Take advantage of the summer months to try some of the steps below to maintain or improve your health and wellbeing.
1. Put the Kettle On
Dehydration can make us feel tired and confused, so it’s important to make sure that you’re having enough to drink.
Older people are particularly susceptible to dehydration because we aren’t as sensitive to the feeling of thirst and our kidneys don’t function as efficiently as they did when we were younger.
NHS guidelines recommend drinking 8 medium-sized (150ml) glasses of water each day. Tea, coffee and squash all count towards this total – but look for low-sugar varieties and, if you take sugar in your tea, try to cut down.
2. Floss Before Bed
Using dental floss helps to prevent gum disease by removing pieces of food and plaque from between the teeth.
If it’s left to build up you might notice sore or bleeding gums, and studies have shown links between a build up of dental plaque and heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, strokes and lung disease.
Dental Hygienist Sally Goss, from The Harley Street Dental Studio, says: ‘It becomes especially important to floss regularly as we get older, because gums often start to recede, creating more nooks and crannies where food and bacteria can become trapped.
‘I recommend flossing at least once a day – ideally before bed. It’s a good idea to floss before you brush and if you wear glasses, put them on first so that you can see what you’re doing.
‘Dental floss can be tricky to grip, so I advise my older patients to use interdental brushes, which are easier to hold and can be moved back and forth between teeth more easily.
‘Alternatively, there’s a device called an Air Floss, which fires a jet of water in between teeth at the push of a button. When you use one of these, flossing takes less than two minutes.’
3. Improve Your Balance
According to NHS guidelines, healthy adults aged over 65 should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, plus muscle strengthening activity on two or more days.
‘Yoga and Tai Chi can be very helpful for older people, as they help to increase flexibility and improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls,’ says fitness expert Ben Coomber.
‘Walking, swimming, aqua aerobics and dancing are also good, fun ways to build fitness and you can strengthen muscles by using light hand weights as you sit in a chair.’
4. Eat More Snacks
You may have been brought up to believe that eating between meals is bad for you, but that’s really not the case. ‘If you can’t manage much food in one go, then eat little and often,’ says Gaynor Bussell from the British Dietetic Association. ‘Research shows that eating regularly helps prevent weight gain.’
However, that doesn’t mean that you should fill up on sugary treats like cakes and biscuits – half a sandwich, cheese on toast, soup, a bowl of cereal or a couple of crumpets are all good options.
5. Buy a Pair of Trainers
Sore or painful feet can really affect your ability to lead a full and active life. It’s tempting to stay indoors if you can’t find a pair of comfortable shoes and relying on slippers can make some foot problems worse and increase the risk of slips or falls.
‘Many people wear slippers if their feet are hurting, but this can make things worse as they encourage you to shuffle rather than letting the joints work as they should,’ says Mike O’Neil, Consultant Podiatrist and spokesperson for the College of Podiatry.
‘A pair of running shoes is the best option as these provide a good amount of shock absorption and stability and also support the arch.’
6. Get a Vitamin D Boost
We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight on our skin – so it’s no surprise that many us are deficient, especially during the winter months. That’s why many doctors recommend a daily vitamin D supplement – especially if you’re over 65.
‘Vitamin D is a supplement really worth taking as its hard to get enough in the UK,’ says GP Dr Ellie Cannon.
‘We know that vitamin D is great for bone health as it helps the body use calcium, so this is particularly important for older people.
‘Studies recently have also shown that it may lower your chances of developing some cancers.’
7. Share the Cooking
You can save some time and money by sharing cooking duties with friends or family. Either take it in turns to cook once or twice a week, or join forces to cook different parts of the meal.
‘If you have lost enthusiasm for cooking then try and eat with friends or family as much as possible,’ says British Dietetic Association spokesperson, Gaynor Bussell.
‘Cooking for others can increase your interest in meal preparation and you can challenge yourself by cooking a new dish each week. This will encourage you to eat a greater variety of foods and have a more balanced diet.’
8. Have a Good Laugh
Did you know that laughter really can be a great remedy for all kinds of conditions? Researchers say that it can help with conditions including diabetes, eczema, heart disease and asthma.
It can also boost the immune system, help to fight infections, burn calories and relieve pain.
According to an Oxford study, it can even have a positive effect on rheumatoid arthritis for up to 12 hours. So watch your favourite television comedy, visit a comedy club or spend time with people who make you laugh.
9. Book an Eye Test
Your eyesight is probably changing as a natural part of the ageing process, but regular check-ups can help you to retain the best possible quality of vision.
Emma Coulthurst, spokesperson for Specsavers, says: ‘As we age we become more susceptible to certain problems such as cataracts, floaters, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
‘This is why we recommend that people have their eyes tested at least every two years, as this means we can diagnose and treat these conditions early.’
Eye tests are free if you’re over 60, and Specsavers offers a 25% discount on glasses from the £69 range or above to customers aged 60-plus.
10. Take up a New Hobby
It’s easy to become lonely and isolated, especially if you live alone. A recent report by think tank Demos found that over-65s in Britain are lonelier than those in the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.
Experts say that loneliness increases the risk of heart disease and dementia and makes sufferers less likely to exercise and to drink more.
The best way to get out and about and spend time with others is to find a new hobby and join a club or social group.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a book group, a dancing class, a walking group or a computer group.
Check with your local library or community centre to find out what’s going on in your area and make it a regular date in your diary.
11. Get Your Hearing Checked
You might think that your hearing is perfect – and it might well be. But your hearing can fade gradually without you noticing, as the small, hairlike cells within the ear get worn out over the years.
When this happens, you don’t go deaf – but you will find it harder to hear sounds clearly, particularly if there’s a lot of background noise.
You may benefit from a hearing test if other people comment the volume of your television or radio is turned up very high, if you find it hard to follow dialogue when watching a film, or if you struggle to follow a conversation when more than one person is talking.
Ask your GP to carry out a hearing test if you’re worried.
12. Have an Early Night
Many of us have trouble getting – or staying – asleep as we get older. This can leave us tired and grumpy as, contrary to common belief, we still need the same amount of sleep we did when we were younger.
Napping during the day, then staying up later in the evening can just make the problem worse – it’s more helpful to establish a regular routine and get to bed at a sensible time. So make a warm, milky drink and head to bed with a book.
You can listen to the radio, but avoid watching television or using a computer, as these make it harder to wind down.
13. Exercise Your Brain
New US research shows that keeping your brain active by reading, writing, completing a crossword or doing a Sudoku puzzle can help to delay memory loss and even reduce the onset, or progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, German researchers found that you need to keep your mind AND body active to get the most benefit – so 30 minutes of exercise, such as gardening, housework or a gentle walk, combined with 30 minutes of puzzle-solving, on top of your usual daily activities, could help to ward off dementia.