Healthy Aging

As we age, our minds and bodies change. Even with all these changes, many seniors are living healthy and active lives. A healthy lifestyle is the key to healthy aging. Adopting healthy habits, staying involved in your community, using preventive services, managing health conditions, and understanding your medication can contribute to a productive and meaningful life. Healthy aging is not just about being the peak of health in every category – though it can help). It is about living your life to the fullest.

In the early 1900s, the US life expectancy at birth was under 50 years old, and only a very small percentage of Americans lived to age 65. Today, the US life expectancy at birth has risen by more than 30 year in barely more than a century to 78.6 years old.

Adding healthy habits to your daily routine can help you stay active and strong as you age. It is never too late to improve your health! 
  • Tips for Healthy Habits
  • Staying Active
  • Medical Test & Screenings
  • Memory
  • Jumpstart your day with breakfast – try a high-fiber cereal with berries
  • Select nutrient-dense foods – choose colorful fruits and vegetables, fat-free milk and cheese, whole grains, seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week – walk briskly, bike, swim, hike, play tennis, chase your grandkids, do water aerobics, dance.
  • Split bulk items or fresh produce with friends if you are on a fixed income.
  • Drink fluids throughout the day even though you may feel less thirsty as you age.
  • Share an entree to control portion sizes or save half of you meal for tomorrow.
  • Strengthen your muscles twice a week to ward off frailty and muscle loss. Climb stairs, mow the grass, rake leaves, dig in a garden, lift weights, use an exercise band. 
  • Check with a health care provider or dentist if you have trouble chewing, lose your appetite, or find that your favorite foods don’t taste good anymore.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods in front of a TV or computer. Stand up and move around. 
  •  Improve balance and flexibility three times a week – try yoga or stretching exercises to help you reduce stress, stiffness, and the risk of a fall or injury. 
  • Put down the salt shaker – cut salt to 2/3 teaspoon a day
  • Be good to yourself – get enough sleep and lift your spirits by enjoying friends and family
Source: Weight-control Information Network at the National Institute of Health

​Many older adults know they should be more active, but find it hard to fit exercise into their lives. There are four main types of exercise  – endurancestrengthbalance, and flexibility. Most people tend to focus on one, but each type of exercise is different. Doing all of them will give you best benefits. Mixing them around also help reduce boredom and cut your risk of injury. 

Tips for exercising:

  • Exercise first thing in the morning or combine physical activity with a task that’s already part of your day.
  • Do things you enjoy and try new activities to keep exercise interesting and fun.
  • When exercising on a budget, use comfortable shoe for walking and use soup cans or water bottles for strength training.
  • Regular, moderate physical activity can help reduce fatigue and even help you manage stress.
When you go to you annual check up, make sure to ask your doctors about preventive health screenings. 
 
  • Breast cancer screening (every 1-2 years for women age 40 or older)
  • Colorectal cancer screening (ages 50-75)
  • Diabetes screening (obese adults age 40-70)
  • Hepatitis C virus screening (adult born between 1945 and 1965)
  • Lung cancer screening (ages 55-80)
  • Osteoporosis ( women age 65 and older)
  • Blood pressure
  • Weight counseling
  • Prostate screening (men ages 55-69)
  • Eye test
  • Hearing test
  • Cholesterol screening
  • Vaccinations – Pneumococcal (age 65+), Shingles (ages 50+), Flu shot (every year), Tetanus booster (every ten years)
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm screening (once per life, men age 65-75)
Everyone has memory slips, whether it is forgetting where you left your keys or the word that’s on the very tip of your tongue. As you age, these moments happen more often. But you don’t have to give in to this change. These simple steps can help keep your brain sharp.
 
  1. A 30-minute daily walk is one of the best things you can do to preserve memory and mental functioning with aging. Some studies suggest exercise releases a protein that promotes healthy nerve cells in the brain that can boost memory. 
  2. A healthy diet is always good for the body. Studies found people who closely followed a Mediterranean diet (lots of fruit, vegetables, and fish) were nearly 20% less likely to have thinking and memory problems. 
  3.  Keep you brain engaged.  Mental exercise is just as important for you as physical exercise. Any mentally challenging activity will keep you mind sharp. Play cards. Join a book club. Play a brain-training app. Do puzzles.
  4. Stay social. The more social connections someone has, the better they are at preserving mental function and memory. Social interaction help memory as it helps your mood. Socially isolated individuals are more likely to have depression, which can contribute to dementia. 
  5. Get enough sleep. Attention and concentration decrease with lack of sleep. Mental function is not as sharp as it would be with someone getting normal sleep. 
  6. Stress is very bad for your brain. High levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) make is harder to pull information form your brain’s memory. 
  7. Quit smoking. Smoking speeds up memory loss as you age. Smoking can cause small strokes in the brain, which may affect memory. 
  8. Talk to your doctor. Medical conditions can cause memory loss. Certain medicines can also affect your ability to remember. 
  9. Use memory tricks. If you have trouble with everyday memory, it can help to have a few tricks. Every time you learn a new name or word, say it out loud to reinforce it in your brain. Mentally connect each new name with an image. To help recall, post sticky notes around the home and office or set reminders on your phone. This can help you remember important things like when it is time to take your medicine or go to a meeting. 
  • Mental Health
  • Stress & Anxiety
  • Social Wellness
  • Sleep

About 20% of people age 55 years or older have some type of mental health concern. The most common include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders (such as depression and bipolar disorder). Mental health is often a risk factor in cases of suicide. Older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group. 

