and find ourselves indulging in sweets, drinks, and heavy meals.

But there are easy ways to maintain healthy habits during this busy time and still enjoy all that the holidays have to offer. Here are some tips for continuing the diet and exercise routines established throughout the year at special meals or holiday parties:

Find balance. If you overindulge on one meal, eat lighter on the next. Consider following the 80/20 rule: eat healthier foods for 80 percent of the day and enjoy a special meal or dessert for 20 percent of the day.

Eat until satisfied, not full. By sticking with normal-sized portions, you can enjoy the delectable treats of the season without overeating. If you’re still feeling hungry after 20 minutes, it’s OK to go back for seconds.

Choose your favorite treats. If pie is your favorite dessert, have a slice! But avoid piling other types of desserts on your plate just because they’re available.

Stick to your exercise routines. Even with a busier schedule during the holidays, it’s especially important to continue with regular exercise schedules to balance out the extra calories.

Don’t get discouraged! If you overindulge, simply get back on track. Try to reduce your intake as the holidays wind down to get back into your normal routine. Add more exercise if possible to burn more calories.

Being mindful about your approach to eating during the holidays can help make it a happy and healthy season whose effects you won’t have to worry about in the new year!

Enhance wellness through lifelong learning

You’re never too old to learn something new. These days, learning a new skill and keeping the brain active has never been easier for older adults. A study by the Rush Memory and Aging Project showed that seniors who are cognitively active were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia than those who did not exercise their brains.

In addition to stimulating the brain and helping to enhance intellectual wellness, these pursuits are often social endeavors that can provide as sense of involvement and belonging in the community as well as helping to avoid feelings of isolation.

There are many excuses people use to keep themselves from learning new things, such as it’s not worth the effort, it’s too expensive, or it’s too hard. But educational opportunities are more abundant than you might realize, both in your community and in the digital world.

  • Libraries, senior centers, and local retirement communities likely offer courses or seminars—and often at no charge. These offerings may be held in partnership with local colleges and provide a more convenient way to access an in-depth look at a favorite or new subject.
  • Local colleges and universities may offer the opportunity for waived tuition or scholarships for older adults pursuing either credit or noncredit courses.
  • Auditing a course provides the social and intellectual benefits without the stress of exams, homework, and high costs.
  • Online courses are convenient for getting access to information without having to leave your home. And they can still provide the social benefits of an in-person class through online discussions.

Growing our minds and learning something new doesn’t have to end with retirement. Find what interests you and pursue greater knowledge!

Exercise for adapting needs

As we get older, certain conditions, injuries, or simply the effects of time may keep us from moving the way we once did.

Aging bodies have different needs. Some of the activities you may have once enjoyed as exercise may no longer be feasible. But learning to adapt to these changes can help keep exercise an important and effective part of your life.

Staying active is essential for maintaining or improving your well-being. In addition to reducing the risk of falls and cardiovascular conditions, physical activity helps release endorphins to relieve stress, boost self-esteem, and improve moods.

  • Focus on balance. Be sure to incorporate balance exercises like tai chi or Pilates into your routine for a low-impact workout with significant results.
  • Take a seat. Chair yoga and other seated exercises can still provide tremendous benefit and are ideal for those who are unable to stand for prolonged periods of time, or get down onto the floor.
  • Dive in! Aquatic exercise is easy on joints while helping to strengthen the core, legs, and back. Water-aerobics classes can also help enhance cardiovascular health.
  • Think outside the gym. It’s easy to incorporate walking and stretching into everyday life. A stroll through a mall or museum, a dance class, or spending time in the park with grandchildren are all ways to get moving without even feeling like you’re exercising.

No matter your abilities or strengths, the most effective type of exercise is one that you enjoy. To successfully incorporate workouts into your daily routine, consider which activities make you happy and which you’ll look forward to doing each day.

