September is Healthy Aging Month— a time to focus on wellbeing during the process of aging. Developing habits that promote good health before retirement will maximize the opportunity to thrive after retirement. Maintaining those habits is the key to a healthy senior lifestyle.
Regardless of age, different people have different capacities for exercise. Fitness regimes for older adults will vary accordingly. Still, most seniors are not as physically active as they need to be to maintain and improve long-term health. Studies suggest that seniors usually fall short of the 150 minutes of weekly physical activity that researchers recommend for healthy aging.
Inactivity reduces muscle mass, promotes high blood pressure, and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. A loss of muscle mass makes dangerous falls more likely. Physical activity — more walking, less sitting — can prevent or delay the onset of life-threatening diseases. When a senior’s health condition limits his physical activity, he should work with doctors and physical therapists to develop an exercise regime that is tailored to his abilities and needs.
Getting rid of bad habits also promotes healthy aging. Excessive consumption of alcohol, any amount of tobacco use, and a poor diet all contribute to shorter lifespans.
The CDC estimates that “20% of people age 55 years or older experience some type of
mental health concern.” Depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairments are seen more often as people age. Depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. An active lifestyle and social interaction may prevent or delay cognitive impairment.
Seniors who report that they are living a satisfying life are less likely to experience mental distress. Maintaining relationships, staying active, learning new things, and pursuing new interests all contribute to a satisfying life.
Dr. Hillary Lum, an associate professor of geriatrics, encourages seniors to stay socially connected. Loneliness and isolation correlate with physical and mental health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and dementia. Exploring interests through community-based programs can help seniors increase social contacts and develop new friendships.
Exercise classes help seniors maintain or improve physical health, but they can also improve mental well-being by creating an opportunity to socialize with a group of older adults who share the same goals. The evidence indicates that regular aerobic exercise (such as walking, biking, and swimming) can improve the mental health of seniors.
Older adults are at higher risk for age-related macular degeneration, cataract, and glaucoma. Early detection and treatment reduce the risk of vision loss. Because eye diseases do not always have early symptoms, the National Eye Institute recommends regular comprehensive dilated eye exams beginning at age 50.
Poor oral health can exacerbate age-related health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. Candy is delicious and sugary beverages are satisfying, but fluoridated tap water hydrates the body while preserving healthy teeth. Since bacteria are more likely to cause dental damage during periods of sleep, it is important to brush teeth before going to bed. Regular dental checkups can detect problems with teeth and gums before they cause serious harm.
Hearing loss can occur at any age, but it becomes more prevalent in older adults. About half of people in their 70s and about 75% of people in their 80s experience hearing impairment. Most seniors who might benefit from hearing aids do not use them. Regular visits with an audiologist can make seniors aware of options that can improve their hearing. Good hearing allows seniors to participate in conversations and other activities that promote healthy aging.