10 healthy ageing takeaways from 2023

Deborah Wood And Her Dancing Lady Artworks Chris Franklin

A lot of ground gets covered between January and December. Here’s a collection of some of the key points from this year’s newsletters.

  1. Bread and milk mightn’t be the staples we think they are

This came from London gut bacteria scientist, Professor Tim Spector.

The only breads he eats are traditionally made varieties such as sourdough and pumpernickel. Nothing from the supermarket. Eating low-fibre white bread is like eating sugar, he says.

He’s fussy about milk too. Dairy’s mostly been taken over by big companies, which means little quality. Not that plant milks are the answer. He describes them as either water-intensive (almonds), highly processed (oat and soy), or made with additives and sugar (most).

In addition:

  • Tim eats a wide range of plant foods — fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, spices, herbs, pulses, and grains — because healthy guts need a variety of plants.
  • He often substitutes mushrooms for meat. When he eats meat it’s local, grass-fed, and organic, i.e. he has less of it but it’s better quality.
  • He leaves 14 hours between dinner and breakfast to give his gut time to digest dinner and top up his immune system.
  • And he advocates fermented food such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi and kraut because these are swimming with healthy gut bacteria.

If you don’t fancy fermented milk or cabbage, how about coffee? It has loads of fibre and healthy plant chemicals, which your gut will also love.

  1. Don’t ignore sore joints

 Hips, knees, ankles, shoulders. If they’re sore, they’re trying to tell us something. It could be that we have arthritis — in which case there mightn’t be much we can do aside from staying active and strong — or they might be pointing out that there’s a weakness that needs attention, or we’re moving in a way that’s causing problems.

If we’ve just been busy in the garden or something similar, the soreness will be mild and settle down after a few days.

If it goes on much longer, get a diagnosis and deal with it before it gets worse. We rely on our joints to stay mobile, so if they complain, don’t ignore them.

  1. Ice is a good first response if you hurt yourself

There’s an argument that using cold to shut down inflammation interrupts the body’s natural healing process. But ice is still a good immediate response.

If you injure yourself — a strain or sprain, for example — ice helps to limit pain and swelling. As a guideline, use it for about 15 minutes every two to three hours.

But only for the first day or so. After that, let the body get on with healing.

Using a compression bandage and elevating the part, if it’s a part you can do that with, also helps to reduce swelling.

Try to keep the area and your circulation moving, provided it’s not too painful. You don’t want to sit around longer than you have to. (Of course, if you suspect you could’ve broken a bone, get that checked as quickly as possible.)

Ice can also help to limit bruising when you use it straight away.

If you’re stiff and achy though, go for warmth.  A heat pack or a warm shower should help with that.

  1. Make sure you know the symptoms of a heart attack in women.

 One of the wake-up stories of the year came from American journalist Gretchen Reynolds, who wrote about the death of her friend Anne.

Anne was fit, a good cook, a non-drinker, with no family history of heart disease, and just 61-years-old. Her only medication was a statin for cholesterol.

But one afternoon about 12 months ago, she got off her bike feeling nauseas and tired. Her right arm ached. She vomited. She dismissed it all as indigestion, then collapsed and died the next morning.

No one knows why.

These are symptoms of a heart attack in women: shortness of breath; profound fatigue; chest pain, tightness or discomfort; an upset stomach; or pain in the neck, back or jaw.

Treat anything that sounds like that as an emergency.

  1. Get your hips strong

Hip strength is front-and-centre when it comes to a well-functioning older female body.

When I say hips, I mean your butt or glutes. Hips provide power, give us stability, and help keep our legs lined up straight. The older we get, the more these matter.

But for a lot of us, our butt is in snooze mode. An easy way to start waking it up is by squeezing or clenching your buttocks.

Try doing it for five seconds, then do 10 a couple of times a day. The beauty of this is you can do it almost anywhere — standing, driving, watching TV, lying in bed.

The next step is to start an exercise program to increase glute strength. If you can walk up hills, that also uses your glutes.

Remember that while ageing is inevitable, being weak and unstable is not.

  1. The best exercises for bone

If your bone density’s low, three types of exercise will make a difference: high-intensity resistance, balance, and impact training.

High-intensity resistance training means lifting weight that’s sufficiently heavy that we can’t do it more than about five to eight times. ‘Heavy’ is relative, but if you can do it 25 times, that’s not heavy.

Balance is self-explanatory. If you’re looking for a place to start at home, just try standing on one leg. That’s not how most falls occur though, so once you can do at least 30 seconds on each side, it’s time to vary it and practice other balances.

Impact training means jumping, hopping, skipping or stomping to create a vibrational stimulus in our bones. A simple option is to raise our heels off the floor and let them land with impact.

Posture matters too. Biomechanics whizz, Katy Bowman, refers to a forward head as ‘tech neck’ because we can develop it from looking at various devices. Even if you don’t spend a lot of time doing this, many older women have that head position. If you’ve noticed it in your own posture, this little video will help.

