“Despite high levels of employment, rising incomes and spending across UK households, people are not reporting increases in their well-being.”
Glenn Everett, Head of Inequalities at the Office for National Statistics
Whether it’s problems with our physical and mental health or socio-economic circumstances, our sense of well-being can quickly deteriorate.
That’s why World WellBeing Week is the perfect opportunity to promote the things that make us feel good.
Here are our tips for living a happier life – and staying well.
Get a good night’s sleep
It’s common knowledge that a good night’s sleep makes us feel better. However, it’s a common misconception that older people need less sleep. An average of 8 hours will reboot the system, replenishing all of our energy stores. What’s more, this downtime helps protects us from infection, providing a shield for our immune system.
But in later years, it can be harder and harder to sleep.
As we get older advance sleep phase syndrome can set in; people suffering with ASPS will typically wake up between 3 – 5am (no matter what time they fall asleep).
Here’s how to ensure that the hours we do get are good ones:
- Cut out the caffeine earlier: research suggests that we should avoid tea, coffee and fizzy drinks after 2pm to get a better night’s sleep.
- Switch off the screens: the blue light emitted from these suppresses the secretion of melatonin – a sleep-inducing hormone – so tune out 2 hours before bed and open a book instead.
- Set the right temperature: this is between 15°C – 19°C, according to Sleep.org.
- Remove all distractions: blackout blinds will block out light pollution from the street and wax earplugs can remove most outside noise.
We’ve written more about the best bedtime routine for a restful night’s sleep here.
Find ways to destress
We might feel fine, but everyday stress can creep up on us. If underlying stress isn’t taken care of, it can lead to mental health issues down the line. To make matters worse, it can also manifest itself physically. These are the common effects of stress on our bodies. However, there are some small steps that you can take (that make a big difference):
- Declutter your space: tidy home – tidy mind. Sounds silly, but this small act can make us feel more in control – and less stressed.
- Be mindful of your surroundings: use mindfulness techniques to focus on the present. This can relieve stress, helping us to feel grateful instead.
- Talk to someone: whether it’s a friend, family member or a professional, don’t carry the burden alone. Even if you don’t feel able to talk, reconnecting with someone can make a big difference.
A few hours of gentle exercise a week will release endorphins that make us feel energised. This could be as simple as a walk to the local shop – or a stroll around the garden. A good target is 30 minutes on most days of the week, but you could also break it up into easier 10-minute chunks. If mobility is an issue, try these stationary exercises:
- Sitting: chest, neck and ankle stretches, upper body twists, hip marches and arm raises
- Flexibility: neck rotations and stretches, sideways bends and calf stretches
- Strength: sit to stand, mini squats, calf raises, sideways leg lifts, leg extensions, wall press ups and bicep curls
- Balance: sideways walking, a simple grapevine, heel to toe walk, one leg stand and step up
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to safely do these exercises from the NHS. However, if you’ve not done much physical activity for a while, it might be best to consult your GP before starting.
Alongside physical activity, it’s just as important to keep the mind active.
Take up a new challenge
This could be on a small scale, such as doing a puzzle, painting or trying a new recipe. These are good ways to keep your mind stimulated – and distracted. However, you might feel even greater benefits by challenging yourself further.
Why not sign up for an online course, volunteer or join a new club? Trying your hand at something new can feel good – especially when it’s out of the comfort zone. That’s because it’s a challenge. Feeling like we’ve achieved something – however small – gives us a boost. Moreover, completing these tasks feels even better when it’s with new people.
But humans aren’t the only ones that can put us in a positive mood.
Look after a pet
In the same way that helping somebody makes you feel good, looking after a pet can do wonders for your wellness. Research has shown interaction with animals can have a profound effect on humans. Pets can reduce stress and lower blood pressure through increased social interaction and exercise. However, having a pet is a huge commitment and doesn’t suit every situation. In these instances there are other alternatives:
BorrowMyDoggy: this organisation connects dog owners with dog lovers, allowing you to take care of a pup part-time.
Part Time Pets: hire a part-time pert for accompanied visits – when it suits you.
Pets As Therapy: although they don’t visit homes, the PAT team make visits to residential homes, day centres, hospitals and hospices.
If you are feeling physically able, you could visit a farm for a day out – or even look into helping out at an animal shelter. We’ve written more about the benefits of having a pet when you’re older here.
There are other ways you can live a healthy life but however you do it, always put your well-being first.