Building healthy habits is one of the keys to health and longevity. In fact, as the National Institute of Health (NIH) explains:
“Lots of things you do impact your health and quality of life, now and in the future. You can reduce your risk for the most common, costly, and preventable health problems — such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity — by making healthy choices.”
Heading into a new year, many seniors and family caregivers naturally start to think about the healthy choices that they can make to live a more fulfilling and enriching life.
For seniors hoping to experience better health and greater independence, there is no shortage of positive goals to reach for — and no time like the present to get started! As the NIH puts it:
“You’re never too out of shape, too overweight, or too old to make healthy changes.”
For older adults, adopting healthy habits can take many different forms. In our experience, many aging adults share similar goals, reinforced and supported by their loving family members and caregivers. Some important health and lifestyle goals for active seniors may include:
- Cutting out smoking or excessive drinking
- Eating healthier, more nutrient-dense meals
- Exercising more frequently
- Meeting new people and becoming socially involved in the community
- Regularly visiting healthcare professionals, including primary care physicians and specialists
- Getting better and more restful sleep
- Learning a new skill or picking up a new hobby
- Getting a handle on medications
- Organizing and cleaning the home
- Exploring options for long-term care
- Getting organized when it comes to estate planning and life transitions
All of these goals are incredibly meaningful, and can make an enormous difference in health, happiness, and quality of life for the elderly.
Now, with that being said, dreaming up goals and thinking about healthy habits is one thing — actually building those habits and making them a part of your daily routine is something else. For seniors who are used to their current lifestyle, making changes can seem daunting, even with the help of their caregiving network.
Even in the best of circumstances, developing healthy habits takes time and effort. One study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a healthy habit to become established, with the median length of time coming in at 66 days. In this study, half of the test subjects actually “did not perform [a] chosen action consistently enough to create a habit.”
As a family caregiver, one of the most helpful things you can do is to provide support and encouragement to your senior loved ones, giving them guidance as they look to create and stick to a healthy habit.
Looking for some inspiration as you become a supporter, cheerleader, and assistant on your older loved one’s journey to better health? Here are a few proven strategies for helping seniors build and maintain healthy habits:
In order to move forward confidently and safely, it’s important to take stock of your senior’s current lifestyle — including any challenges or unhealthy habits they may currently be experiencing. As Dr. Lisa Marsch, an expert in behavior change at Dartmouth College, put it to the NIH:
“The first step to changing your behavior is to create an awareness around what you do regularly… Look for patterns in your behavior and what triggers the unhealthy habits you want to change.”
For seniors, this may mean helping them understand their current behaviors, and how those choices may impact their goals in the long-term. Just as importantly, it’s important to keep seniors’ health and well-being in mind. Be sure to consult with a physician before helping a senior attempt any major undertaking, such as losing weight or starting an exercise regimen; your loved one’s doctor can help your loved one understand their limits, get a handle on their medications, and create a plan for moving forward safely.
Make a Plan and Set Realistic Goals
Have you ever heard the story of the tortoise and the hare? The moral of the tale is that “slow and steady wins the race.” Rather than making dramatic changes that will be unsustainable, help your loved one set realistic benchmarks and goals, so that they can commit to healthy choices that will last a lifetime.
As writer Amanda Richardson eloquently puts it for HuffPost:
“The key to getting healthy isn’t having a taste of your ideal self for a few weeks then reverting back to old ways. It’s about creating sustainable change. Consider behaviors you can adopt that you’ll be more likely to stick with over time. This way, your efforts won’t be lost, and you’ll feel the true benefits of change.”
Think in terms of small, achievable steps. For instance? If your loved one’s goal is to get more exercise, you may start by helping them walk around the block for ten minutes a day, three days per week. The next week, you might increase their rate to fifteen minutes a day. Before long, your loved one will have picked up a healthy habit, and maybe even expanded their scope to include new goals to pursue in the future.
Find Ways to Stay Motivated
As the NIH notes:
“Doing positive things for yourself can feel exciting and rewarding. But there will also be times when you wonder if you can stick with it.”
It’s important to remember that it takes serious time and effort to make healthy habits stick. There will certainly be moments when your loved one is lacking in motivation or drive. Instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, help your loved one create a routine that will encourage them to keep going, even on tough days. The NIH recommends keeping a log or journal, for example, to “note things like… diet, exercise, stress levels, or sleep patterns.” Indeed, one prominent study on weight loss found that people who closely tracked their progress were able to lose significantly more weight, and keep it off over time.
Have an Accountability Partner
Two heads are better than one! Research suggests that people are far more likely to stick to their long-term goals if they discuss them with someone who can keep them accountable. Be an active participant in the senior’s life, encouraging them to keep on track as they pursue their new healthy habits. Be an attentive listener and help them share their successes, and be present and receptive when they want to discuss their shortcomings and frustrations.
You could even join in! For example, if your loved one’s goal is to eat better, you could become more proactive about helping them shop for ingredients and prepare nutritious meals — and also take the time to share the food with them, in order to help them truly savor and look forward to lunch and dinner each day.
Be Patient and Positive
Provide encouragement and reassurances, and help your loved one look on the bright side. There are sure to be challenges and setbacks along the journey. Help your loved one maintain a positive attitude by celebrating their successes and keeping their eye on the bigger picture. Remember to be patient and keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to try different strategies until something works. As NIH behavioral change expert Dr. Susan Czajkowski explains:
“Things may not go as planned, and that’s okay… Change is a process. What’s most important is to keep moving forward.”
Looking to Help an Elderly Loved One Live More Independently?
Studies have shown that the vast majority of older adults would prefer to remain at home as they age, rather than moving into a long-term care facility. Helping your aging loved ones develop healthy habits is one way to ensure that they can remain safe and comfortable at home. Bringing on the personalized support of a professional senior companion is another powerful way to help the elderly adult in your care enjoy greater independence and quality of life.
At Companions for Seniors, we offer a variety of services designed to help our clients remain in the comfort of their own homes, while ensuring that their most essential needs are met. Our trained and bonded companions are available on a full- or part-time basis, and can offer driving services in the comfort of a company car.
Our services are flexible, convenient, and it’s easy to get started. Companions for Seniors provides a free in-home assessment of your current situation, and in most cases we can be up and running in just a few days. We understand that every situation is unique, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so does our plan of care.
Have any more questions about giving your senior family the support and assistance they need? Ready to reach out for help? Don’t hesitate to get in touch online to get the conversation started, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today!