The rate of disability in older adults is decreasing. Reasons include healthier lifestyles, advances in medicine and public health, and more attention to the subject of “healthy aging,” the topic of this column.
Many factors influence how we age.
- Love it or hate it – exercise is the foundation of healthy aging. The idea of retiring to the rocking chair and watching the world go by is the surest way to not age healthily. People who exercise regularly not only live longer but also may live better, enjoying more years of life without pain or disability.
- Healthy eating. There’s the Mediterranean-style eating pattern, which includes fresh produce, whole grains, and healthy fats, but less dairy and more fish than a traditional American diet.
- A good night’s sleep can be easier said than done but there are effective strategies such as following a regular sleep schedule. Try to fall asleep and get up at the same time each day. Exercise can help and behavioral interventions such as mindfulness meditation are proven strategies. Important: try not to nap late in the day.
- Go to your doctor regularly, at least yearly and more if necessary. You cannot reap the benefits of medical advancements without regular trips to the doctor for physical exams and other tests, like regular screenings for conditions you may not know you have, such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. If you only seek medical attention when you’re experiencing symptoms, you may lose the chance of having your doctor catch a disease in its earliest stages, when it would be most treatable.
- Take care of your mental health. Psychological wellness is essential to your overall health and quality of life. Older adults, in particular, are at risk for stress and stress-related problems like depression. You can help manage stress with meditation techniques, physical activity, and participating in activities you enjoy. Keeping a journal may also help you identify and challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts. Reach out to friends, family or clergy who can help you cope positively.
There is still a lot to learn, though, about how people age and what habits support healthy aging. Researchers are exploring these questions with studies that look at physical, mental and cognitive health.
(This column is adapted from “What Do We Know About Healthy Aging,” National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-aging/what-do-we-know-about-healthy-aging.)
Dr. Don Scott is UGA associate professor of medicine, director of geriatric medicine education at the AU/UGA medical Partnership, and medical director of the C.A.R.E. Clinic.
Have a question for Dr. Scott? Email him at email@example.com.
- Getting Started with Exercise: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-and-physical-activity/how-older-adults-can-get-started-exercise
- Mediterranean Diet: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/guide-to-the-mediterranean-diet
- How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep: https://www.nytimes.com/article/how-to-sleep.html
- Managing Stress: https://patient.info/mental-health/stress-management