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How to age well: A guide for expats and globally mobile employees

A step-by-step guide to living healthier for longer

Everyone is living longer, and while that may not be news, its implications are important for individuals to consider. Few are aware of the impact of ageing on their well-being or how they can ensure that they not only live longer but stay healthier for longer.  

200 years ago, people died from diseases that, today, they can live with into old age due to improved lifestyles, drugs and health care. As such, many people end up managing chronic diseases or ongoing health issues into their twilight years: spending longer in discomfort, pain or unhappiness.

What can you do to age well?

How you choose to live your life has a huge impact on longevity and, especially, the quality of that extended life. You can affect whether you develop chronic conditions (and/or the severity of them) in later life by building a healthier life now.

By the age of 50, most people will have at least one long-term health condition, such as serious mental illness, asthma or diabetes. Aetna International’s Dr Lori Stetz says: “The time is now! People shouldn’t wait for good health to find them. It can and should be a conscious choice to live a healthy lifestyle.”

The Harvard Study of Adult Development found clues to the behaviours that translate into happy and healthy longevity. Researchers found that the following factors are the best predictors of whether individuals will move successfully through middle age and into their 80s:

  • Not smoking
  • Good coping skills
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular exercise
  • Strong social relationships.

But you don’t have to manage these alone. Health insurers and providers offer care that helps to keep you healthier for longer, and not just fix you when you’re ill.

This article gives practical steps you can implement and habits you can adopt to ensure you build a healthier, longer life.

Exercise

Building and maintaining an active lifestyle is a key way to age well and stay healthier for longer. People who run, weight train and dance have a lower risk of developing dementia than people who are not physically active at all.

For example, weight lifting can help you maintain muscle mass and stronger bones as you age. This doesn’t mean lifting heavy weights, just doing whatever it takes to feel tired — this could mean repetitions.

This isn’t always easy with willpower and busy lifestyles working against us, so here are some tips to help you thread exercise into your routine:

  • Not everyone enjoys the gym or running. Try a range of activities and classes until you find something that works for you.
  • Make exercise a social engagement. Find a gym buddy, join a club or meet your friends for a walk.
  • Make working out alone more engaging by listening to a podcast or audiobook while you exercise.
  • Try walking to work. Walking has been found to be one of the most effective forms of exercise for people of all ages and fitness levels. People can often enjoy better health and reduce the risk of getting various illnesses just from 30 minutes of brisk walking per day.
  • If you need to drive to work, consider parking a mile away from your office and walk the rest of the way. If you take public transport, you could get off a stop early.
  • Try HIIT (high-intensity interval training). This involves repeating short bursts (about 30 seconds) of four to six intense exercises. At the end of each round, you have to rest and then start again. It has gained significant attention for its proven benefits — and it is easy to fit into a busy schedule, as your whole workout will only take 15-20 minutes.

Watch this video for a taster

Diet

Nutrition plays a major role in how your body ages so it’s important to build healthy habits early on. Healthy diets — such as the Mediterranean diet — can help reduce heart attacks, strokes and premature death.

If you can, buy fresh produce from a market. It’s a great way to learn about the food and dishes that are popular where you’re living, and it can help you avoid sugary, processed foods.

Try to eat a low-glycemic diet, with plenty of:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • lean protein
  • omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish, many nuts)
  • dark-coloured fruits and vegetables (blueberries, cherries, spinach and kale).

Reduce your intake of:

  • Refined sugar
  • Red meat
  • Processed meat (due to high sodium levels and chemical preservatives, which has been implicated in causing a higher risk of colon cancer)
  • Salty, fried or pre-packaged foods (chips, junk food, fast food, frozen pizza, sausage rolls, pasties, crisps).

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can also help you to live healthier for longer. Overeating may lead to a shorter life span, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. And by losing just 5% of your body weight, you can reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease and improve metabolic function in liver, fat and muscle tissue.

Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep — seven to nine hours per night — will help you age well. In fact, during sleep, your body releases a growth hormone that helps replenish natural chemicals that maintain young, healthy skin. On the other hand, sleep deprivation may mean a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, and there is also a connection between insomnia and accelerated ageing of the brain.

Mental health

  • Good mental health is a key ingredient to living healthier for longer. Here are some tips and advice for coping with stress and anxiety, and maintaining good mental health into old age:
  • Maintain a good social life by seeing friends regularly. You can also make new friends by joining a club or volunteering.
    • One study found that adults in their 70s who have satisfying social relationships remained more mentally alert over a seven-year period than people who were more isolated.
    • Another study found that of men who suffered heart attacks, those with strong personal connections were far more likely to survive the next three years.
  • Get close to nature. If you live in a city, try to spend time in the countryside when you can, or find a nearby park, beach or even a zoo. Engaging with nature on a regular basis improves mental health and even longevity itself.
  • It may not be for everyone, but meditation can help you feel calm and centred. Studies show that 10 minutes of meditation per day may bring a variety of health benefits including lower blood pressure.
    • Regular yoga and meditation may also strengthen thinking skills and help ward off ageing-related mental decline
  • Get creative. Take up an instrument, learn a craft (quilting, pottery, photography, etc) or try writing some poetry or short stories. Not only will you have fun, but having a creative hobby can help to relieve stress.
    • A study found that the health of participants (seniors aged 65 and older) who engaged in an arts program stabilised. They also used less medication, were less likely to fall and had fewer doctor visits.
  • Read our useful articles on mental health for expats:

    Keep working

    Studies show that people who keep working into their 70s and beyond tend to have better health. Research also suggests that staying busy, maintaining social connections and finding meaning and purpose in your daily routine are all part of healthy ageing.

    However, if your job is intensely physical or highly stressful, retirement may still be the best option. Voluntary or other paid work may be an option to reap the rewards of continued working into retirement age.

    Health care

    Make the most of your health care providers. Routine health checks — such as hearing, eyesight, blood pressure, cholesterol — mean that the warning signs of an emerging condition can be picked up by health professionals at an early stage.

    International health insurance (iPMI)

    Living away from home can pose increased challenges as we age — access to health care being a prime issue. Health insurers can do more than just pay for treatment when you’re sick. Good quality health care providers could help you build a healthier lifestyle as part of your policy.

    Aetna International, for example, offer Connected Care, a personalised digital health assistant that uses your health data to proactively keep you healthy.

Aetna International’s Dr Stella George and Dr Lori Stetz said in conversation: "The risk factors remain the same for most of the chronic diseases, but the good news is that many of the risk factors are modifiable and can be changed. Health insurers offer lots of benefits and have resources to help individuals learn about their conditions so they’re empowered to make healthy lifestyle choices. Many offer incentives including premium credits, discounts and wellness reimbursement — to reward healthy behaviours."

“Data analysis helps us with risk assessment of members so we can develop appropriate action based on the risk factors. We plan a lot of health promotion activities to encourage healthy living.”

If you think Aetna International could help you age well, why not get a quote for international private medical insurance or speak to one of our experts today to see how we might support you in your health goals!

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You have been redirected to an Aetna International site. InterGlobal is now part of Aetna, one of the largest and most innovative providers of international medical insurance. We have combined our businesses to create one market-leading health care benefits company. This means we can better serve people who depend on Aetna International and InterGlobal to meet their health and wellness needs.

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