How to Keep Aging Parents Healthy

elderly woman sitting outside

You worry about their exercise. You’re concerned about their junk-food consumption. You’re anxious about how much time they’re spending on the couch when they could be playing outside. Your kids? Them, too. But we’re talking about your elder relatives: parents, grandparents, and other folks in your life.

Healthy habits are as important for seniors’ good health as for children’s — maybe even more so since, in later years, health can turn on a dime. A revamped diet can be energizing and fitness can be life changing. The American Academy of Family Physicians says just a little bit of exercise can positively impact common health issues including diabetes and heart disease.

Of course, the hard part is putting healthy lifestyles into practice.

How can you help your older loved ones live better? Get creative and take on the big five: diet, medical, physical, mental, and social.

Diet: There’s a reason processed foods are so popular; they’re delicious — and they’re easy. So the secret to elders who eat better? Healthy food that’s convenient and easy, too. Look for delivery services that provide fresh-to-frozen meals in bulk. Many customize everything from portion size to sodium content. Stock their freezer, and they can heat and eat.

Medical: Medications don’t work if they’re still in the bottle. And it’s easy to forget. So…get a (virtual) assistant. Talk-to gizmos are often easier on seniors than wearable tech. Mom and Dad can even answer back, confirming they’ve obliged. And since it’s easy to forget whether they actually took that pill (or just thought about it), seniors can even ask, “Did I take my meds?” — thus avoiding the danger of taking medication twice.

Physical: Gardening is like nature’s gym. According to the AARP, it even boosts mood and lowers dementia risk. If planting at home isn’t an option, find a small work-out routine they can do in the comfort of their home or neighborhood – a short stroll around the block or even a 15-minute stretching routine they can do from their favorite chair. And if all else fails, go “Marie Kondo” and clean. Remember: exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym to count.

Mental: Video games aren’t just for children. Need proof? One study says “World of Warcraft” just may keep seniors’ brains sharp. The same can be said for crossword puzzles and quizzes. And many virtual assistants have games — like “Jeopardy!” — that can be played out loud. We’ll take agile minds for $100, Alexa!

Social: The National Institutes of Health says yes: “Social relationships are consistently associated with biomarkers of health.” And the flipside per NIH: “People who are lonely frequently have elevated systolic blood pressure.” So, help your loved one foster healthy social connections! And being social doesn’t have to mean face-to-face. Take the opportunity to get your parents online. Maybe they’ll be able to make connections with family, old friends, and peers on Facebook. Or, why not set up a time to call or FaceTime so they still feel connected amidst the craziness of social distancing.

Finally, make sure to understand evolving health. A newly sedentary adult, for example, could be experiencing worsening joint pain; GI troubles can creep up from dietary intolerances that become more common as we age. Both can inhibit mood and movement. If you notice changes…ask. Have candid conversations. And, depending on what your older loved ones feel they need, you may even accompany them to the doctor when possible.

With luck, you can keep Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, or another elder relative in your life, up, moving, and young at heart.

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

March 23, 2020

About the Author

Teacher reading to a toddler boy and girl

Whether you’re looking for parenting advice, or trying to figure out how to bring learning from the classroom to the family room, let Bright Horizons early education experts be your trusted, knowledgeable resource. Get our weekly newsletter for all things early child development—from the benefits of pretend play to at-home STEM activities, and teaching kindness—along with encouragement for every stage of your parenting journey.