People are often pushed away by the thought of “diet and exercise” as a cure-all. The problem is the mental approach many of us take at the onset. We can focus on the challenges of incorporating physical activity and new nutrition habits into our daily lives. Or, we can help ourselves and think outside the box with diet and exercise. Thinking outside the box has its benefits!
At any age, being active on a regular basis is beneficial to physical and mental health — this is not news. However, one of the most common mistakes we make is with our synonymous use of exercise and physical activity. Though both burn calories, exercise is structured aerobic activity that develops muscle, while physical activity is any instance of movement that increases blood flow. In other words, it doesn’t have to be intense. You might be surprised to realize how often you are being physically active — it includes things like walking your dog, taking the stairs or gardening.
For older adults, being physically active can increase their ability to complete regular tasks on their own and maintain independence in general. It helps promote a strong and healthy heart. And, a strong and healthy heart also increases immunity to infectious diseases and viruses, and it reduces the risk of dangerous complications that can lead to hospitalization.
The National Institute on Aging proposes some simple ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily life:
- Walk every aisle of the grocery store when you go shopping
- Walk around the block when you go out to get the mail
- Get off the bus one stop earlier or park your car further away from your destination and walk the extra distance
- Lift the milk carton or a one pound can a few times before putting it away
- Walk up and down the steps a few extra times
The National Institute on Aging also recommends having an “exercise buddy,” a health care buddy, be it a neighbor, friend or family member, who takes walks or yoga classes with you. If you don’t already have an exercise buddy, there are easy ways to find one. There may be a walking club at your local mall or an exercise class at a nearby senior center.
Junk food and added sugar are harmful to health at any age, but can be particularly detrimental to adults with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. While going on a strict diet is likely to be disruptive to your digestive system and mood, try approaching your meals with nutrition in mind. Think — Am I getting enough protein or calcium in this meal? How can I increase the amount of vitamins and minerals by eating different foods?
By approaching nutrition as an added element to your comprehensive diet, you can improve your mental and physical well-being without the stress of cutting out entire food groups.
Studies show that even a small amount of physical activity and attention to nutrition can have a variety of health benefits. Approaching these recommendations with a positive attitude not only helps you take the first step toward incorporating them into your life, but also helps you stick with them long term. While it may seem intimidating, you don’t have to navigate your health needs alone — talking to a doctor or family nurse practitioner can help define which specific activities and nutritional elements are right for you.
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