Keep tabs on your health using modern technology

Today’s technology has made many parts of our lives more convenient. In our phones and tablets, we can carry books, movies, games, notes, maps, and so much more. Some of these new innovations can even help us keep in tune with our bodies and minds by monitoring our health and stimulating different aspects of our wellness:

  • Fitbit or other wearable technology: These small bands can track your steps, heart rate, calories, sleep quality, and overall activity level. They are a great motivational reminder to help you meet your fitness goals each day.
  • Activity tracking apps: Monitoring your steps and exercise doesn’t necessarily require another piece of technology. Apps like Map My Run, Strava, and MyFitnessPal can also log workouts, calories, and overall health.
  • Luminosity and other brain games: Many of these games are free to download and offer fun and stimulating games to keep your brain active. They can also track your progress and potentially show any areas of decline.
  • Skype or Facetime: Social interaction is important for everyone, but especially for seniors, who are often prone to feelings of isolation. These video chatting tools can substitute face-to-face interactions with grandchildren and other loved ones when an in-person visit isn’t always practical.
  • Medication tracking apps: A daily pill box can still get the job done, but apps like Medisafe or Pill Monitor can provide visual reminders of which pills are needed as well as alarms to help you take them at the same time each day.

While using apps and other technology can sometimes seem daunting for older adults, most are built to be intuitive and user-friendly. Determine which ones would be most helpful in your life and start embracing the power of technology!

Breathing toward a better life

Breath is essential to life. Each person will take about half a billion breaths in their lifetime, most of which are taken without thinking. But focusing on the breath and bringing awareness to it can be a valuable tool in connecting the mind and body.

Our thoughts are connected to our breath, and can be used to influence the way the body behaves through simple exercises. A deep breath tells the body to calm down and encourages full oxygen exchange to keep the heartbeat steady.

For example, stressful thoughts trigger the release of “fight or flight” hormones that then increase blood pressure and heart rate and constrict blood vessels. Deep breathing can reverse this response by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to organs and muscles, thus reducing the damage caused by stress.

The benefits of a regular practice of deep breathing can include:

  • Reduce anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Lower/stabilize blood pressure
  • Increase energy levels
  • Relax muscles

Practicing deep breathing doesn’t have to be complicated. To try, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Breathe in through the nose, slowly, allowing the chest and abdomen to expand. Then breathe out slowly through the nose or mouth.

You may find it comforting to close your eyes or even to focus on a word or phrase to help you relax. Many also combine deep breathing with practices that promote it, including meditation, yoga, tai chi, or repetitive prayer.

A daily practice of deep breathing is one of the most effective tools for enhancing your health and producing long-term benefits. Try to practice for 15 – 20 minutes each day. Over time, these techniques can become more natural for your body and breathing will be more effective.

An active mind is a healthy mind

As we age, we often think about a decline in physical health and how we can work to keep our bodies active. But just as important as maintaining physical health is the health of our brains.

When we’re young, we are continuously learning. At some point in life, we often become primarily users of mastered skills and abilities and no longer engage our brains to acquire new abilities.  Most of what we do are things we are familiar with. We apply skills unthinkingly and tend to look for non-stressful paths to things. But this can be detrimental to our mental health.

A lack of challenging activities combined with the gradual shrinking of the brain’s volume with age can lead to brain cell damage and an acceleration of natural cognitive decline.

Fortunately, many of the ways we work to keep our bodies healthy also apply to enhancing brain health. These include staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular mental and social activity.

According to a clinical trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this combination is proven to slow cognitive decline. Slowing this decline can help keep memory language skills, perception, reasoning, and judgment strong—plus keeps brain cells healthy to fight off dementia.

Activities that challenge the brain are key. This can include reading the news and discussing it with others, learning a new skill, taking a class, or playing stimulating games. Helpful online resources for keeping your brain active can be found at the following sites:

  • brainhq.com
  • happy-neuron.com

Additional steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age include controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding excessive smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that while occasional memory lapses are normal, significant memory loss is not a regular part of aging, and any cognitive changes noted should be discussed with your doctor.

Focus on health all hours of the day (and night)

While being active, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet are often touted as the keys to a healthy lifestyle, the amount and quality of your sleep is just as important.

Getting enough sleep provides valuable benefits for both our minds and bodies, as it can affect our immune system, appetite, hormone levels, blood pressure, and more.

As people age, falling asleep and staying asleep can become more of a struggle, and the prevalence of insomnia rises, as well. This can be caused by changes in circadian rhythms, hormone levels, lifestyle habits, or effects from medications.

However, sleep needs remain the same throughout adulthood—seven to nine hours per night. A lack of quality sleep each night can lead to reduced productivity, daytime sleepiness, depression, increased risk of obesity, and other health concerns.

There are certain practices you can follow to help fall asleep faster and get quality sleep each night:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Do not nap for longer than 20 minutes.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping. Do not read, snack, or watch television in bed.
  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol in the evenings.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that may be keeping you awake at night, such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, and cardiovascular drugs.

