Aging is associated with a functional decline caused by cognitive and physical impairments and results in the difficulty or inability to perform activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing. Declines in functioning occur due to decrements in key brain regions, resulting in the worsening of attention, memory, executive function, and processing speed (Phillips, 2017). Moreover, aging increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and depression (Dombrowsky, 2017).
Physical declines in functioning result from physical inactivity and include frailty, a decrease in muscle strength and muscle mass, and the worsening of chronic illnesses (Merchant et al., 2021). While science still cannot slow down aging, older adults can take measures to prevent a functional decline or curb its effects.
Research suggests four ways in which the elderly can deal with declining functioning: exercise, cognitive activity, diet, and engagement. An exercise program improves older adults’ physical function because it helps them build muscle strength, reduces the risk of developing non-communicable diseases, and prevents premature mortality (Merchant et al., 2021). In addition, physical exercise has indirect positive effects on cognitive functioning (Merchant et al., 2021).
An effective exercise program for the elderly should include walking training, balance, and resistance exercises and should be performed twice a day for at least 20 minutes during 5-7 consecutive days (Merchant et al., 2021). Thus, exercise is a vital component of older adults’ lifestyle, which helps them maintain or restore their functioning.
Cognitive activity is another key element of the lifestyle of aging people. Research shows that individuals with higher education and those involved in cognitively demanding activities have a lower risk of cognitive impairments (Phillips, 2017). Therefore, engaging in intellectually stimulating activities is crucial for maintaining older adults’ cognitive functioning. In terms of the diet, older adults will benefit from consuming curcumin, catechin polyphenols, resveratrol, and omega-3 fatty acids (Phillips, 2017).
Furthermore, reducing caloric intake without malnutrition also has beneficial effects, such as mitigating age-related decrements in the hippocampus (Phillips, 2017). Finally, engagement in meaningful activity and social engagement reduces the risk of depression in the elderly and maintains their functional status (Dombrowsky, 2017). Paying attention to all the four mentioned aspects – exercise, cognitive activity, diet, and engagement – is vital for dealing with age-related changes.
Dombrowsky, T. A. (2017). Relationship between engagement and level of functional status in older adults. SAGE Open Medicine, 5, 1–9. Web.
Merchant, R. A., Morley, J. E. & Izquierdo, M. (2021). Exercise, aging and frailty: Guidelines for increasing function. The Journal Nutrition, Health & Aging, 25, 405–409. Web.
Phillips, C. (2017). Lifestyle modulators of neuroplasticity: How physical activity, mental engagement, and diet promote cognitive health during aging. Neural Plasticity, 2017, 1–22. Web.