Healthy living – the basics

You may experience changes in your health at times, but it’s worth bearing in mind some basic tips that can help you maintain or regain your fitness.

Stay active

Apart from the benefits to your physical health, regular exercise also helps to prevent falls and improves mood. You should try to do activities that maintain your:

  • flexibility
  • stamina
  • strength
  • balance

You can find information and advice about exercise in the government’s physical activity guidelines.

Stay connected

Socialising is good for your physical and mental health. Staying in touch with friends, meeting new people and trying new things can help reduce feelings of isolation and take your mind off health problems.

Look after your mental health

If you experience low mood or depression, you’re not alone. It’s important to talk to others about how you feel and seek help. Treatments can be very effective and there are lots of different options available.

Eat well

Eating a balanced diet can help to keep your weight within a normal range. It can also help you recover after an illness. The NHS Livewell website has lots of advice about healthy eatingWhile the NHS advises eating starchy food as part of a healthy diet, some health professionals say that a low carb diet is better for people with type 2 diabetes.

Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of fluids even if you’re not thirsty as it’s easy to become dehydrated. Drinking enough will give you more energy.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can make you more prone to medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you could try:

  • sticking to a regular bedtime routine
  • relaxation exercises or CDs
  • having a warm bath
  • reading a book or listening to the radio

If sleep problems are affecting your daily life, speak to your GP.

Health checks

As we get older our risk of developing certain conditions increases so it’s important to get any health checks that are offered.

Everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 is invited for a free health check, sometimes called a mid-life MOT. This will check, along with other things, your:

  • blood pressure
  • cholesterol
  • body mass index (BMI).

You will get advice and support to maintain or improve your lifestyle.

You should also make sure you have regular eye and hearing tests. NHS eye tests are free for anyone over 60 or with certain health conditions. If you can't get to an optician, you may be eligible for a free home eye test.

Action on Hearing Loss has an online hearing test and your GP can arrange a full sight or hearing test.

Screening programmes

Screening is way of identifying people who may be at increased risk of developing certain conditions.

Bowel cancer

Everyone aged 60 to 74 should be automatically invited for screening every two years. You will be sent a home testing kit with instructions and you return a sample for analysis.

Diabetic eye screening

Annual eye screening is offered to anyone who has diabetes. Your GP will write to you but the screening might take place at your local hospital.

For women:

Cervical screening

This test is offered every five years for women aged 50 to 64. If you are over 65, it is only offered if you haven’t been screened since you were 50 or if you have recently had abnormal tests.

Breast cancer

Screening is offered to all women aged 50 to 70. You should receive an invitation before your 53rd birthday. Women over 70 can still be screened but you will need to contact your GP or local screening service yourself.

For men:

Abdominal screening

Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is offered to all men in their 65th year. If you are over the age of 65 you can self-refer.

For more information about screening programmes go to the NHS screening pages.


You may be eligible for some free vaccinations from the NHS. Contact your GP or ask your local pharmacist to arrange one.

Flu jab

You should have a flu jab every year. It’s free if you are 65 or over, a carer or have certain health conditions.

Pneumococcal vaccine

If you are over 65, you are also eligible for a pneumo jab, a one-off jab that protects against pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia. Once you've had the jab you'll be protected for life.

Shingles vaccine

Shingles is a painful skin condition which is more common in people over 70. The shingles vaccination is a one-off jab so you only need to have it once. You become eligible from the first day of September after you turn 70 until the following August.

It’s also available to 78 and 79 year olds as a catch up, but not for people over 80 because it is less effective for this age group.

Your local pharmacy

A pharmacist can offer a range of services, including:

  • advice on treating minor symptoms
  • organising repeat prescriptions
  • annual flu vaccinations
  • reviewing your medications
  • advice on living a healthy lifestyle, including diet and weight management

Some pharmacies may also offer screening for conditions such as diabetes and allergies, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol checks.

Help to stop smoking

Smoking can affect your breathing, circulation, and general fitness. It can also lead to heart disease and stroke.  

Giving up smoking could be the biggest single improvement to your health that you can make. You can get free local support and advice from the NHS Smokefree programme. It’s never too late to stop.

Cutting down on alcohol

Having a drink can be one of life’s pleasures but as you age, your ability to process alcohol changes. Too much alcohol can affect your health and relationships. It can cause:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • incontinence
  • depression

Alcohol can interfere with medication and it also increases your risk of having falls. In extreme cases, heavy drinking can lead to dementia.

You can find the government’s guidelines for alcohol consumption on Drinkaware.

If you think you have a problem with alcohol, you can ask your GP to refer you to a support programme. You can also get confidential advice and support from Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 or see our guide Coping with alcohol and drug misuse for details of other organisations that can help. 

Next steps

You can find lots more information and advice about healthy living on the NHS website.

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