By Molly Triffin April 24, 2020
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Logan, MD, MPH
The novel coronavirus has upended all of our lives, and lockdown measures have made healthy habits harder than ever to maintain thanks to reduced access to many of the pillars of wellbeing: fresh food, the gym and spending time with family and friends.
Older adults are particularly prone to the detrimental health effects of being housebound. Because your body loses function as you age, a poor diet, lack of exercise and loneliness can hit you harder than younger, more resilient folks.
The good news? By making some creative shifts to everyday routines, you can thrive while holed up at home. Here’s how.
1. Eat Three Meals a Day, and Stack Them With Healthy Foods
During social isolation, one of the biggest challenges for older Americans is keeping on pounds.
“As you age, your metabolism slows and you may be less active, which decreases the number of calories burned during the day,” Louise Aronson, MD, professor of geriatrics at the University of California San Francisco and author of Elderhood, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
As a result, you’re probably consuming a smaller amount of food. Cathleen Colon-Emeric, MD, chair of the division of geriatrics at Duke University, points out that seniors often chow down just twice a day. Yet you still have the same nutritional needs you did when you were younger and ate more.
Learn how to fill your plate with healthy, nutrient-dense foods by logging your meals on the MyPlate app. Download now to fine-tune your diet today!
Unintentional weight loss occurs in 15 to 20 percent of adults over 65 and can lead to a decline in health and vitality, according to research published May 2014 in American Family Physician. Weak muscles impair your balance, increasing the risk of falls, while fragile bones make you susceptible to fractures.
2. Get Moving
Another strategy to mitigate the loss of muscle mass and bone density — not to mention boost your mood and improve sleep (more on that later) — is regular weight-bearing exercise. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, older adults should workout for 30 minutes a day five days a week, including twice-weekly strength-training.
If that feels unattainable: “Any physical activity is better than nothing, so work your way up,” Dr. Colon-Emeric says. “Keep in mind that you can split it up — say, by exercising twice a day for 15 minutes, instead of 30 minutes all at once.”
Or simply try to work more movement into your day. “Walk up and down the hall when you’re on the phone, or repeatedly stand up and sit down during commercial breaks,” Dr. Aronson suggests.
3. Connect With Your Health Care Team
To prevent virus transmission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend avoiding in-person doctor visits in favor of telemedicine — and Medicare has expanded its telehealth coverage in response.
It might feel foreign to have a virtual appointment with your MD, but “a silver lining is that older adults don’t have to deal with the hassle of transportation to the office,” Dr. Colon-Emeric says. “Plus, physicians have a chance to see folks functioning in their natural environment.”
4. Stay in Touch
Social interaction is an essential ingredient to seniors’ wellbeing and is linked to a lower risk of everything from Alzheimer’s to osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Dr. Colon-Emeric suggests the following:
- Set up regularly scheduled video chats with family members
- Play online interactive games with friends (think: Words with Friends, backgammon, bridge or chess)
- Tune into virtual services, prayer groups or Bible studies offered by your place of worship
- Host a Zoom dinner party where you sit down to a meal with your loved ones on-screen
5. Engage Your Brain
Participating in mentally stimulating activities later in life (think: computer use, crafts and games) decreases your risk of cognitive decline, according to a March 2017 study in JAMA.
Carve out time for intellect-boosting play — this is the perfect moment to break out jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, board games or a deck of cards.
Or get started on a new project. Some ideas:
- Home improvements
- Organizing your pantry
- Recording your family history
“Set a timer to limit how long you spend listening to the news.”
6. Give Back
Volunteerism is linked to longevity in older adults, according to a February 2020 study in Personality and Individual Differences.
“Folks need to feel like they are helping others in addition to receiving assistance themselves,” Dr. Colon-Emeric says.
Although you can’t lend a hand in person, “pick up the phone and call people who attend your church to check on them,” Dr. Colon-Emeric says. “Or order meals for the staff at a local hospital, nursing home or grocery store.”
If you’re crafty, sew cloth face masks for essential workers or neighbors, make photo albums for family and friends or write thoughtful letters or emails to loved ones.
Don’t wait for Grandma to call you. Call her and tell her you are thinking about her.
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