Staying Healthy in Your Home as You Age

By Hayden James, MA, RDN/LD

It’s essential that our lifestyle evolves to keep us happy and healthy as we age. Physical activity, food preparation, and hobbies will likely change across our lifespan, and it’s natural to change our habits to suit our life stage. The home is a key piece of this puzzle.

As we age, it’s advantageous to modify the home to continue fostering a lifestyle that meets our wants and needs. A home that encourages physical activity, healthy nutrition, and hobbies are all steps toward maintaining health at every age.

Make physical activity a part of your weekly routine

While physical activity is beneficial for individuals of any age, adults over 50 especially benefit from staying active. Due to the loss of muscle mass through aging, age related balance and strength problems may lead to falls later in life and reduced mobility. This translates to more pain and lower quality of life.

Perhaps activity during youth has resulted in aches and pains in later years, so it’s important to find activity realistic for your age and level of mobility. Speak with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen if you have history of cardiac issues or diabetes.

Most individuals of all ages find difficulty in achieving the daily recommendation for physical activity. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults engage in at least thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five times per week, twenty-five minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise three times per week, or a combination of both.

Moderate-intensity can be simply defined as walking briskly, but activities such as dancing and gardening are also included. Some examples of vigorous intensity exercise include running, playing tennis, or most other sports. The WHO also recommends adults perform muscle strengthening activities involving major muscle groups (legs, back, and shoulders for examples) two or more days per week.

Meeting these recommendations is undoubtedly challenging for most Americans. Take comfort in knowing this thirty-minute recommendation can be split into three, ten-minute intervals throughout the day to reap similar health benefits to engaging in thirty consecutive minutes.

With a bit of creativity and planning, anyone can achieve these physical activity goals in the comfort of their own home, whether one enjoys pursuing physical fitness or prefers to simply find more ways to be active via daily tasks.

Getting your exercise around the house

Activities of daily living can absolutely be part of physical activity. Cleaning the house is a fabulous way to meet your thirty minutes per day when engaging in vacuuming, mopping, dusting, or any activity that keeps one continuously moving. The key is to stay engaged for ten-minute intervals to keep the heart rate elevated—you should feel as winded as you would be after walking briskly.

For strength work, body-weight exercises such as squats, lunges, wall pushups, and calf raises can be incorporated periodically during your cleaning regimen for additional benefit. Cleaning with upbeat music throughout the house could not only bring enjoyment to mundane housework, it can also keep one moving! Gardening and yard work such as mowing, raking leaves, and tilling soil can also qualify as physical activity.

Video game consoles aren’t reserved for couch potato kiddos. Multiple gaming systems offer adult-tailored physical activity games. A bit of space in front of a television is all you need to enjoy them. Some of these offerings could even be a great way to bond with visiting family.

  • Nintendo Wii’s Wii Fit U includes over seventy activities ranging from yoga, strength exercises, balance games, dance, and other aerobic activities.
  • Xbox 360 Nike+ Kinect training touts wonderful reviews, although reviewers note that it requires quite a bit of floor space.
  • Playful games such as Zumba Fitness and Dance Dance Revolution offer compatibility with both Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360.
  • The Apple TV streaming device offers a plethora of exercise subscription services to access pilates, yoga, strength training, and more that are living-room friendly.
  • The popular app, The Johnson & Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout offers circuit-training workouts that offer over 1000 workout variations in multiple intensity levels.

For those who enjoy intentional exercise in the home, dedicate a room or small space to the activity enjoyed the most, and keeping it decluttered to encourage mental presence. Whether it’s a simple space for yoga, a recumbent bike stationed in a guest room with a small television, or a living room layout that allows for space-adding modification in front of the television, create an environment that encourages more movement

Practicing sound nutrition in the home

It’s not uncommon that empty nesters struggle to adapt to cooking for two people, leading to fewer home-cooked meals, wasted leftovers, or combination of both. Home cooking tends to offer better nutritional value than eating out, and there are many ways to create enjoyable and healthy home cooking experiences to maximize flavor and nutrition and minimize food waste.

Tips: cooking for two
  • Couples and singles who don’t enjoy leftovers benefit from investing in smaller cookware to encourage smaller batches. Cooking in small batches also reduces the prep work involved in meal preparation—a bonus for those who don’t enjoy spending time in the kitchen.
  • A four-quart Dutch oven may now suit a couple’s cooking needs over the more common seven-quart size that used to feed the family.
  • A hand mixer is ideal for smaller batches of whole grain muffins over the workhorse of a large standing mixer.
  • Meals such as frittata and light stir fry are easily modified to use smaller pan, as are single-sheet-pan oven roasted meals. Salmon with broccoli, sliced Italian sausage with mixed vegetables, or boneless/skinless chicken thighs with Brussels sprouts are delicious ideas to get started.
  • Beat leftovers fatigue and food waste and save time and effort for preparation of future meals with beans, pasta sauces, and homemade uncooked veggie patties freeze well and can be pulled out of the fridge at any time.
Safe snacking in the home

Retirees tend to have more access to the kitchen than working adults on a daily basis, This could mean more grazing throughout the day, which may lead to excessive calorie intake and weight gain.

Americans of all ages tend to over-consume packaged foods like crackers, chips, granola bars, etc. These convenience foods are often rich in refined carbohydrates (low fiber), saturated fat, sodium, and/or added sweeteners, all of which when consumed in excess increase risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Pre-cutting vegetables and fruit make these heart healthy foods as reachable as the crackers. However, even mindless grazing on healthy foods suggests one could be eating for emotional reasons such as boredom or stress rather than hunger. Next time the kitchen calls without a hunger cue (grumbling stomach, feeling weak, or going five hours or more without eating), try acknowledging the thought and emotion, allow it to wash over, then move on to a different task or activity.

Spring, autumn, and summer are convenient times to boost vegetable intake with a simple home garden. In-ground beds and pots or a well-lit apartment balcony with a raised bed or two can supply an abundance of lettuces and herbs all season long. Lettuces and herbs are incredibly low maintenance, even for the brownest of thumbs, and merely require daily watering and sunlight. What tastes better than lettuce harvested and served on the same day?

Activity isn’t just for the body, but the mind as well

Keeping our minds sharp as we age may prevent or delay dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Reading, board games, puzzles, and smart phone brain-training apps work the brain while getting in some R&R. Creative outlets such as drawing, painting, and writing also play a role in mental acuity by enhancing problem-solving skills.

Among board games, Deluxe Wooden Edition Scrabble doubles as both vocabulary exercise and coffee table display. Luminosity, the original brain training smart phone app is continually cited as the highest-rated app for its category, with mini-games targeted to train five cognitive functions: speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving.

It’s quite easy to become sucked into the seemingly endless access to high quality shows, but research regarding television and mental acuity in adults is limited, and a 2010 study found that adults over sixty-five watch three times more television than younger adults.

The same study found that these older individuals don’t experience the same stress-buffering effects of TV viewing as their younger counterparts, suggesting less enjoyment from watching TV. Always balance TV watching with other sedentary activities, like board games or smart phone games.     

Creating a space to make healthy habits easily accessible is key to fostering health in the home. Setting intentions for self-care with a non-judgmental attitude are steps to developing habits that prolong health and bring joy.

Home can be a space that encourages us to be our best selves, and please remember to be kind to yourself when making attempts to bring more healthy behaviors into your life, as the mantra is, “better, not perfect.”

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