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How to age gracefully?

Older coupleWritten by: Anne Miller, MD Behavioral Health Services at St. Agnes Hospital

People in the United States are living longer than ever before. Many seniors live active and healthy lives. But there’s no getting around one thing: as we age, our bodies and minds change. There are things you can do to stay healthy and active as you age.

Eat a balanced diet

Food provides the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. Nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.

Studies show that a good diet in your later years reduces your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart diseases and certain cancers. As you age, you might need less energy. But you still need just as many of the nutrients in food. To get them:

  • Choose a variety of healthy foods
  • Avoid empty calories, which are foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as chips, cookies, soda and alcohol
  • Pick foods that are low in cholesterol and fat, especially saturated and trans fats

Keep your mind and body active

Exercise and physical activity are good for just about everyone, including older adults. There are four main types and each type is different. Doing them all will give you more benefits.

  • Endurance, or aerobic, activities increase your breathing and heart rate. Brisk walking or jogging, dancing, swimming and biking are examples.
  • Strength exercises make your muscles stronger. Lifting weights or using a resistance band can build strength.
  • Balance exercises help prevent falls
  • Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and can help your body stay limber

Don’t smoke

There’s no way around it. Smoking is bad for your health. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths. It is also responsible for many other cancers and health issues. These include lung disease, heart and blood vessel disease, stroke and cataracts. Your smoke is also bad for other people – they breathe in your smoke secondhand and can get many of the same health issues as smokers do.

Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of these health issues. The earlier you quit, the greater the health benefit.

Get regular checkups

Regular health exams and tests can help find health setbacks before they start or early in the disease stage, when chances for treatment and cure are better. Which exams and screenings you need depends on your age, health and family history, and lifestyle choices such as what you eat, how active you are, and whether you smoke.

To make the most of your next check-up, here are some things to do before you go:

  • Review your family health history
  • Find out if you are due for any general screenings or vaccinations
  • Write down a list of issues and questions to take with you

Practice safety habits to avoid accidents and prevent falls

A fall can change your life. If you’re elderly, it can lead to disability and a loss of independence. If your bones are fragile from osteoporosis, you could break a bone, often a hip. But aging alone doesn’t make people fall. Diabetes and heart disease affect balance. So do issues with circulation, thyroid or nervous systems. Some medicines make people dizzy. Any of these things can make a fall more likely.

Falls and accidents seldom “just happen.” Taking care of your health by exercising and getting regular eye exams and physicals may help reduce your chance of falling. Getting rid of tripping hazards in your home and wearing nonskid shoes may also help. To reduce the chances of breaking a bone if you do fall, make sure that you get enough calcium and vitamin D.

About Agnesian Behavioral Health Services

Agnesian HealthCare has long been recognized as a leader in providing quality care for members of our community with psychological and addictive concerns. Our highly-trained team of professionals includes psychiatrists, addictionologist, psychologists, psychotherapists, nurses, family therapists, social workers, and certified alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) counselors. These professionals work together with three locations to serve children, adolescents, adults, couples and families.
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