Do Our Health Needs Change As We Get Older

It’s only natural for us to become more health conscious the older we get, and there are a number of reasons for this.

Obviously the risk of certain conditions increases with age. Persons over the age of 40 are often the intended audience for health advice warning them to be mindful of and take measures to prevent particular illnesses; and this can rightly increase our sense of vigilance.

From a circumstantial standpoint, in our earlier adult years we may not have quite as many long-term a familial or financial commitments to fulfil. We’re more likely to have a family or loved ones to support in our advancing years, which makes our capacity to work and earn (and consequently our health) all the more precious to us.

But do our health needs evolve the older we get? Are there particular lifestyle practices or considerations we should be observing when we get past a certain age?

Doctor check-ups

As touched on above, there are a number of conditions that we’re more likely to encounter the older we get. Among these are cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure and angina, sight problems such as glaucoma, and diabetes.

Obviously the menopause can cause a range of symptoms in women, and in men over 50, the risk of prostate conditions such as BPH rises.

The key to spotting health issues early, and managing them where necessary, is to ensure you have regular health checks with your doctor; and this is something that, with age, we’ll need to change our attitude towards. During our younger years, many of us will tend to only visit the doctor when there is noticeable evidence of a problem. But, as we get older, periodic check-ups can be beneficial in helping to identify age-related health concerns before they develop.

The NHS runs Midlife MOTs for those aged 40 and above, but it’s also a good idea to check with your GP how often you should be having ‘preventative’ consultations. The frequency with which you do may be influenced by any pre-existing conditions you have.

Lifestyle choices

Should we do more to implement healthy lifestyle changes the older we get?

In reality, regular physical activity and a healthy, balanced diet are important at any age. But because the effects of a poor lifestyle may not become apparent until we start to get older, many of us may not incorporate aspects of healthy living into our routines until we reach a certain age.

Making a concerted effort to transform our lifestyle from a poor to a healthy one, whether we’re approaching middle age or not, is crucial and can obviously have a huge positive difference.

But following the notion that you can ‘get away’ with bad lifestyle choices in your twenties provided you ‘repent’ in your thirties and forties by making drastic changes, isn’t beneficial to long-term health.

It’s important to get into healthy living habits early. The longer you throw caution to the wind, the harder it will be from a habitual standpoint to turn things around later on.

The choices we make in our twenties, for instance, the level of alcohol we consume and whether or not we smoke, can adversely influence our health in later life. Tobacco use and repeated excess alcohol consumption can cause lasting damage which in some cases stays with us.

In actuality then, we shouldn’t just implement healthy lifestyle changes the older we get; we should implement them as early as possible. This means giving up smoking if you do smoke, and staying within guideline alcohol limits (no more than 14 units per week).

Should we eat more fibre?

In short, yes.

Once more, a varied and balanced diet is crucial at all stages of life. But it’s important to be mindful of the fact that as we get older, our metabolism naturally begins to slow down; meaning we won’t require as much energy through calories in our diet as we do when we’re younger. Changes that take place in the gut during our advancing years also mean that our bodies won’t be as adept at taking up nutrients from the food we eat.

For those of us in our advancing years, this is what makes fibre so important. A diet which contains a good level of fibre will help to slow down the passage of food through the digestive system. This helps the calories we do consume to go further by promoting a more sustained and gradual rate of energy release. But it also ensures that the gut has more time to absorb what it needs from our food.

Fibre also has the added benefit of reducing cholesterol levels, and helping to maintain a healthy weight; so getting enough of it is important at any age, but particularly so in our later years.

Do we need to exercise more?

As we get older, our joints become more susceptible to wear and tear, and we naturally begin to lose mineral density in our bones, which makes them more prone to breakage.

Does this mean that we need to increase the intensity at which we exercise to compensate?

If you’re getting a good level of exercise currently, no.

Provided you have no mobility issues or medical conditions which dictate otherwise, you should simply carry on with your present level of activity.

Once more, the benefits of exercise may become more noticeably apparent in later life, which can make the need for exercise seem more urgent. However, to help ensure good long-term health, regular physical activity is a habit we should get into early, and maintain into our later years.

The NHS guidelines on exercise for those aged 65 and over are identical to those for the 19-64 group: 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week; in addition to strength training exercises on two or more days.