September is Healthy Aging Month
The current growth in the number and proportion of older adults living in the United States is unprecedented in our nation’s
history. According to “The State of Aging and Health in America 2007,” a report released by the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) together with The Merck Company Foundation, the population of Americans aged 65-and-older will more
than double to 71 million persons by the year 2030 and will comprise roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population. These statistics
emphasize the need for a more focused approach to promoting and preserving the health of older adults so that they may lead
high-quality, productive, and independent lives.
Aging is a natural part of life. Your quality of life as you get older depends on many factors such as family history and
lifestyle choices. If you make healthy lifestyle choices, you can slow down or even prevent problems that often come with
The leading causes of death for all age groups are chronic diseases and degenerative illnesses. Currently, about 80% of
older Americans are living with at least one chronic condition. Smoking, poor diet, and physical inactivity were the root
causes of almost 35% of U.S. deaths in 2000. These behaviors are risk factors that often underlie the development of the
leading chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Choosing healthy lifestyle behaviors can help prevent
or control the devastating effects of these conditions.
How to Age Well
September is ‘Healthy Aging Month,’ a time to focus on what you can do to be the healthiest you can be, regardless of age.
The first step to healthy aging is to understand and accept that aging is a normal, life-long process that has both challenges
and rewards along the way. Growing older can bring with it changes in physical capabilities and health as it becomes easier
to gain weight and lose muscle strength, tone, and flexibility. Other unwanted effects commonly include frailty, loss of
appetite, and even depression. Despite these effects, aging can also bring mental, social and emotional strength. The people
who age well are those who adapt to change and make wise choices that allow them to be in the best possible health.
You can reduce the impact of aging by following a health regimen that includes exercise, proper nutrition, stress reduction,
sufficient sleep, and the avoidance of smoking and excessive alcohol use. Early detection screening practices for diseases
such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancers of the breast, cervix and prostate are important as well.
As you grow older, proper nutrition plays an increasingly important role in your quality of life. Eating a low-salt, low-saturated
fat diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fiber can help reduce your age-related risks of developing heart
disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases. There are additional nutritional facts to keep in mind:
- Your body’s daily energy needs slowly decrease as you age, which means that you need fewer calories per day than you did
when you were younger.
- Your body becomes prone to producing more body fat and less muscle. Therefore, you need less fat and more protein in your
diet in addition to increased activity and muscle strengthening.
- Your bones lose mineral content more rapidly than before. As a result, you need plenty of calcium and vitamin D each day
to help prevent osteoporosis. This is particularly true for postmenopausal women because lower estrogen levels increase
One of the most important things you can do for your health at any age is to exercise. There are many different ways to
exercise including walking, swimming, biking, gardening or working out at the gym.
According to the CDC, it is important to be active almost every day because regular physical activity:
- Greatly reduces a person’s risk of heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure
- Helps to control weight and promotes healthy bones, muscles, and joints
- Relieves the pain of arthritis and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Can decrease the need for hospitalizations, physician visits and medication
Although the positive effects of exercise are numerous, you must consult your health care professional to ensure that it
is safe for you to begin an exercise program.
Mental and Emotional Health
Your brain needs to be exercised just as frequently as your body. Maintaining and striving to improve your learning, memory,
decision-making and planning skills will help protect and enhance your mental sharpness. Effective activities include learning
something new, completing crossword puzzles, or playing cards and strategy games. Additionally, it is important to keep
stress to a minimum for your overall well-being, and to stay in touch with your friends, family and community to feel connected.
Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. According to the National Institute
on Aging, quitting smoking has major and immediate health benefits for people of every age. As soon as you stop smoking,
your lungs, heart, and circulatory system begin recovering. Your chance of heart attack, stroke, and other circulatory diseases
begins to decrease within the first year after you quit. Within one year of quitting, you are almost half as likely to develop
heart disease as you were before. The flow of blood to your hands and feet gets stronger and your breathing becomes easier.
The sooner you quit, the greater the benefits to your health will be.
A minimum of seven to eight hours of restful sleep per night is generally recommended. Disruptive sleep can contribute to
fatigue, depression, mood swings and trouble performing daily activities such as driving and working. As you age, the quality
of your sleep is greatly affected by your overall health, including your weight. Weight gain is a challenge for both men
and women as aging brings hormonal shifts that affect metabolism. Making healthy lifestyle choices with weight loss in mind
is a good start to sleeping well.
Prevention is Key
Medical prevention, through immunizations, regular screenings, checkups and prompt treatment, plays a key role in your quality
of life as you age. To maximize your odds of living a longer, healthier life, it is important to make sure that you receive
the screenings and immunizations that are recommended for all people over the age of 40. Preventive health screenings for
both men and women include:
- Cardiac testing and blood pressure checks
- Cholesterol and lipid screening
- Colorectal cancer screening
- Hearing and vision tests
- Dental examinations
Men may also need to have an annual prostate check. Women are advised to have a regular breast examination and mammogram,
as well as a pelvic exam and Pap test. Recommended immunizations for both men and women include tetanus boosters, a yearly
flu shot, and a pneumococcal vaccine.
The key to successful aging is taking charge of your well-being. It is never too late to be the best you can be at any age!