Healthy Aging (Joan Watson)

When I shared with a friend of mine that I was writing this message on healthy aging, the response was “you can sum that up in two words—Not Possible!” My intent today is to explain how healthy aging not only is possible but quite achievable.

Most of us have built our lives on a foundation of independence. From the first time I gently told my parents, “ME do it,” I have grown to value and sometimes demand my independence. Although I may be the extreme case, most people would rather not be under the control and decision making of others. Aging may present a significant challenge to this self-reliance most of us treasure; and over time your body and mind may change in ways that affect your safety, security, and thus your independence.

Fortunately, the options for ensuring independence in aging become more numerous every day. Information, research, technology, and even organizations are evolving to give older adults opportunities to minimize the infringements on independence. No matter how old you are, it’s never too soon or too late to assert your independence by taking care of yourself. As I have mentioned before, I try to consider the health care message rather than the words used. I recall the first time a provider said to me, “Well at your age….” I admit I blocked out the rest of that message because I was only 38!

Here are seven things, at your age, you can do to enjoy aging while maintaining your health and independence.

  1. Be Active. An active lifestyle can help prevent heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, depression, falls, and fractures. The key is to do something you enjoy on an everyday basis; and to incorporate aerobic, balance, and muscle-strengthening activities in your routine. Also, current research suggests the frequency of activity is more significant to health than the duration of that activity.
  2. Eat well. A healthy diet includes: lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats such as olive oil. It’s best to avoid sugar, salt, and highly processed foods. Eating well will help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent diseases, as well as contribute to positive emotional and cognitive health.
  3. Protect your brain. The exciting news is that Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive decline associated with other diseases does not have to be a part of normal aging. A healthy lifestyle that includes cognitive stimulation through active learning is now known to be brain protective. Keep challenging your mind: read a book, attend a lecture, work puzzles, learn a new language, play a musical instrument, or take dance lessons.
  4. Cultivate relationships. Recently Australian researchers found the more groups a person belongs to in early retirement, the lower the risk of premature death. Social relationships with family and friends have been shown to decrease the stress associated with social isolation. Join a book club or church group, volunteer, take a class, or schedule regular meeting times with friends.
  5. Reduce Stress. Higher stress levels have long been associated with depression, memory loss, fatigue, decreased ability to fight infection, heart disease, and cancer to mention a few. We can’t completely avoid stress, but we can learn how to manage it—try relaxation techniques, yoga, tai chi, prayer, and meditation.
  6. Accept Responsibility for your Health. As we discussed in the “What is Health” message a few weeks ago, most of our health state is well within our control through how we manage ourselves and our environment. Be a participant with healthcare providers—make regular appointments; keep a written list of your medications, medical history, and health concerns; and most importantly, ask questions!
  7. Complete an Advance Directive. You have the right to participate in your own health care decisions, but you may not always be in a position to make those decisions for yourself. In that circumstance, it is imperative you identify your preferences and appoint someone to make those decisions when you cannot. This is accomplished with an Advanced Directive known as Health Care Power of Attorney. You should share it with the person you appoint, your relatives, and your healthcare providers.

Maintaining independence through healthy aging is well within our reach. Healthy aging requires a long term commitment, not a quick-fix, fad solution. However, deciding to follow these seven steps now will make today healthier than yesterday and will point the way toward long term health.

blog comments powered by Disqus