Depression is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults. It can be brought on by distress and suffering due to loss of a loved one or a medical condition diagnosis. Depression can lead to impairments in physical, mental, and social functioning. Older adults with depression have more doctor office and hospital visits, use more medications, incur higher outpatient charges, and stay longer in the hospital. 

We tend to have less resilience to stress as we age, and older adults often find that stress affects them differently than it did before. As we age our lung and heart capacity decline, which keeps people from adequately accommodating the body’s natural stress response. If you have a chronic disease, it is even harder to bounce back physically from the toll the stress response takes.

Stress triggers:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Too much unstructured time
  • A change in relationship with children
  • Loss of physical abilities (vision, hearing, balance, or mobility)

Symptoms of stress:

  • Tension headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Poor circulation
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability 
  • Crying
  • Overeating

What should you do?

If you are feeling stressed, doctors recommend talking about your concerns with loved ones and to get a physical check up from your doctor. Stress can have a physical impact on your body that you may be unaware of such as high blood pressure. Treatments may include addressing the underlying conditions, eating healthy, and getting plenty of exercise, as well as socializing and nurturing yourself. 

A big part of stress management focuses on triggering the opposite of how our bodies respond to stress. For example, the relaxation response helps lower blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, and stress hormones. This technique includes yoga, tai chi, meditation, guided imagery, and deep breathing exercises. Another way to cope with stress/anxiety is with cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you identify negative thinking and replace it with healthy or positive thoughts. While relaxation and positivity can help, you may need medications, such as antidepressants, as a bridge. 

 

Social wellness refers to the relationships we have and how we interact with others. Our relationships offer support during difficult times. Social wellness involves building healthy, nurturing and supportive relationships, as well as fostering a genuine connection with those around you. Social wellness is important as healthy relationships are an important component of health. According to the University of Minnesota, the health risks of being alone or isolated in one’s life are comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. 

Research shows that: 

  • People with a strong social network tend to live longer.
  • The heart and blood pressure of people with healthy relationships respond better to stress.
  • Strong social networks are associated with a healthier endocrine system and healthier cardiovascular functioning.
  • Healthy social networks enhance the immune system’s ability to fight off infectious diseases. 
In a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, researchers found that seniors who were housebound or socially isolated were not only more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but they experienced an increased rapid cognitive decline than seniors who got out and interacted more with others. 
One of the most common and pronounced sleep changes that come with aging is waking up more frequently. The most likely cause is some type of physical discomfort, such as the need to use the bathroom or reposition an achy joint. Spending less time in the REM cycle of sleeping is another normal part of aging. While you may not be able to fix the way your natural sleep rhythms and tendencies have changed, you can try to limit disruptors and improve your quality of sleep. It is important to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you experience poor quality of sleep despite taking these steps, talk to your doctor.
 
Sleeping Tips:
  • Review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist and consider for anything that may affect your sleep and considers changes to their use
  • Stop drinking fluids within two hours of bedtime to minimize trips to the bathroom
  • If pain keeps you up at night, talk to your doctor to see if any over-the-counter pain medication may help. This may not stop you from waking up, but it can make it easier to fall back asleep.
  • Keep your sleep environment as dark as possible. This includes limiting lights from the television, computer screen, and mobile devices. Light disrupts your body’s natural sleep rhythm.
  • Limit caffeine intake, particularly in the eight hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol near bedtime – alcohol may help you fall asleep, but once it wears off, it makes you more likely to wake up in the night. 
  • To maintain a quality sleep cycle, limit daytime napping to just 10 to 20 minutes. If you find that naps make you less sleepy at bedtime, avoid napping altogether. 
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, ask you doctor about melatonin supplements. Taking 1-2 milligrams of melatonin about 2 hours before bedtime may help you fall asleep.

Source: National Institute on Aging

  • Eating Healthy (Special Diets)
  • No-Sodium
  • Sugar

Healthy eating gives your body the right nutrients, and maintaining a healthy weight can help you stay active and independent. The concept of healthy eating does change has you age. Your metabolism slows down, so you need fewer calories than before. Your body also needs more of certain nutrients. That means it’s more important than ever to choose foods that give you the best nutritional value. 

Keeping a healthy weight is important. As you age, you may loss muscle mass or burn fewer calories. This can lead to increase frailty and weight gain, respectively. To prevent health complications, is it crucial to manage your weight. Eating nutrient-dense foods can help you keep a healthy weight.  What is considered healthy varies from person to person, depending on age, gender, health conditions, and activity level. Ask your health care provider about what a healthy weight would mean for you. 

