How to Encourage Older Adults to Make Healthier Lifestyle Choices

Guest Post Author:  Dr. Michael Donaldson |Hallelujah Diet

Most people agree that a healthy life is a happy life. Healthy individuals feel positive, vibrant, and energized. The opposite can be said of those living with disease and pain. As a healthcare professional, you play a valuable role in helping others lead wholesome, upbeat lives. Your influence is crucial in encouraging the seniors in your life to make healthier choices.

Encourage Exercise

A study on elderly adults showed sedentary individuals to have a lower functional capacity than their more active counterparts. By encouraging older adults to be active, you are simultaneously promoting increased independence. A “3-Step Workout for Life” program has been shown to promote Activities of Daily Life or ADLs, more so than resistance training alone. In this plan, participants who engaged in resistance, functional, and activities of daily living exercises showed improved performance in ADLs, over those who solely practiced resistance training.

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Incorporating exercise into seniors’ weekly schedules will help their functional ability. A balanced program of aerobic, resistance/strength, and flexibility training has been shown to reduce the risk of mobility disability, the inability to walk without assistance, by 18 percent. For those 65 years and older, the current guidelines are 150 minutes of moderate aerobics per week, along with strength training exercises on two or more days. Strength training exercises should work all of the major muscle groups (legs, back, arms, shoulders, abdomen, and chest).

Moderate activities include walking or cycling. For more active adults, the minutes of aerobic exercise may decrease if the intensity increases—say, by replacing running with walking or cycling with tennis. Chair yoga is great for increasing flexibility. Many guided group exercise classes can be found at a local gym. The Active Older Adults program at the YMCA helps older adults stay active and connected

Developing a workout regimen takes a little bit of effort on the individual’s part and for the caretaker. You may want to begin a program gradually. Walking is one of the best exercises for health, so it is a natural place to start. Encourage the formation of walking groups at your workplace. On rainy days, you can walk the halls of the building or take a bus trip to a mall to get some steps in.

Teach Nutrition

Nutrition is the cornerstone of health. Many older adults may not be familiar with proper nutrition, so it is your job to educate them. You can teach nutrition using the My Plate plan. My Plate is an easy to understand nutrition program. For each meal, half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with carbohydrates. A cup of milk or up to two ounces of cheese can also be consumed. Posting a visual diagram in the cafeteria or home can help people follow the guideline.

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Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables is a good start to better nutrition since foods of many colors contain varying nutrients. Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables tend to be healthier than canned, due to the salt, sugar, and preservatives used. Frozen vegetables are a particularly good option for the elderly since they are easy to cook and they last a long time. Dark, leafy green vegetables are nutrient dense powerhouses, and they are also low in calories, so they should be consumed daily.

Lean meat, seafood, beans, lentils, seeds, nuts, peas, and eggs are great protein sources. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are dairy options that can be enjoyed in their natural state. Full-fat dairy is healthier than low-fat because it is less processed. However, due to its saturated fat content, dairy should be eaten sparingly. Whole-wheat bread and organic grains like pasta, tortillas, rice, oats, barley, pasta, and quinoa are great grain options to suggest to your patients.

If you work in a home, review the menu together and help them choose the healthiest options. If you are in a position to help the elderly prepare food, you can assist in designing a meal plan. Meal prep involves creating breakfast, lunch, and dinner options for a week or more.

Meal planning helps your patients by taking the guesswork out of what to eat. This is also a great area to give autonomy to the adults you work with. Ask the adults you work with what meals they would enjoy and record them on a list. Together, you can collaborate on a meal plan to create delicious and healthy meals your patients will enjoy.

Here are some resources to get you started:

If you sit with patients during meals, you can discuss how they should eat slowly and stop eating when full. Teach them to listen to the cues of their body to know when to stop, ensuring they receive adequate nutrition and do not under- or overeat. This is also a great time to socialize with patients and provide a sense of companionship, which is beneficial to their health. 

Support Social Interactions

Holistic wellness into old age involves the building and maintaining of a social network. Seniors who engage in regular social interactions experienced better mental and physical health than those who don’t. If you work in personal care or nursing home, you most likely have an Activity Director on staff in charge of planning recreational, social, spiritual, and intellectual programs for those in your building. Help your director out by getting residents involved. You can distribute activity calendars, discuss upcoming programs with residents, and bring them to meeting rooms to participate in activities.

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You may also give your director ideas for activities. Games, trivia, outings, art, spiritual enrichment, cooking, gardening, walking, exercise, reminiscing and discussion groups, educational classes, Bible studies, music, and worship services are just some of the many groups that can keep seniors engaged. You may need ideas for activities if you work in a private home. In addition to the ideas above, there are many resources available to assist you. Search your area for social opportunities. Senior centers and YMCAs are great starts, but also consider the specific interests of the individual you work with. Is there an interest club or volunteer opportunity related to his or her passions?

Don’t neglect the importance of maintaining spiritual connections at all ages. Faith improves the quality of life, so encourage the seniors in your life to find a local house of worship to practice their faith and connect with like-minded individuals. By following these guidelines, you can make a positive impact in the holistic wellness for the seniors you care for.

About the Author:

Dr. Michael Donaldson is a chemical engineering graduate of Cornell University and now Research Director of the Hallelujah Diet. He has spent the last 18 years studying people who have experienced health benefits through diet and published scientific research on its benefits for fighting fibromyalgia, cancer, diabetes, and other ailments. His work consists of designing and coordinating epidemiologic and clinical intervention studies based on specific symptoms or diseases and focuses on the results of the Hallelujah Diet.

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