Healthy Living and Successful Aging
Author: Jed Winegar
The United States is experiencing a remarkable increase in the number of people who live to an old age. Our older population (people 65 years or older) numbered nearly 40 million in 2009 (latest year of available data). These folks represent one in every eight Americans, or 13% of the population. By 2030, it is projected that the U.S will be home to more than 72 million people age 65 and older.
This astonishing increase is largely a result of medical and health care advancements that simply allow people to live longer. Currently, the average life expectancy of an American is about 80 years old (nearly double that of our ancestors).
Health is Wealth
Living a long life is a goal most of us have in common. Ensuring that we spend the latter years of our life feeling healthy and happy should be an important part of that goal.
Health is indeed wealth, especially as we age. Embracing a healthy lifestyle and making health our number one priority will bring invaluable wealth to us as we age.
Although growing older is inevitable, there are many things we can do to avoid feeling older. Medical breakthroughs have and will extend our longevity, but how we decide to live our senior years will be crucial. Managing our physical health, maintaining relationships, following safety tips, and making adequate preparations to fund our retirement and long term care can help us make the most of our so-called 'golden years.'
Below are suggestions for healthy living that will help each of us age successfully.
Stay Connected and Productive
One of the most important things you can do to stay healthy and happy as you age is to maintain your sense of purpose by staying productive and connected to people and things that are important to you. Spend quality time with at least one person (a family member, friend or neighbor) every day. Seek out those who uplift and challenge you. Avoid secluding yourself.
You can also fill your days rendering service to others who are not as fortunate as you. Giving time for a cause beyond yourself brings with it a sense of purpose you can’t achieve anywhere else. Your wealth of wisdom and experience will continue to grow as you reach out to others.
Activities that can help you remain connected and productive include: gardening, cooking, knitting, volunteering at a library or hospital, helping neighbors, visiting museums, traveling, playing cards or games, joining a senior center, starting a book club, taking a class, attending church, or learning and using a social media like Facebook.
Finally, challenge yourself mentally. Reading books or newspapers, doing crossword puzzles, drawing or painting, writing, studying, or learning to play a musical instrument are effective and fun ways to keep your mind sharp.
Collect and Write Family Histories
Those who pursue the gathering and writing of personal and family histories are always rewarded. As one of the older people in your extended family, you likely hold memories of people, places, and events that might be lost forever upon your passing. In this case, you are the family history. Don’t let it be lost to future generations. Take the time to preserve your heritage by writing these memories down.
Exercise is a significant part of good health at every age. Unfortunately, many older adults do not get enough physical activity and exercise. Staying active can improve vitality, help maintain strength and flexibility, expand mental function, decrease risk for health problems, and may even help relieve chronic pain.
Find an activity you enjoy then ease into it at a pace and consistency your body can handle. Try to include a variety of endurance, strength, stretching, and balance exercises in your routine. Exercise choices may include yoga, walking, swimming, biking, gardening, and exercises classes designed for seniors. The key to successful exercising is variety.
Be sure to talk to your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.
For some, successful aging equates to financial responsibility, making sure that they have the right Medicare health plan, long term care insurance coverage and enough money to cover the costs of health care in retirement.
As soon as you have a job and a steady income, begin to plan frugally for retirement and the decades which follow. Planning early will help you to avoid unnecessary debt and live more comfortably during your final years. Use caution in cosigning financial notes (even with family members) when retirement income might be jeopardized. As you near retirement, be even more cautious about “get-rich” schemes, mortgaging homes, or investing in uncertain ventures. In all financial aspects, proceed cautiously so that the planning of a lifetime is not disrupted by one or more poor financial decisions.
The National Care Planning Council provides lists of eldercare planning services to help the public prepare for the years following retirement. The list includes care management services, financial advisers, elder attorneys, reverse mortgage specialists, advocates for veterans, home care services, and other types of eldercare providers.
Have a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle
Don't smoke, eat right, and practice good hygiene. We’ve all heard these tips before, but we repeat them so often because they are crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Eating right should include consuming nutrition-packed meals every day. Extra weight from poor diet choices increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Staying healthy also has the very practical impact of reducing out-of-pocket health care costs. A healthy person spends far less time at the pharmacy, the doctor’s office, and even the hospital.
Prevent Injuries from Falling
Falling is one of the most common causes of injury among seniors. Simple home modifications, the use of assistive devices, wearing sensible footwear, and removing hazards can reduce the risk of falling and the injuries that come with it.
Visit Your Doctor Regularly
About 80 percent of seniors are living with a chronic condition. Many chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, can often be prevented.
Visit your health care provider regularly and follow their recommendations for screening and preventative measures. Screenings are particularly helpful as they serve as an early warning system. Much of the illness and disability associated with aging can be prevented (or slowed down) when you have the benefit of early detection. Regular dental, vision and hearing checkups should also be taken into consideration.
One of the most common conditions affecting older men is enlargement of the prostate gland, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Among aging women, a loss of bone density (osteoporosis) is a particular concern.
Many people age 70 and older seek the care of a geriatric physician, also called a geriatrician. Geriatric physicians are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and disability in older adults.
Growing older is inevitable, but there are many things we can do to avoid feeling older. Medical breakthroughs have and will extend our longevity, but how we decide to live as we age is crucial. Managing our physical health, maintaining relationships, being productive, taking safety precautions, visiting our health care providers often, and making adequate preparations to fund our retirement and long term care can help us make the most of our senior years.