  1. Go for a walk

It won’t help low bone density, but walking is still a superstar.

It makes us feel better, helps balance our blood sugar, improves sleep, reduces stress, helps us get to know our neighbourhood, and it’s something we can do with others. Plus, it’s good for our brains and our blood vessels.

And if you want numbers (you probably don’t, but in case you got a smart watch for Christmas) if you’re 60 or over, scientists say the sweet spot for the number of daily steps is 6000 – 8000.

  1. Train your body for what you want it to do in future

In a post from August, I mentioned Peter Attia, a 50-year-old Texas-based, Canadian doctor who’s written a book called Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity.

In it he says he’s out to become a ‘kick-ass 100-year-old’, and he’s training towards that.

There’s merit in thinking about what we want to be able to do in the future — even in just 5 or 10 years — and exercising so we can do that.

As a bare minimum, we’ll probably want or need to walk up and down stairs, carry groceries, get down on the floor and back up, and walk over a variety of surfaces. All of which take strength, mobility, and balance.

Most of us underestimate our need to build muscle and strength. We assume that because we can do those things now, we’ll be able to do them in future. But that doesn’t factor in ageing.

While I’d love to see far more older women in gyms, the gym isn’t the only answer.

It’s possible to improve muscle and strength with a consistent home program using equipment such as bands and dumbbells, though, again, most of us underestimate what it takes to do this (answer: a lot of self-discipline).

Pilates can be an option too, and yoga will improve mobility and balance (strength not so much).

One way or another, strength is our best antidote to ageing. (PS. Being physically strong also builds mental strength. It gives us confidence and self-belief, and as we get older, that’s worth a lot.)

  1. Do some foot exercise this summer

As we age, strong, mobile feet are an asset, while weak or stiff feet increase our risk of painful conditions and falling.

Summer is the perfect time to treat our feet to some stretching and strengthening. Here are a few basic movements that make a difference:

  • Calf stretching. An easy option is to place the front of your foot on a surface that’s higher than the heel and let your heel drop down to the floor. Do both feet together or one at a time and hold the stretch until the tension eases. A tightly rolled up towel works well, but a thick book, a yoga brick or a low ledge work too.
  • Calf strengthening. Try heel raises. Lift your heels as high as you can off the floor, keeping the feet lined up straight. Build up to doing 20 a couple of times a day. If that’s easy, hold something that won’t move (like your kitchen bench) and see how many you can do on one leg.
  • Spread your toes — splay them to make your feet as wide as you can. Try it 10 times.
  • Shorten your foot by lifting the arches to give it a kidney bean shape. Again, try 10 times on each foot.
  • Mobilise your feet by rolling your soles over a tennis or golf ball. Or give them a good massage.
  • Keep your ankles supple and the foot muscles strong with ankle circles and by pointing your toes away from and towards you.
  • If your feet are comfortable going barefoot, try walking this way on softer surfaces such as sand or grass, but don’t overdo it (and wear supportive shoes on hard surfaces like concrete).
  1. Healthy ageing advice from geriatricians

The most popular post of 2023 was on Geriatricians’ advice on ageing well (from October).

The Washington Post asked three geriatricians for tips on living well as an older person. They came up with seven we can all aspire to:

  1. Learn something new. It can be small, as long as it gives you a fresh challenge.
  2. Say what you need. Nobody’s a mind reader, so practice identifying what you need and asking for it. That’s hard if we’re used to not asking for help. But learning to say what we need increases our chances of actually getting it, as well as dramatically improving our relationships.
  3. Be part of a community. Find a way to connect with people.
  4. Do things you enjoy.
  5. Prioritise your health. Once it’s gone you mightn’t be able to get it back, so make an effort now.
  6. Talk to your doctors about your medications. Bodies change, circumstances change, and medications need to reflect that. At least once a year make sure your doctor does an audit of what you’re taking.
  7. Plan ahead. Think about what you want your next few years to look like and put in place anything that’s needed to bring that about.

In a nutshell, focus on relationships, physical and mental health, and planning.


Finally, a quick explanation of the photo. It’s of Melbourne-based artist and art teacher, Deborah Wood, in front of one of her images of dancing older women.

She says that when she and her friends first started to be ignored as older women they were gobsmacked. Then angry.

Angry because when older women are treated as though they don’t exist it’s easy to exclude them from the workforce or to not take their health concerns seriously. That invisibility also contributes to homelessness, abuse, and financial distress.

But Deborah also realised there’s an upside to going unseen. She can wander around public spaces putting up her posters of older women in tutus and no one even notices.

Except other older women, who love seeing themselves portrayed this way.

Deborah’s dancers are both joyous and rebellious — an ‘up yours’ to a culture that expects them to stay quiet and out of the way.

May we all find a bit of that kind of rebelliousness in 2024.


Photo Source: The Senior, Chris Franklin

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