As we age, our health needs change—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are over 60, there are certain behaviors, health habits, and activities that might be working against you. Here are all the things you need to stop doing, right now.
According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older. This means if you are in your 60s, you are much more susceptible to getting extremely sick with COVID-19 than those who are younger.
In order to stay safe and healthy you will need to take extra precautions during this trying time. The CDC suggests staying home completely if possible, washing your hands often, and partaking in extreme social distancing, keep a six foot space between yourself and others.
Now, more than ever, getting the annual flu shot is crucial—especially for those over 65. Those 65 years and older are at a much higher risk of developing serious complications from flu compared with young, healthy adults, due in part to a weakening immune system as we age, according to the CDC.
While the flu shot won’t keep you safe from COVID-19, it will help protect your immunity in general and keep you healthier in case you do become infected with the virus.
While everyone is encouraged to stay home right now, staying physically active during the COVID pandemic is a priority we can’t afford to forget about. Get two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like walking) per week and perform muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week.
“Let’s stay off the couch and keep moving whenever and wherever we can. Even small intervals throughout the day add up!” says Leigh Hanke, MD, a Yale Medicine physiatrist.
Yes we did. Relying on a cardio workout in your younger years may have sufficed, but in your 60s you need to work on strengthening your muscles. “We love that you take a morning/evening walk, but your bones and muscles need weight-bearing exercise to combat age-related loss and maintain strength/prevent bone-related diseases and falls,” explains Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
She urges incorporating calisthenics, yoga, Pilates, and weight training into your weekly routine—at least three days a week for 30 minutes each. “If you don’t have access to group classes—everything is virtual right now—and you can even use cans as weights!” she adds.
A lot of folks your age simply accept the sleep quality and quantity loss that can accompany aging. Whether it’s bathroom trips or simply restlessness, sleep quality can decrease, but can also be increased with sleep hygiene tricks, explains Moreno.
“Turn off your digital distractions, sleep with your phone on ‘do not disturb,’ wear an eye mask, avoid food and drink before going to bed if it causes reflux, wear your CPAP if you have sleep apnea (and get evaluated if you snore!), and cool your room to 68-72 degrees,” she suggests. Why is it so important to get a good night’s sleep? “Poor sleep causes insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances, and increased cravings/appetite,” she adds.
As we age, our lean body mass (muscle) breaks down. This causes a resting metabolic rate slowing and can also contribute to orthopedic injuries. “Getting adequate protein can help mitigate these unfortunate metabolic effects,” says Moreno, who suggests centering your meals around protein and plants. “Aim for at least 20 grams of protein per meal—and don’t forget snacks!”
Just because you are older, doesn’t give you an excuse to slack on self-care. “My advice for anyone, especially those over 60, is to take excellent care of yourself. Do everything in your power to keep your body as lean, fit, and strong as you possibly can,” urges John Chuback, MD, the founder of Chuback Education, LLC and author of the self-help book, Make Your Own Damn Cheese.
“If you have not been doing so in the past, hopefully this terrible period we are all going through will help some people to open a new chapter in their life where nutrition and conditioning are concerned. This very dark cloud must have some potential silver lining if life makes any sense at all.”
Being in your 60s doesn’t give you the right to eat whatever you want either. “With regard to nutrition I suggest you eat a restricted calorie and well-balanced diet,” urges Dr. Chuback. There are many excellent websites and online sources where you can easily calculate your ideal body mass index (BMI) and the necessary calories to achieve and maintain that weight. “I strongly suggest you take full advantage of this information and begin working toward those goals immediately. I believe a light, lean you, will be best suited to fend off disease of all kinds,” he says.
Dr. Hanke encourages avoiding inflammatory foods in your 60s. “‘Anti-inflammation diet’ is a term many hear these days especially among elderly dealing with inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis,” she explains. “There isn’t just one diet to follow, but it’s more about being aware of general concepts/principles.”
For example, she encourages eating whole, unprocessed foods with no added sugar (fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, fish, nuts, olive oils) and avoiding super processed foods—including hot dogs, microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups, sugary cereals, processed meats, sauces with high salt content.
According to the CDC, every year, millions of older people, those 65 and older, fall—and one out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. There are a number of conditions that increase your likelihood of taking a tumble, including certain medications, vision problems, muscle strength and weakness, home hazards, and engaging in risky or unsafe behavior.
Luckily, most falls can be prevented. For a bunch of tips—including having your eyes checked and installing stair railings—visit the CDC’s website.
Leave the ladder climbing to the younger generations! According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, those over the age of 65 accounted for more than half of all reported ladder deaths.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, at age 65, people are twice as likely to be killed or injured by fires compared to the population at large. Most fires are caused by candles, cooking, smoking, electrical, or heating complications. In addition to being increasingly more careful when engaging in any activities where there could be a fire risk, make sure you stay educated on fire safety.
For example, the NFPA suggests sleeping on the ground floor if possible, to make an escape easier, making sure all your smoke alarms are working, and making sure all the doors and windows in your hope can be easily opened.
Many younger women rely on their OB/GYN for all of their medical needs in their younger years. However, if you are a woman, in a stable monogamous relationship, and you are over 65, you no longer need to visit the OB/GYN for your yearly pap smear, points out Bethesda, MD Internist Matthew Mintz, MD, as there is very little risk for cervical cancer. “After 65, there is no reason to get one, unless you are a senior woman with multiple sexual partners and are having unprotected sex,” he explains.
“Now, there are other important things that OB/GYNs do in terms of prevention for senior women, such as ordering bone density tests to check for osteoporosis and mammograms to check for breast cancer.” However, he points out that most non-GYN primary care physicians (Internists, Family Medicine physicians) can order these tests as well.
Just because many of the stresses of your younger years are behind you, doesn’t mean you are immune to depression and anxiety. In fact, it is estimated that 20% of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern—including anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders. Even scarier? Older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that you take care of your mental health—whether that means discussing your problems and fears with a professional, or taking a mood stabilizing medication.
We all love a happy hour, but when you are in your 60s you can’t drink like you did in your 20s, points out Moreno. “Alcohol is a known toxin, gastrointestinal irritant, and sleep disruptor. It can also contribute to poor food decisions/nighttime eating that may not be the healthiest,” she explains.
“You are not entitled to one drink per day—you are entitled to indulge in one drink (without juice/tonic) as little as possible, mindfully.” She suggests better ways to wind down in the evening—like meditating, sipping on warm liquids, or reading.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.