Taking care of yourself at night can help your daytime hours be safer, healthier, and more enjoyable.

Have you seen what healthy vision’s all about?

You know having a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise are important to living a long, healthy life. But did you know those factors contribute to your eye health, too?

Eyes are our windows into the world, and having clear vision is important for building beautiful memories. That’s one reason why eye health is worth seriously looking into.

Here are a few tips for keeping those peepers popping!

Get regular eye exams – comprehensive dilated eye exams allow your eye doctor to look deep within your orbs, making it easier to catch certain diseases early.

Wear sunglasses – wearing shades protects your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can cause devastating cataracts, macular degeneration, and astigmatism-causing pterygiums. Plus, they look cool!

Use protective eyewear – wearing safety glasses will help keep foreign objects from piercing your eyes. If you’re a home woodworker or metal smith, or just a particularly zealous duster, keeping your eyes debris free is essential to healthy sight.

Know your family history – did anybody from your past have a history of eye issues? Your eye color is hereditary and so are some eye diseases. Knowing your family history can help you develop a plan of eye health action!

The Seriousness of Our Senses

Our five senses—hearing, vision, taste, smell, and touch—connect us to others and the world around us, allowing us to experience things in a number of ways. It’s easy to take our senses for granted, until one or more of them start to diminish.

A decline in senses is a natural effect of aging. Health and environmental factors can also facilitate sensory deterioration. Long-time smokers may experience reduced taste and smell sensitivities, while people living with diabetes may have issues with vision.

While sensory changes can be frustrating, acceptance and a positive attitude can help make the changes more manageable. With patience, you can often learn to compensate for the diminished sense with others, while adaptive devices can also provide assistance.

  • Hearing is often considered our most social sense—and can lead to withdrawal and isolation as people become more and more hesitant to interact with others. Misunderstanding others can also lead to paranoia and disagreements. Avoid shouting, speak face-to-face, and eliminate background noise when speaking with someone who has hearing loss.
  • Vision loss can lead to problems with mobility, poor orientation, and even hallucinations. It may keep people from moving around and getting outside, and also lead to isolation. Many low vision aids can help with adapting to this change. Regular eye exams ensure the most up-to-date assistance.
  • A diminished sense of touch affects both the ability to distinguish between different objects and textures, but also to detect pain. Older adults are less likely to be able to perceive internal pain or rising temperatures. They may also miss out on the therapeutic benefits of another person’s touch.
  • Changes in taste and smell often go hand in hand for those over the age of 50, and can cause food to become unappealing. A loss of smell can also create consequences with safety and personal hygiene. Find ways to enhance the flavor of foods without salt, add textures, and follow good oral hygiene to help retain smelling and tasting abilities.

If you notice changes in a loved one, bring it up in a tactful way. Avoid making someone feel inadequate and instead focus on finding ways to help them adapt and remain successful.

Wellness within our world

When thinking about our personal health and wellness, we don’t often consider the effects our environment can have. But how you interact with the earth can have a significant impact on your well-being. When we are aware of how our actions and behaviors affect the world we live in, we can make informed decisions and feel good about our choices.

The resources of our world are not unlimited, and recognizing that fact is one of the most effective ways to develop our emotional wellness. Awareness of our place in the world and the consequences of our actions and behavior are the foundation of living of life with environmental wellness. We must consider not only our world, but the world of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

This month, we celebrate Earth Day and give thanks to all that our environment provides us with. But that gratitude can be a part of our everyday lives with just a few simple habits.

  • Engage in activities that help you appreciate the world we live in, while also stimulating other areas of wellness, such as walking, meditating, and gardening.
  • Walk or ride a bike instead of driving, when possible. When not possible, consider taking public transportation or carpooling.
  • Be cognizant of your impact on the world and work to reduce your footprint—turn off lights, recycle, and avoid polluting the air and water.
  • Reduce the use of toxic chemicals—choose “green” cleaning products and pesticides to reduce negative effects on people, pets, and the earth.
  • Eat local, whenever possible. Visit local farmers markets and eat what’s in season.

Cultivating our environmental wellness not only helps the earth stay healthy—it also helps to foster other areas of our personal health, by allowing us to breathe fresh air, eat nutritious fruits and vegetables, spend time outdoors with others.