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Are you ageing like a boss?

A smiling grey-haired man in a black sun shirt carries a surfboard under his arm at the edge of the ocean

When you picture yourself as an older person, how does that look?

Are you enjoying life with energy and enthusiasm? Look young for your age? Still enjoying activities you love and feel well?

The good news is research suggests some of the effects of ageing are lifestyle related. So, by modifying our lifestyle, we can influence how long and well we live.

These lifestyle factors work even after age 75, so, it’s never too late to start.

Avoid things that are bad for you

What does that mean?

Well, one in 10 Australians still smoke, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And one in four Australians drink more alcohol each week than recommended.

Tobacco and alcohol are both carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Alcohol was also the fifth-highest contributor to injury and disease in Australia.

As you age, your body takes longer to break down alcohol. This means you may feel more intoxicated than a younger person drinking the same amount.

Drinking more than four standard alcoholic drinks per day increases the risk of:

  • mental health issues
  • substance abuse
  • diabetes and weight gain
  • impotence and fertility issues
  • cancer
  • brain damage
  • heart issues
  • cirrhosis of the liver.

Alcohol can weaken your immune system. That can leave older people more vulnerable to life-threatening illnesses such as pneumonia.

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption. The Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol say healthy adults should not consume:

If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or under 18 years of age, you should not drink alcohol.

Standard drinks can be tricky.

A standard drink is defined as containing 10 grams of pure alcohol.

That’s just 100ml of wine (13% alcohol) or one can of mid-strength beer (3.5% alcohol).

Here is a handy chart of standard drinks from Adis:

A graphic table showing what is a standard drink for beer, wine, spirits, cider

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol doesn’t give an alcohol limit just for older people. Instead, it says they should talk to their doctor about the right level of alcohol for them. Your doctor can consider health conditions, medications, and possible harms.

If you or someone you care about has an alcohol or other drug concern, contact the confidential Adis 24/7 drug and alcohol support service.

For help with quitting smoking for yourself or someone else, visit Quit HQ or call Quitline 13 78 48.A smiling, mature woman in a bright red dress sits on the beach under an umbrella, applying sunscreen to her cheek

Protect yourself from radiation

Most people wouldn’t even think about standing in the radiation near an unshielded nuclear reactor core.

But some are happy to bathe themselves in the radiation from one in particular, the sun.

Harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is a leading cause of skin cancers (as well as premature ageing of the skin). Health professionals in Australia treat millions of skin cancers each year, and more than 2,000 people die of the disease.

The UV index rarely drops below three in Queensland, which is already enough to damage skin and lead to skin cancer. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Queensland has the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the world. See how to check the UV index and protect yourself here.

You know your skin better than anyone, so check it often for signs of skin cancer. See our blog (with pictures) How to check your skin for skin cancer. You can also keep an eye on your partner’s skin. Have a frequent check of your skin at a skin clinic or by your regular doctor and bring anything unusual to their attention.

Protect yourself from skin cancer the five ways—slip, slop, slap, seek, slide.

A colourful mix of blueberries raspberries and blackberries photographed from above

Catch some free radicals

Free radicals are unstable atoms that bind with another atom or molecule to stablise themselves. This can then damage human cells, causing illness and ageing.

Antioxidants in the food we eat, can neutralise these molecules and reduce the risk of damage. The best approach is to eat a broad range of foods and food groups.

Mixing colours can be a good way to get a good mix of different foods and nutrients. Spin the colour wheel for inspiration, recipes, and to learn more about the nutrients and their benefits.

Find out more about the food groups, how many serves you need, and why you need them:

We also have a great blog about What you should eat at every age.

Take a load off your circulatory system and joints

Keep a healthy weight. Your joints will thank you every day, and you will feel better and have more energy. This can reduce your risk of disease and improve your quality of life.

Two in three adults in Australia are overweight or obese. Obesity levels tend to increase with age. Being overweight or obese puts you at higher risk of:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • kidney disease
  • high blood pressure
  • some cancers
  • joint problems.

See the Healthier.Happier. website for ideas on healthy eating and exercise, recipes and cooking tips.

A smiling and fit-looking mature man in a blue sports vest does curls with dumbells

Think, look, and feel better by moving more

Being physically active is great for your body and brain. It helps you think clearly, improves concentration and reaction times. It also helps your memory by protecting the hippocampus—an area of the brain where short-term memories turn into long-term ones.

Exercise also helps protect your body and brain against disease. It can help you deal with stress, and releases chemicals in the body that make you feel good and improve your mood.

Regular exercise can help you sleep better, which is important as you get older.

Thirty minutes of moderate exercise a day will boost oxygen to the brain and provide other health benefits. Even if you break it up into three ten-minute periods.

As people get older, they need a mix of different types of physical activity to stay healthy. Ideally, you should try get a mix of:

  • moderate (aerobic) activities that get you breathing deeper and faster and speed up your heart rate, benefitting your heart, lungs and blood vessels
  • strength activities for muscle and bone strength
  • flexibility and balance activities to help you move well and avoid falls.

Some activities may provide two or more of these. For example, a moderate game of tennis could provide a workout for your heart, lungs and blood vessels, your muscles and bones, and your balance.

Or you could combine a brisk walk or light jog for aerobic benefits with some yoga a few times a week for strength, balance, and flexibility.

Walking is excellent. Walking more can improve energy levels and stamina, reduce anxiety and depression and boost confidence and mood. Try to walk as much as you can, as often you can. Walking with family or friends is a great way to get mobile and stay connected.

A laughing mature man playing drums in a band with his friends acknowledges the audience

Stay connected to other humans

Humans are social animals. Our brains are wired that way. Meaningful connections and healthy relationships can raise self-esteem. They can reduce levels of anxiety and depression.

Being socially connected is important in achieving quality of life along with physical health. As we grow older the chances of isolation and loneliness increase, so it’s important to keep reaching out to others. You could:

  • invite a friend or family member to dinner
  • arrange to meet for a weekly coffee
  • join a social or sports club
  • organise a group game
  • call an old friend.

The important thing is to make the effort to connect with and be with others.

A mature man fast asleep in bed

Catch some quality sleep

Studies have shown that as we age many of us can experience shortened and less restorative sleep.

We have:

  • more frequent night-time awakening
  • increased time awake in the night
  • early morning awakenings.

It's generally recommended that people aged 65 and over get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.

Here are a few tips for a good night’s sleep:

  • don’t drink alcohol before bedtime—even one drink can affect the quality of your sleep
  • consistency is key—try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day
  • go screen-free for at least an hour or more before bed
  • relax, unwind, and meditate—focus on your breathing before you go to bed and when you wake up
  • avoid or limit naps—sleeping during the day will make it more difficult to nod off at night, especially if you sleep deeply. If you need a nap, limit it to 30 minutes or less (so you don’t go into a deep sleep) and aim for at least four hours awake time before bed.
  • avoid foods and drinks with caffeine in the hours before bed—foods like chocolate can have caffeine in them that might keep you up at night.

If you’re having sleep problems, see your GP or contact the Sleep Health Foundation.

Get regular health checks and scheduled health screens

Some people service their car more often than seeing their doctor for a regular check-up.

Check-ups are important, as your doctor can notice signs of emerging problems and check for:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • other conditions that can affect your mental and physical performance and wellbeing

They can also provide other health and lifestyle advice.

When eligible, it’s important you have the following:

Screening saves many lives every year.

More information

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Last updated: 21 June 2022