As we age, our health becomes more critical. It's even more important than ever to develop healthy habits as we get older and as we face COVID-19 and Flu season. September is National Healthy Aging Month! A time for us to focus on the positive aspects of growing older (instead of dreading each birthday year after year). Healthy Aging Month is all about acting how you feel, not acting your age! This month we encourage you to take charge of your well-being by aging with a healthy body by getting daily physical activity and a healthy mind by taking care of your mental health.
Everyone wants to be happy and feel their best as they grow older and healthy aging is entirely achievable. Regardless of when and where you begin, even the smallest steps can make a huge difference in your life. What better time to start than Healthy Aging Month?
Eat & Drink Healthy
Food is an integral part of how people age. A healthy diet is not a strict prescription to follow, either. It's more of a framework that lets you enjoy your favorites foods time and time again while mainly focusing on the good stuff.
Try your best to make healthy choices—like eating various fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and drinking lots of water. You can quickly move toward a healthier eating pattern by making alterations in your food and drink choices over time. Here are a few examples…
• High-calorie snacks like chips to nutrient-dense snacks like carrots
• Fruit products with added sugars like fig bars to fresh fruit like peaches
• Snacks with added salt or sugars like chocolate chip cookies to snacks without added salt or sugars like peanuts
• Regular cola to water or water flavored with fruits
• Sweetened lemon iced tea to sparkling water with natural lemon flavor
• Medium Latte with whole milk to small Latte with fat-free milk
Move More, Sit Less
Some people love to exercise; some people hate to exercise. No matter what, daily exercise is good for you. Being active can help you prevent, delay, and manage chronic diseases; improve balance and stamina; reduce the risk of falls; and improve brain health. Studies show that people who get regular physical activity not only live longer, they live better too. Plus, little things like gardening, walking the dog, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help you continue to do the things you enjoy doing and stay independent as you age. There are many ways to be active. For example, you can engage in short spurts throughout the day or set aside specific times or days to exercise during the week. Try to aim for moderate physical activity, like walking, at least 150 minutes a week, or 22-30 minutes a day, and muscle-strengthening exercise, like carrying groceries, at least two days a week.
Don't Be Afraid to Try Something New
Receiving a college degree or earning a certification of some sort should never be the end of your education. Continuing learning is vital for a healthy brain. The good news is, any kind of learning is helpful. Whether you take an advanced calculus class at your local community college or merely pick up a new hobby such as crocheting, a musical instrument, or a new language. It can even be something as simple as teaching yourself how to comb your hair with your non-dominant hand. Whatever it is, it's all helpful.
Isolation and loneliness can have a profound impact on your health. According to The National Institute on Aging, this includes a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, and Alzheimer's disease. As we get older, our lives change – grandkids move away or go to college, retirement leads to less social interactions with coworkers and families, or possibly losing the ability to drive to family and friend's houses. This loss of social interaction can be treacherous and maintaining those strong relationships you currently have can help you age well. Also, they can:
• Create a sense of belonging and connection
• Improve the quality of life
• Improve self-esteem
• Improve cognitive function
• Bring a feeling purpose in life
• Prevent disease
While you are also in the process of staying physically and mentally healthy, it's crucial to mix in a sufficient amount of downtime to rest and ensure adequate amounts of sleep. Try to put aside a specific time every day for a little R&R. Do those activities you love, such as reading, writing in a diary, spending time outdoors, etc.
Get Regular Checkups
Getting regular checkups is an essential part of healthy aging. Depending on your age and gender, the tests and services performed at your annual physical will differ but know that routine exams by your primary care provider are recommended even if you aren't sick. So be sure to call your primary care provider and schedule a visit. These regular exams can prevent disease or find it early when treatment is more effective.
Know Your Family History
Knowing and acting on your family health history can be an important part of staying healthy. Family health history can help your doctor decide what screening tests and other interventions you need and when. For example, if you have a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer, your doctor might recommend that you start mammography screening earlier. Your doctor also might refer you for cancer genetic counseling, especially if your relative was diagnosed before age 50. Take the time to collect your family health history information from your family members. It might not be easy – your family members might not be used to talking about their diseases or might not want to talk. But starting the conversation is important. Remember, you're asking not just for your health but also for everyone's health in your family.
Be Aware of Changes in Brain Health
Everyone's brain changes as they age, but dementia is not a normal part of aging. See your primary care provider if you have questions about memory or brain health.
Following our tips outlined above can help you stay healthy as you age, even if you're a first-timer for these activities. Just know it's never too late to start taking care of your health. If you have any questions about specific lifestyle changes or healthy aging tips, ask your primary care provider.
Happy Healthy Aging Month!