How you can live well for longer 

Words by Age UK Bristol and Dr Jitka Vseteckova, Ageing Well Expert at The Open University.

Over the last 30 years, ageing well research has exploded. So, how can we age well and give ourselves the best chance of a longer, healthier, happier life? 

Attitude matters: Research has found that our attitude to our age has an impact on our health and wellbeing – people who have a positive view of their ageing, recognising its potential for personal growth, are more likely to enjoy much better health into their 70s and beyond than others who associate ageing with decline. 

Our age beliefs can also have a direct effect on our bodies: older people who have been exposed to negative age stereotypes tend to have higher blood pressure in response to challenges, while others who have seen positive stereotypes have a lesser reaction. This makes sense: if you believe that you are frail and vulnerable, small difficulties can start to feel more threatening. 

Our culture is full of ageist messages that reinforce damaging age beliefs and negatively impact older adults. Greetings cards, phrases and headlines often depict negative views of ageing. This is not good for anyone and we need to challenge these stereotypes as aside from anything else they are quite simply not true. 

Lifestyle: A striking fact is that much of our ageing rate is within our gift: until we hit 80 years, well over two thirds (70-80%) of our ageing rate is determined by environmental factors. Here are some of the key factors:

Hydration is so important: As we get older our sensation of thirst diminishes and chronic dehydration (even if mild) is common. This impacts memory, affects the kidneys and can cause muscle damage, so keep drinking (6-8 cups of water every day). 

Physical activity: We all know exercise is good for us, but it isn’t always easy. The good news is that even small amounts of regular movement goes a long way. Walking, climbing stairs, lifting shopping – everything counts.

As we age we lose muscle naturally and so strengthening exercises help stay strong and stable, reducing the chances of falls particularly in later years.

Nutrition: Obesity increases our risk of many diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia. Scientists are also increasingly studying our gut microbiome as research is showing this has an effect on our health and wellbeing. Eating a healthy, balanced diet, low in ultra-processed foods is definitely good for the body and mind. 

Think – an old dog CAN learn new tricks! Our brains are amazing, and we can keep our brain flexible by continuing our learning – music, languages, books – these are all feeding the brain.

Connect and engage: Laughter is great for the body and mind. The dose of dopamine essentially gives the brain a workout by firing lots of synapses; it also reduces stress and boosts mood. The average four-year-old laughs 300 times a day, whereas the average 40-year-old laughs four. People laugh more with those they are close to, so challenge yourself to get together with friends and laugh like a child.

Attitude: We can try to rethink our perceptions of our ageing. By learning to reject negative beliefs and appreciate some of the positive changes that come with age, we can have a more positive ageing process both in body and mind.

We recognise that changing routines aren’t always easy and don’t guarantee longevity. 

However we recommend trying out some of the tips below to kickstart your journey to feeling healthier.

Age UK Bristol’s tips to age well: 

•  Practise balancing by standing on one leg whilst brushing your teeth

•  Set an alarm to drink regular glasses of water throughout the day

•  Choose a new vegetable you wouldn’t normally buy from the supermarket and look up a recipe that uses it

•  Join an Age UK Bristol Tai Chi session: 

•  Mix your nuts – have a helping of mixed nuts and seeds that you eat over the day

•  Spend 5 minutes doing something creative: draw a picture, play an instrument, do an origami online tutorial

•  Offer to walk someone’s dog – spending time with animals is calming and walking in nature is good for the body and brain

•  Learn something new! Check out the Open University’s Open Learn for a range of courses for everyone or look into the Bristol U3A.

•  Join Age UK Bristol’s Friends Ageing Better to meet new people near you: