Lifestyle factors to improve by 60 to avoid the nursing home

One thing we all begin to prize with every passing year is our independence. After all, the alternative is not pleasant…

We all want to avoid the isolation and decline in health and happiness many residents experience after entering a nursing home.

So it makes sense that we’re eager to do everything we can do to hang on to our independence for as long as possible.

Of course, there are lifestyle habits we can change to try and avoid many of the diseases associated with aging. And for the most part, that’s where we tend to focus.

But according to a team of Australian researchers, improving certain lifestyle factors can also help keep you out of a nursing home…

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Poor lifestyle and nursing home risk

The researchers examined data from 127,108 men and women aged 60 and above who had been recruited to the Australian 45 and Up Study between 2006 and 2009. At the beginning of the study, all participants filled in a lifestyle questionnaire on five key risk factors for nursing home care:

  • Smoking
  • Diet
  • Level of physical activity
  • Time spent sitting
  • Sleep patterns

Based on the responses, participants were split into three groups: low, medium and high-risk lifestyle. Around 24 percent were put in the low-risk category, 62 percent in the medium-risk category and 14 percent in the high-risk category.

This is what the researchers found:

  • During an average monitoring period of 10 years, 18 percent of the study participants were admitted to a nursing home.
  • The risk of nursing home admission was 43 percent higher for those in the high-risk lifestyle group compared with the low-risk group.
  • Those in the medium-risk group were 12 percent more likely to end up in a nursing home.
  • Those in the 60-to-64-year-old age bracket with the unhealthiest lifestyles were more than twice as likely to be admitted to a nursing home than those with the healthiest lifestyles.
  • The risk for admission to a nursing home was 55 percent higher for current smokers.

All key lifestyle factors except diet were independently associated with nursing home admission. Physical inactivity, smoking, poor diet and sleep disorders between the ages of 60 and 64 seemed to be particularly influential on nursing home risk.

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Aging to keep your independence

The researchers point out the study shows the need for nursing home care is “an outcome of great societal and economic importance with increased population aging.

“Strategies to improve lifestyle factors, including smoking cessation, reducing sitting time, increasing physical activity and improving sleep, should be explored as new public health measures to help reduce the future risk of nursing home admission,” the researchers say.

In addition to those factors, past research has shown that meditation and keeping your legs strong have both been linked to lower odds of entering a nursing home.

Walking is a great way to do the latter. But when you walk, pick up your speed. If you’re a slow walker, the odds are stacked that you’ll end up in a nursing home. Now don’t think you have to start fast if you haven’t been walking regularly. Build up to it. Then consider working with weights twice a week for true anti-aging benefits.

Lastly, consider adopting the diet found to improve aging — even in nursing home residents. If you start it now, it just may keep you from ever being admitted into one. I’m talking about the Mediterranean diet, made famous by the fact it comes from a blue zone area.

Blue zones are places around the world, like the Greek island of Ikaria, the Japanese island of Okinawa and the Italian island of Sardinia, where people live longer-than-average independent lives.

But food is just the icing on top of blue zone health habits that include a healthy social network, daily movement and purpose.

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1. Poor lifestyle of over 60s linked to heightened risk of nursing home care — EurekAlert!

2. Impact of lifestyle risk factors on admission to nursing home care: a cohort study of 127 108 people aged 60 years and over — Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.