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Healthy at every age: Your 60s and beyond

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We’ve got all the health tips you need to help keep your golden years golden.

We all want to have a long and healthy life and to stay strong, active and vibrant as we age. No matter how old you are, certain basic habits are key for feeling good and fending off disease: Eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Wear sunscreen. And get regular health screenings. But other health advice may vary based on your age. In this special five-part series, we offer focused wellness tips for your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s and beyond.

Read the whole series:

Maybe you’re still working, or maybe you’re enjoying a well-deserved retirement. Either way, you’re probably thinking more about health care and health problems now than you did in years past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s never too late to make good-for-you changes. So if you’re ready to take charge of your 60s and beyond, here are six health topics that can help you feel your healthiest.

1. Supercharge your eating

Healthy eating is just as important now as it was in your 50s and earlier. But some things can change, including your appetite and even your taste buds. If you find yourself needing to salt your food more, that could affect your blood pressure. If you’re not hungry at mealtimes, that could lead to unhealthy weight loss.

“We want you to be eating healthy meals. That includes getting the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats and nutrients in what you eat,” says Haley Newton, DO. She’s a family medicine doctor at USMD Las Colinas Clinic, part of Optum, in Irving, Texas. “And if you aren’t, then there are ways that we can supplement that.” (Learn more about protein supplements.)

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Another common issue is vitamin deficiency. Older adults often don’t get enough of these nutrients:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6
  • Folic acid

Low levels can cause problems ranging from tiredness to heart problems.

For example, low levels of vitamin D are linked to both weaker bones and fall risk. Your body produces much of your vitamin D after being in the sun. You get the rest from foods like milk and oily fish. But older skin doesn’t do a very good job of producing vitamin D after you've spent time outside.1

“Most people are vitamin D-deficient, even where I live in Texas,” Dr. Newton says.

Your doctor can help you figure out if you’re low in any nutrients. If they think a vitamin or supplement is right for you, the Optum Store can ship them right to your door.

2. Shake up your exercise routine

Staying active is especially important as you get older. And while you may have a favorite form of exercise, now’s the time to add some variety. You should aim to include four different types2:

  • Endurance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Balance

Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity. That’s about half an hour five times a week. Brisk walking, bicycling and gardening all count. You’ll know you’re doing it right if you can talk but not sing. Add strength exercises at least twice a week and balance training at least three times a week.3

Strength training offers two important benefits. First, it makes your bones stronger. Your bones get weaker as you age. Second, it helps you fight age-related loss of muscle mass. (This is called sarcopenia.) People in their 50s typically lose about 1% of muscle mass per year. And those in their 70s can lose three times that amount. Plus, exercises that make your legs stronger can help with balance, too.

“I have a lot of patients say, ‘I haven’t exercised in a long time,’” Dr. Newton says. “Well, that doesn’t mean you can’t. We just need to find something that works for you.” Need help finding motivation to work out? Try these tips. 

3. Get a brown bag review of your medications

If you regularly take multiple medications, you’re in good company. More than a third of adults ages 40 to 79 are on at least five prescriptions.4

Some drugs can cause serious problems if you take them together. And some can have unsafe interactions with over-the-counter drugs or supplements. To catch problems, schedule an annual “brown bag checkup” with your doctor or pharmacist. Throw all your medication bottles into one bag and bring them to the appointment.

“I prefer to know about anything you’re taking, whether you bought it at the gym or you got it from GNC,” says Dr. Newton.

Even if you’re taking all the right medications, your doctor might need to change some of the dosages. For example, if you’ve lost a lot of weight, your current dosages might be too high. Also, Dr. Newton says, “if your kidneys aren’t working well as you get older, we may need to change medications.”

Always be sure to read the printed materials that come with your prescriptions. They will list potential adverse reactions and side effects.

If you’re over 65 and on Medicare, this annual medication review may be part of your plan.

4. Talk to your doctor about these shots

Vaccines are an important tool for helping you stay healthy. They’re especially important if you have other illnesses, like heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Here are a few to ask your doctor about:

  • Pneumococcal shot. This is recommended at age 65 to protect against lung and blood infections.

  • Tdap shot. This one protects against three infections. Those are tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. (Pertussis is also called whooping cough, a lung disease that can easily spread to others).

  • Flu shot. If you’re 65 or older, you’re eligible for a high-dose version. It can offer better protection in older adults.

  • COVID-19. Even if you’ve had your boosters, it’s worth asking your doctor about when it might be time for another.

5. Reduce your fall risk

About a third of older Americans who live at home have a fall every year. While most escape with only cuts or bruises, 18,000 die from their injuries.5

Many factors can lead to falls. These include:

  • Advanced age
  • Health conditions like arthritis
  • Lack of exercise
  • In-home hazards like loose carpet and dark stairways
  • Medicines that cause dizziness or confusion. These can put you at risk during nighttime trips to the bathroom.6

If you’ve had falls or are afraid of falling, talk with your doctor about the possible causes. You or a loved one can also check your home for hidden hazards. This checklist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can help.

6. Make new friends

Yes, you may be well into your sixth or seventh decade of life. But you’re never too old to have a new friend. In fact, having strong social connections can help reduce your risk of depression.7

It’s easy for those ties to break as you get older, though. Maybe you retire and lose touch with your work friends. Perhaps you move to a new community. Or maybe you’re less physically active due to health conditions. Dr. Newton suggests that older adults look at what’s offered at senior centers. They often have activities ranging from low-impact aerobics to field trips to art classes. “You have to figure out what works for you,” she says.

There’s no right or wrong way to find those connections. It just may take a little research.

Sources

  1. HealthinAging.org. Nutrition: unique to older adults. Last updated August 2022. Accessed July 1, 2022.
  2. National Institute on Aging. Four types of exercise can improve your health and physical ability. Last reviewed January 29, 2021. Accessed July 1, 2022.
  3. HealthinAging.org. Physical activity: basic facts. Last updated August 2022. Accessed July 1, 2022.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription drug use among adults aged 40–79 in the United States and Canada. Last reviewed August 14, 2019. Accessed July 1, 2022.
  5. HealthinAging.org. Falls prevention: Basic facts. Last updated August 2022. Accessed July 1, 2022.
  6. HealthinAging.org. Falls prevention: Causes. Last updated August 2020. Accessed July 1, 2022.
  7. National Institute of Mental Health. Older adults and depression. Accessed July 1, 2022.