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. Try to do some physical activity every day, including activities that help to maintain your flexibility, strength and balance.

Find out more on our staying active webpage.

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 anxiety, 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 ways to manage your condition.

Eat well

Eating a balanced diet can help to keep your weight within a healthy range. It can also help you recover after an illness. The NHS Live Well website has lots of advice about healthy eating. While the NHS advises eating starchy food as part of a balanced 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. Try to drink 6-8 glasses of fluids a day. This can include water, lower-fat milk, low-sugar juices, tea and coffee.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can make you more prone to medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, obesity, 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.

Our webpage Getting a good night's sleep has more information on how to develop healthy sleeping habits and where to go if you need help with sleep problems.

Health checks

As we get older our risk of developing certain conditions increases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and dementia. It’s a good idea to get any health checks that are offered as they can spot the early signs of these conditions.

Everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 is invited for a free health check every five years, unless they have certain pre-existing conditions. This is sometimes called a mid-life MOT. This will check, along with other things, your:

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

You’ll 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.

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 screening

Everyone aged 60 to 74 should be automatically invited for bowel cancer screening every two years. You'll be sent a home testing kit with instructions and you return a sample for analysis. If you’re 75 or over, you can ask for a testing kit by calling the bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 6060.

Diabetic eye screening

Annual eye screening is offered to anyone aged 12 or over who has diabetes. It checks for eye problems caused by diabetes that may lead to sight loss. Your GP will write to you, but the screening might take place at your local hospital.

For women:

Cervical screening

Cervical screening is offered every five years for women aged 50 to 64.

If you’re over 65, you’ll only be invited for screening if one of your last three tests was abnormal. You can ask your GP for a test if you’ve never had one or you haven’t been screened since you were 50.

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer screening is offered to all women aged 50 to 70. You should receive an invitation before your 53rd birthday and every three years after that. If you’re worried about any symptoms in the meantime, such as a lump or thickened breast tissue, contact your GP.

If you’re over 70, you can still be screened but you’ll need to contact your GP or local screening service yourself.

For men:

Abdominal screening

Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening is offered to all men in their 65th year. This looks for a dangerous swelling or bulge in your aorta (the main blood vessel running from the heart to the abdomen). If you haven’t been screened before and you're over 65, you can ask for a test by contacting your local AAA screening service.

You can find out more about the benefits and risks of screening programmes on 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’re 65 or over, a carer or have certain health conditions. For the 2020/21 flu season it will be available for free to more groups of people because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including households with people on the shielded patient list. Ask your GP or pharmacist if you are eligible for a free test.

Pneumococcal vaccine

If you are over 65, you’re 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. Find out more about how a pharmacist can help you and where to find a pharmacy on the NHS website.

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 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 also cause:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • incontinence
  • depression.

Alcohol can interfere with medication and it 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, speak to your GP. They may 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 Live Well website.

For practical tips and tools, visit the One You website.


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