Healthy aging: What you can do to age well physically and mentally

What is healthy aging and why is it important?

It’s a fact. Australians are living longer, and the trend is on the rise. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), a person born in 2019 is expected to live approximately 30 years longer than someone who was born in 1900.1

Although the age gap is sizeable, medical advancements (including vaccines) together with improved knowledge and education around nutrition and hygiene over the past century have significantly contributed to a reduced mortality rate and improved life expectancy.  

But the knock-on effect of us living longer is that our population is aging. In 2017, one in seven Australians (15%) were aged 65 years or older. And because we have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, the AIHW predicts that by 2057 we’ll have 8.8 million Australians aged 65 and over (22% of the population) and 12.8 million people (25% of the population) by 2097.2

The silver lining

Although having an aging population could be seen as a negative (due to increased pension and health care costs), it can also be seen as a positive. Knowledge and experience is a currency and understanding how to leverage it could be a competitive advantage. Not only do older Australians contribute to the workforce (and the economy through their taxes), they also influence their families and the broader community by sharing their life experiences.

In fact, the Grattan Institute report estimates that a 7% increase in mature-age employees would raise the Gross Domestic Product in 2022 by approximately $25 billion.3 The report also found that mature-age workers have increased skills and knowledge, low absenteeism, are more loyal, and they’re good mentors.

There’s also evidence that older people who remain engaged in life stay healthier, which means they have less demands on government support programs like Medicare and social services. Yet the extent of these opportunities and contributions depends on one thing: their health.

Six healthy habits to age well

Healthy aging as described by The World Health Organization (WHO) is:

"The process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age."4

Functional ability are the two key words, as healthy aging is dependent on a person’s ability to perform their daily activities so they maintain their independence and quality of life. And because of the changing population demographics, healthy aging is something worldwide governments (including Australia’s) are promoting and encouraging so the second half of a person’s life can be just as rewarding as the first.

So, what’s the best way to age with a healthy body and mind? Below are six habits which will help put you on the right path to ageing well:

1. Fuel your body

Having a balanced diet can help prevent obesity, maintain your body weight, muscle strength and overall wellbeing. Follow an eating plan that includes plenty of veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy, and eat fewer fatty meats, butter, sugar, salt, and packaged foods. It’s also important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. For more information, read the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Dietary Guidelines.

2. Get the right amount of sleep

This means not too little and not too much. A good night’s sleep has a positive effect on the immune system and your general wellbeing. It’s recommended that adults over the age of 65 should have 7-8 hours of sleep a night.5

3. Keep moving

Exercise will help maintain your physical health, improve coordination, and reduce the risk of chronic disease and mental illness. Australia’s national guidelines recommend older Australians should try for 30 minutes of movement or moderate exercise a day.6 This could include a brisk walk, gardening, a swim, tennis or golf. For more ideas on how to keep moving, download the Department of Health’s Choose Health: Be Active guide.

4. Stay socially connected and mentally fit

To create a sense of security, maintain your social connections with your family, friends and community. Regular contact with your support network can help prevent feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression and could keep you mentally fit. Get involved in social activities like cooking classes, theatre, bingo or cards. Consider taking up a new skill, like learning a language or computer program, to keep your brain stimulated and possibly reduce the risk of dementia.

5. Be proactive with your health care

To prevent health issues later on, be proactive and stay on top of your medical check-ups (including eye, hearing and dental) and health screens (heart disease, blood pressure, bowel, skin cancer and mammograms). Also make sure you schedule your annual vaccinations, particularly your flu and possibly Covid vaccination going forward.

6. Limit your alcohol and stop smoking

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can cause health diseases and ultimately prevent healthy aging. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends adults should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.7 And because smoking claims the lives of around 24,000 Australians every year8, now may be a good time to stop.

Some things get better with age

Healthy aging is a mix of genetic, environmental, and social factors, but it is possible to maintain your physical and mental health later in life by minimising the negatives and focusing on the good things about getting older; like being comfortable in your own skin, having your independence and freedom. Some things really do get better with age. So, take the high road, embrace healthy aging and enjoy the older you.

Create the future you want

While it’s important to embrace healthy aging, the goal is to balance a longer and healthier life with a financial plan that gives you a comfortable retirement. If you’d like some advice to help you take control of the future you’re planning for, contact your EISS Super financial planner or call us on 1300 369 901, Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm AEST.

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Deaths in Australia, 25 June 2021.
2 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Older Australia at a glance, 10 September 2018.
3 Grattan Institute, Game-Changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia, Grattan Institute Report No. 2012-5, June 2012.
4 World Health Organization, Ageing: Healthy ageing and functional ability, 26 October 2020.
5 Sleep Health Foundation, How much sleep do you really need? 14 October 2011.
6 Australian Government Department of Health, Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians, 7 May 2021.
7 Australian Government Department of Health, How much alcohol is safe to drink? 8 December 2020.
8 Cancer Council, Smoking and tobacco control.