Not so long ago, the stereotype of old age focused on the negative. Perhaps facing illness or struggling to leave the house. Today, that’s not the reality for many people. It’s common to see people in their 80s and beyond fully enjoying their life.
So, what can you do to reach a ripe old age and still be healthy?
Of course, there’s no guarantee of what will happen, genetics and environment play a role. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to boost your health as you get older. In fact, longevity expert Dr Shigeaki Hinohara (who reached the age of 105) attributed his long life to several practices and backed them up with numerous books on the topic.
Whilst you may have spotted longevity tips before that demanded you exercise every day or cut out a food group, Dr Hinohara’s approach is a little more laid-back. In a piece for the Japan Times he said: “We all remember how as children, when we were having fun, we forgot to eat or sleep. I believe that we can keep that attitude as adults too. It’s best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”
Instead, his philosophy focused on maintained purpose and drive throughout life. Right until the end of his life, Dr Hirohara kept a diary filled with plans made years ahead, with room for fun amid his lectures and hospital work.
So, what can we do to live healthy, long lives? Luckily, much of it is common sense.
1. Keep active
It shouldn't come as any surprise that exercise and being active is on the list. Keeping fit and in good shape is essential for health, no matter what age you are. You don’t have to commit to running a marathon or taking up a sport (unless you want to!) but whilst winding down is something to look forward to in retirement, make sure you’re still getting some gentle exercise. It can be as simple as playing outdoors with grandchildren through to joining a club to spur you on.
2. Eat a well-balanced diet
Along with keeping fit, what you put in your body is just as important. We don’t mean going on a fad diet, but getting a healthy balance should be a priority throughout your life. Of course, it’s fine to indulge once in a while but keep things in moderation to maintain health.
3. Don’t forget about keeping your brain active
As we enter retirement, we often start scaling back. For many of us, we'll be using our brain less when we're no longer spending time at work. But much like you need to exercise to maintain muscles, your brain is the same. Keeping up with hobbies and working out solutions to challenges in day-to-day life can help you maintain mental agility. Place a focus on learning new things later in life too, it can boost your mental health and be rewarding too.
4. Maintain a schedule
If there’s one key message to Dr Hinohara’s notes on how to live happily in old age, this is it. He attributes keeping busy as one of the reasons he lived so long and giving him purpose long past traditional retirement age. Into his 90s, he continued giving some 150 lectures a year to people from school-aged children to senior business executives. Whilst that might seem a little much for your retirement plans, maintaining a schedule should be on your agenda. Do what you enjoy, whether that's meeting up with friends, indulging in hobbies or passing on your knowledge to the next generation.
5. Make sure you get enough sleep
The good news is you probably don't have to set your alarm to get up every day in your later years, but getting a good night's sleep is still important. Sleep is essential for many health reasons, from helping us to maintain our weight through to improving memory. Sticking to a routine and getting around eight hours sleep a night can deliver a health boost.
6. Take control of your health
We all know that with old age come ailments that you’d rather be without. Taking charge of your health can help you feel in control. It’s a step that incorporates keeping active and eating a balanced diet, but you should go beyond that. You know your body best and when something worries you, speak to a health professional. For some, old age may mean needing more help with the day-to-day. It may not be something you want to think about but planning the type of care you’d prefer, and how you’ll pay for it, can provide you with peace of mind and ensure your wishes are carried out.
7. Have a positive mindset
Another one of Dr Hinohara’s main points is to focus on the positive. If you read interviews or books written by him, you’ll often notice that he refers to the sense of fun and intrigue we had as children; don’t let that slip away as you enter old age. Happiness really can be the best medicine!