As summer kicks into full gear and COVID restrictions are lifting, many of us can’t wait to get back out to feel the sunshine on our faces. Just keep in mind that as a senior, you need to take a few extra precautions to enjoy the season. Heat, humidity, and sun exposure are even harder on older bodies than young ones; more than 80 percent of heat-related deaths occur in people over the age of 60. Here are some ways you can stay healthy while having fun this summer.
Drink more water than you think you need to.
We all need to boost our hydration in hot weather, but seniors are even more susceptible to dehydration than younger people because they don’t sweat or recognize thirst as readily as they once did. Plus, if you take diuretics (water pills) to treat high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure, and other conditions, that causes the body to lose fluids, meaning you need to replenish extra frequently. Eight or more glasses is the generally recommended amount.
Consider switching to a sports drink.
Dehydration can cause an imbalance in electrolytes, the essential minerals that maintain bodily functions. As long as you feel fine, drinking water should keep you hydrated. But if you’re sweating a lot or are experiencing diarrhea, switch to Gatorade or Pedialyte.
Know the early signs of dehydration, heat stroke, hyperthermia, and other heat-related illnesses.
Take note if you feel disoriented, excessively tired, or nauseous, and whether you have a headache, flushed face, or rapid pulse. If you do, take immediate action.
Keep sunscreen handy.
Like on a shelf where you’ll notice it on the way out the door—better yet, in your purse or the car. If you think you’ll forget to reapply it periodically, set the alarm on your phone to go off every few hours. Reach for a higher SPF. As we age, that fatty layer beneath the skin gets thinner, putting seniors at greater risk from sun exposure. Choose a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF, and make sure it offers broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Cover every exposed area with it, including spots we tend to forget about, like ears, upper lip, backs of hands, and tops of feet.
Use bug spray.
The elderly are more susceptible than other age groups to West Nile virus and encephalitis. Applying spray that repels mosquito lessens your chance of infection.
Dress for success.
Wearing loose clothing in light colors that reflect the sun’s rays, rather than absorb them, will keep you feeling more comfortable while also providing more sun protection. Sunglasses and a brimmed hat help protect the delicate skin around your eyes.
Know when to stay in.
Spending time outdoors is great for seniors—it’s a mood-booster, and offers opportunities for exercise and socializing. But when it’s really hot, try to limit your outdoor time to before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., avoiding the peak heat hours.
Know your medicine’s side effects.
Some medications can make you extra sensitive to the sun. Look over your medications and ask your doctor or pharmacist about any concerns you have.
Avoid potential falls.
This may seem like more of a risk during the middle of winter, when icy sidewalks await. But whether you’re gardening in your own yard or strolling a beach, uneven terrain can take you by surprise, causing trips and falls. Watch out for crooked patio pavers, slippery pool decks, and outdoor rugs, keeping your yard as well-lit as possible at night and wearing shoes that fit you well.
Take travel breaks to stretch and move around.
Seniors are already at an increased risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), in which blood clots form in a large vein, often in the leg. Some times part of that clot will break off and travel to the lungs, blocking blood flow. Summer travel only heightens seniors’ risk of DVT, because sitting for a long period of time—like in a car or on an airplane—can cause these blood clots to form. If you’ll be traveling for more than four hours at a time, do everything you can to stand up and walk around periodically. If you’re flying, try to book an aisle seat so this is easier, and stretch and flex your muscles as much as possible. On a road trip, pull over every few hours for a break.
Make sure you’re eating enough.
Heat can have a negative impact on your appetite, so make sure you’re staying nourished during the summer months. You may find lighter meals, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, more appealing when it’s hot outside.
Stay Fit, Stay Happy
Ways to keep on moving into your senior years.
If you don’t regularly take a dip in your local pool, now’s the time to start. Swimming is a great choice for your exercise routine—it raises your heart rate, but is gentle on older and arthritic bodies. If the sun is out, it can be a mood-booster, too.
Practice your balance.
Doing balance exercises may very well improve your coordination. Suffer from back pain? Try doing exercises that strengthen the muscles around your spine.
Mix it up.
Walking and other cardio workouts are great for overall health, but don’t forget to work in strength training, too. Strength training increases your muscle mass and bone density while decreasing your body fat. It also can actually reverse sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle tissue as we age.
DIY Tips for Seniors
Ways to make life just a little bit easier on aging bodies.
- Put a lazy Susan on your refrigerator shelf. We’ve all strained to reach something in the very back of the fridge. Storing groceries on a turntable makes it easier to access what you need.
- Use stickers or nail polish on remotes, phones, and keys. Adding raised or textured stickers or a dab of nail polish on the buttons and keys you use most often can help you find them faster. For instance, try using them to mark the on/off and volume buttons on your remote or phone. A house key quickly stands out from all the other ones on your chain when it’s marked with a dot of polish or paint.
- Pull a rubber band around cups and glasses to make them easier to grip. Shaky or arthritic hands will thank you. This trick also works on pens, where you can wrap the band around several times to make a nice big area for gripping.
Healthy Eating Tips
3 ways to improve your nutrition as you age.
- Drink more liquids. One of the many changes to your body you may notice as you age is that you don’t feel as thirsty as you once did. But you still just as much hydration as you always did, if not more. Besides water, consider fat-free milk or 100 percent juice.
- Use less salt on your food. Just as your sense of thirst lessens as you age, so does your sense of taste. Resist the urge to shake more salt over your meals to boost the flavor—too much sodium leads to high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes or heart or kidney disease. (Your daily sodium maximum should be 2,300 milligrams.) Instead, use fresh herbs and spices for seasoning.
- Choose healthy fats. Those that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated are good for you—they defend your body against disease and boost your mental well-being. Try olive oil, avocado, and nuts for starters.