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Healthy Aging

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The baby boom generation is aging. In fact, each and every day approximately 10,000 Americans celebrate their 65th birthdays.  This trend will continue until 2030.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by 2050, it is anticipated that Americans aged 65 or older will number nearly 89 million people, or more than double the number of older adults in the United States in 2010.  As a result of this aging population, there is more research and information than ever regarding healthy aging.  Much of it centers round something called “compression of morbidity”.  As we age, the ideal is to compress, that is minimize, the number of years of poor health (morbidity) before one dies.   So if one lives to be 85, the ideal would be to live as many of those 85 years as possible in good health with minimal medical intervention.  This benefits the individual as he or she is able to stay active and independent.  It benefits society as these folks can continue to contribute to their families and communities.  And it benefits the economy as a healthy aging population will help keep healthcare costs down. The ultimate goal is for seniors to live longer and better.  
 
Most experts agree on some basic prescriptions for living well longer.   The key is to invest in your own mind and body maintenance.  The Darmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center suggests the following tips for healthy aging:
1. Live an active life
Tip: The key is to stay active, so do something you will enjoy. If you are not the type of person who will stick to a regular gym routine, go on a walk or ride your bike every day instead. Try to incorporate aerobic, balance, and muscle strengthening activities into your routine. Think about what works best for you, consult your doctor, and get moving!
2. Eat healthy foods
Tip: Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods. Avoid sweet, salty, and highly processed foods. Keep in mind that each person has different dietary needs – follow your doctor's suggestions regarding dietary restrictions
3. Maintain your brain
Tip: Never stop learning and challenging your mind! Take dance lessons, learn a new language,  learn to play a musical instrument, play games, do puzzles, or read a book.
4. Cultivate your relationships
Tips: Maintain communication with your family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change. Schedule regular time to meet with friends and family – over coffee, during a weekly shared meal, or around a common interest. Reach out to friends who might be isolated or feel lonely.
5. Get enough sleep
Tip: Develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine. Keep your bedroom dark and noise-free— avoid watching television or surfing the internet while in bed. Stay away from caffeine late in the day.
6. Reduce stress
Tip: We cannot entirely avoid stressful situations but we can learn better techniques to cope with stress. Take care of yourself when you are stressed by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating nutritious foods. Talk to a loved one or counselor about your stress, and try some relaxation techniques, such as circular breathing, yoga, or meditation. Remember to always keep things in perspective – try to accept and adapt to the things you cannot control.
7. Practice prevention
Tip: To prevent illness, get a yearly flu vaccine and wash your hands after using the restroom and before handling food. To prevent a fall, complete a home safety checklist, use assistive devices, wear appropriate footwear, get your vision checked, take vitamin D and calcium if your doctor recommends it and get some form of exercise into your routine.
8. Take charge of your health
Tip: Think about the ways that your health can improve by changing your lifestyle, and make those changes. You are your own best advocate. Contact your primary care practitioner for an annual physical or whenever you have a concern about your health, and go to those appointments prepared. Bring a list of your current prescription and non-prescription medications, including herbal supplements and vitamins; keep a list of your health concerns; and, most importantly, ask questions!
9. Make community connections
Tip: Join a planning committee, volunteer, take a trip with friends, play cards at your local senior center, or join a book club. Remember that participating in activities should be fun, not stressful!
For more information about healthy aging, visit the National Institute on Aging at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health  or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/aging/index.html.  
 
 
Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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