The Importance of Habit for Seniors

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Habits are often difficult to form. It takes effort, energy, and perseverance to adhere to habits and make them routine. They can make life seem a little less spontaneous and a little more like work. Yet for seniors, habits form a foundation of healthy living that can stave off depression, sickness, poor nutrition, and can lead to longer, healthier lives.

Here are five reasons why habits help seniors live better for longer:

Proper Nutrition and Exercise Promote Better Physical Health

Many seniors suffer from poor nutrition or do not get enough exercise. Doctors say this causes all kinds of physical and mental ailments, from muscle atrophy to depression. When a body gets regular exercise and good nutrition, it can more effectively heal from sickness and injury, rest and recover from strain, and digest foods. Some seniors require certain foods to be eaten or avoided because of medications, or they may need special diets. Creating habits around this can avoid the serious consequences behind not planning meals or exercise—which sometimes means not eating properly or exercising, or, conversely, eating too much or poorly and undergoing physical injury when exercising.

Proper Sleep Promotes Healing and Longer Lifespans

Sleep is when the body heals the most. In order to effectively recover from injuries, surgeries, or the cell death of everyday living, the body needs to rest. Sleep is best when it is regular and uninterrupted, so going to bed at the same time every night and rising at the same time every morning actually helps the body sleep better for longer. A disruption of even a few days in this cycle can throw off the body’s rhythms, hindering healing since the body is not resting well enough.

Healing well means living longer, and with more effectively healing sleep, seniors will lead higher-quality lives. If a senior suffers from emotional or mental disorders, regular sleep can help to regulate brain chemistry and give the body the rest it needs to cope.

Balanced Bodies Use Medications More Efficiently

Seniors who have healthy habits of diet, exercise, sleep, and social interaction have bodies that are more ready to digest and use medications, especially if those are taken as part of a routine. Rather than shocking the body with a random insulin injection or blood pressure medication when it is ill-prepared to process chemicals or hormones, routine medications in a healthy body help the medication do its job and may even mean lowering medication intake.

Talk with doctors about the best times to take medications and any routines that should be attached, such as taking a medication with a meal, before bed, or any other circumstance that may render it most effective. The pairing of medications to be taken at the same time should be discussed with a doctor or pharmacist in order to avoid potential neutralization or other interactions.

Social Time Has to Be Actively Sought Out and Regularly Engaged In

Habits and routines do not need to be boring. In fact, social routines should be something of an adventure, although they should be regularly scheduled to avoid loneliness and isolation, which can cause depression in older people. Many assisted living and nursing home facilities as well as senior living communities provide social interactions such as group outings, film viewings, speakers from the community, or visiting days with loved ones that include picnics or recitals. However, caregivers may need to help aging-in-place seniors to find social interactions that will regularly require them to interact with others and participate in a world beyond their homes. This could be a weekly card game with friends, a trip to the park to walk dogs, or visits to museums in the area. Without these kinds of brain-stimulating interactions and discussions with people of all ages, seniors can find themselves feeling down, alone, and bored. Habitually engaging in social interaction keeps their brains emotionally healthy and is worth the extra effort.

Brain Health Requires Brain Use

Habits such as puzzle-solving or brain teasers (or even game shows such as Jeopardy) can give the brain something to do. When parts of the brain go unused for some time, the brain begins to clip the connections down in order to save energy. By solving puzzles, having complex social interactions, reading books, and participating in other brain-exercising activities (especially learning!), the brain can keep those connections and retain memory and brain function for longer.

It is never too late to build healthy habits. Seniors in particular respond well to routines that promote health and happiness.

 

Sources

Donini, L.M., Savina, C., and Cannella, C. (March 2003). Eating habits and appetite control in the elderly: the anorexia of aging. International Psychogeriatrics, 15(1):73-87. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12834202. Retrieved April 28, 2016.

Hevrdejs, J. The blessings of routine. (September 13, 2012). Chicago Tribune Available at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-13/features/sc-fam-0911-routine-blessing-20120911_1_habits-cues-and-rewards-charles-duhigg. Retrieved April 28, 2016.

Leblanc, M-F., Desjardins, S., and Desgagne, A. (February 5, 2015). The relationship between sleep habits, anxiety, and depression in the elderly. Nature and Science of Sleep, (7):33-42. Available at https://www.dovepress.com/the-relationship-between-sleep-habits-anxiety-and-depression-in-the-el-peer-reviewed-article-NSS. Retrieved April 28, 2016.

Liu, X., and Liu, L. (2005). Sleep Habits and Insomnia in a Sample of Elderly Persons in China. Sleep, 28 (12):1579-1587. Available at http://www.journalsleep.org/Articles/281215.pdf. Retrieved April 28, 2016.

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