Among the older population, being underweight is a concern. It may happen because of not having enough to eat, not eating enough nutrient-dense foods, or having an illness or disease. Being overweight or obese is also a concern as extra weight may increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and bone issues. Eating wisely and staying active help preserve muscle ad bone health and may help you maintain strength and a healthy weight as you age. 

Depending on your health needs, your doctor may recommend dietary restrictions on foods with sugar, salt, or cholesterol. It is important to stick to these restrictions to not worsen your symptoms or health conditions.  

Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure.

  • If you are 51 or older, reduce your salt intake to less than 1500 mg a day
  • Read the Nutrition Facts label to find the sodium content
  • Limit how much pre-packaged/processed foods you eat
  • Reduce salt when cooking or eating your food
  • Buy foods that are low in salt
  • Use other spices to flavor food in place of salt – such as cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, turmeric, garlic
 

High amounts of sugar is a contributing factor for many health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease. Added sugars is hidden in a surprising number of food that you get at the grocery store regularly. Researchers found that there are at least 61 different names for sugar on ingredient labels and manufacturers add sugar to 74% of packaged foods.  The CDC recommends that added sugars should be limited to less than 10% of total daily calories. For example, no more than 200 calories from sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet. 

No Sugar Diet tips:
  • Recognize sugar ingredients. Anything with the suffix “-ose” is a type of sugar (dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, corn syrup, molasses, demerara, sucanat, tubinado, muscovado, rice syrup, juice concentrate, sucrose, lactose)
  •  Avoid artificial sugars (Splenda, stevia, Equal, Nutrasweet, Sweet’N Low, aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame K, neotame)
  • Do not drink your sugar (soda pop, specialty coffees, sweetened teas, fruit juice are some of the most significant sources of added sugars in the diet)
  • Avoid simple sugars. They are easily broken down in the body and turned into sugar (white flour, white pasta, white rice)
  • Focus on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean meat, fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. (Processed foods are more likely to contain refined ingredients or added sugars.)
  • Plan meals ahead of time
  • Spice up meals with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla to add flavor to food
  • Vision Care
  • Hearing Care

Older adults are at risk for certain eye diseases and conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, dry eye, and low vision. Often times, there are no early symptoms, but eye diseases can be detected during a comprehensive dilated eye exam.

Common changes as you age:
  • Need for more light – Brighter lighting will help make reading and other task easier.
  • Noticeable glare – Changes within your eye’s lens cause light to be more scattered, which creates more glare.
  • Color shifts – Lenses can become discolored, making it harder to distinguish between certain shades of colors.
  • Reduced tear production – With age, the tear glands in your eyes will produce fewer tears. Keep artificial tears on hand to help with dry eyes.

To protect your eyes, make sure to have your eyes checked by an eye care professional. People over age 60 should have dilated eye exams once a year. During this exam, an eye care professional will put drops in your eye to widen (dilate) your pupils. They will be able to look at the back of each eye. This is the only way to find some common eye diseases that show no signs or symptoms. If you wear glasses or contacts, your prescription should be checked as well.

See an eye care profession right away if you:
  • Suddenly cannot see or everything looks blurry
  • See flashes of light
  • Have eye pain
  • Experience double vision
  • Have redness or swelling of your eye or eyelid
Tips for healthy eyes:
  • Protect your eyes from too much sunlight by wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet (UV) radiation and a hat with a wide brim when you are outside
  • Stop smoking
  • Make smart food choices
  • Be physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Control diabetes, if you have it
  • If you spend a lot of time on the computer/smart phone or focused on one thing, you can forget to blink. Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet for 20 seconds to prevent eye strain.

Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. About one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing  loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Having trouble hearing can make it difficult to understand doctor’s advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells or alarms. It can also make it hard to enjoy time with friends and family. Hearing loss can be frustrating, embarrassing, and even dangerous. 

Hearing loss happens for many reasons. Most people lose their hearing gradually as they age. This condition is known as presbycusis. Doctors do not know why hearing loss affects some people more than others. It seems to run in families. Another reason may be years of exposure to loud noises. This is considered noise-induced hearing loss. Many construction workers, farmers, musicians, airport workers, yard and tree care workers, and people in the armed forces have hearing problems as early as their younger middle years because of too much exposure to loud noises. Hearing loss can also be caused by viral or bacterial infections, heart conditions or stroke, head injuries, tumors, and certain medications. 

Hearing problems can be serious. If you or a loved one may have a hearing problem, it is important to seek out professional advice. Talk to your primary care physician, they can check your ears/hearing to rule out medical conditions and recommend you to a specialist.
 

Treatments usually depend on your hearing loss, some treatments may work better than others. There are several types of devices and aids that can improve hearing loss. 

Common devices:
  • Hearing aids (behind-the-ear, in-the-ear, in-the-canal, completely-in-canal)
  • Cochlear implants
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Lip reading or speech reading
Lady wiping her eyes
Senior with hearing aid

Source: National Institute on Aging

Resources

Links to various resources on the topics discuss on this page. 

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