December 07, 2017
10 Tips for Healthy Aging
Many seniors today lead active and healthy lives, yet as we get older, it is inevitable that our bodies and minds change. Healthy aging is the optimization of physical, mental, and social well-being for older people, so they can live an independent, high quality life and play an active role in society.
Here are several things you can do remain healthy and active as you age:
1. Keep your blood pressure under control. High blood pressure is the leading cause of illness and death among older adults – and a major cause of heart attack, stroke, memory loss, and kidney failure. Talk with your doctor about the right target blood pressure based on your health history, maintain proper nutrition, lower sodium intake, and exercise.
2. Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability, and death. Excessive alcohol use accounts for more than 21,000 annual deaths among adults 65 or older. It is not too late to benefit from quitting!
3. Get recommended cancer screenings. Early detection of cancer can save lives and prevent chronic illness. Screenings are available to help detect breast, colorectal, cervical, prostate, and lung cancers. General recommendations include:
Breast: Mammography screenings start at age 40 (earlier if family history), with screening recommended every 1-2 years.
Colorectal: Screening starts at age 50 (earlier if family history), and are recommended every 10 years if negative. Screening tests may detect precancerous polyps.
Cervical: Screenings starts at age 21 (PAP test), and are recommended every 1-3 years depending on history of abnormal PAP tests.
Prostate: Screening is debatable depending on your health history, so discuss with your doctor. Screening tests available include the PSA blood test and rectal exam.
Lung: Annual screening with a CT scan are recommended for adults aged 55-80 years with 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Each type of cancer screening has its own specific guidelines, which can frequently change, so talk to your physician about which screening tests are right for you.
4. Get immunized regularly. Immunizations are not just for children. As we age, our immune systems weaken, increasing our risk of certain diseases. Further, the risk of serious complications from preventable illness increases. Fortunately, there are several vaccines available to help prevent the following:
Flu: Recommended annually starting at age 50 (earlier in immunocompromised patients or those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart, lung, liver, or kidney diseases.
Pneumonia: Recommended once at age 65 (before age 65 in patients with chronic conditions as listed above).
Tetanus and Diphtheria (DT): Recommended once every 10 years for all ages.
Herpes Zoster (Shingles): Recommended once after age 60.
Varicella (Chickenpox): Recommended twice (4-8 weeks apart) after age 50 if you never had chickenpox or shingles, or have never been vaccinated in childhood.
5. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Good nutrition may reduce risk of cancers and chronic diseases. Reduce the amount of foods you eat containing saturated and trans fats, eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and avoid high sodium and high sugar snacks such as chips and cookies.
6. Get a diabetes screening and regulate blood glucose. If left untreated, diabetes can cause severe health concerns such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, cancer, vision problems, and more. Diabetes screening is beneficial for adults with chronic conditions, and those who are overweight or obese between ages 40-70. Ask your doctor about fasting blood glucose or glycated hemoglobin (A1C) tests.
7. Lower your cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to heart disease, stroke, or coronary artery disease. Talk to your doctor about taking a cholesterol test, which can measure:
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): “Bad” cholesterol. High LDL levels increases risk for heart disease and stroke. LDL can be lowered by diet, exercise, and medication.
Triglycerides (TG): Main storage form of fat. Excess consumed calories are converted to TG’s and stored as fat.
High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): "Good" cholesterol. High HDL levels (>50-60 mg/dl) are heart protective.
8. Maintain healthy bones, joints and muscles. Talk to your doctor about getting a bone density exam, which are typically recommended at age 65 unless you have a preexisting condition, and ask about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Participate in regular weight bearing and strength-building activities; exercising regularly is an important part of healthy aging and can increase the “good” cholesterol in your body. It can also help you maintain good muscle tone. For most people, recommended exercise includes:
2 hours, 30 min. moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking) per week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week
1 hour, 15 min. vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (jogging or running) per week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week
However, consult your physician about the right amount and type of exercise for you, and before beginning any new exercise regimen.
9. Stay socially engaged. It is common for social networks to narrow as we age, however studies have found that seniors who are highly socially active have a lower rate of cognitive decline than those who are not very social. Make an effort to remain connected to family and friends, get involved with community organizations, and encourage others to join you in your activities.
10. Combat depression. Although physical health is very important for healthy aging, mental health plays a crucial role as well. Depression impacts work, socialization, self-care, and pleasure, and it can strike at an age. However, depression is not part of normal aging, it is a condition that needs to be treated. If you experience depression symptoms, please contact your doctor.
If you are approaching your “golden years,” talk with your physician or a board-certified geriatrician about age-appropriate health screenings and disease prevention. Geriatricians are physicians specially trained to treat the health concerns of older patients, and focus on Healthy Aging.
Sahar Eivaz-Mohammadi, MD is a hospitalist and geriatrician with UCR Health. View Dr. Eivaz-Mohammadi’s profile to learn more.