10 Tips for Healthy Aging

Group of smiling retirees wearing exercise clothes.

Today, people in the U.S. are living longer lives. The life span for American women is 81.1 years, while men live 76.1 years on average, making it especially important to optimize your health now and continue these practices as you age.

Implementing and following healthy practices at whatever age you are now not only increases your chance of living a long life, but also gives you greatest opportunity for the best quality of life throughout your golden years.

September is Healthy Aging Month and your Capital Women’s Care team offers important tips about healthy aging so you can pave the way to maintain and continue enjoying sound health during your senior years.

  • Get moving with exercise. Scientific evidence supports those who exercise not only live longer, but exercise also enables them to live better, healthier independent lives.
    Exercise also helps you to stay on top of your weight and your stress levels. What’s more, exercise reduces risk of some disabilities and diseases that occur more readily during the aging process and offers effective treatment for chronic conditions, including arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
    Discuss an exercise program with your doctor that incorporates:
    • balance exercises to prevent falls, a major disability cause for seniors
    • strength training exercises to build up muscle and bones to reduce age-related osteoporosis risk and muscle loss
    • flexibility and stretching exercises to keep your body limber to maximize freedom of movement to do everyday activities
    • and endurance exercise (like swimming, biking and jogging)  to improve heart and lung functions plus circulation within the body.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:

Aerobic activity. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to positive health benefits, too.

Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups minimally 2 times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using hand weights or a resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Yoga, bicycling, dance, gardening, walking, swimming and hiking are all great forms of exercise you can incorporate within your personal fitness plan.

  • Watch your weight and eat a healthy diet. Seniors who are overweight or obese have greater risk of health problems and disease including type 2 diabetes; high blood pressure; stroke; some cancers; sleep apnea; and osteoarthritis.  Seniors having a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 19 or less also face greater mortality rate than those who are obese or normal weight. They are also more susceptible to frailty and bone fragility issues which can impede mobility and hinder independence.
    A healthy diet contributes to maintaining a healthy weight and ensures your muscles, bones, organs and other areas of your body stay strong throughout your life. Maintain a varied diet that incorporates fiber, whole fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken and fish and whole, unbleached grains. Avoid unhealthy trans fats; processed, packaged foods; and high calorie, non-nutritional items like sugary sweets, salt-filled snacks and beverages, including soda and alcohol.
    Women of childbearing age also need foods with folic acid (like leafy green vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits) to help prevent birth defects.
    For women who have gone through menopause, it’s recommended you increase intake of foods with calcium and Vitamin D (such as seafood, fruit, low-fat dairy, and egg yolks) to prevent bone disease.
  • Monitor your mental health. Women experience many hormonal changes throughout the course of their lives that may affect their mental health. These changes, coupled with age-related life experiences, such as “empty nest” syndrome, retirement or death of partner or loved ones, may lead to having feelings that can be linked with depression. If these feelings linger, worsen and/or disrupt enjoyment of activities and your daily life, don’t hesitate to seek out a mental health professional to help you get your mental health back on track.
  • Accentuate the positive. Research shows optimists possessing a generally positive outlook on life and an always half full glass are usually healthier and live longer than those viewing their glass as perpetually half empty.
    Positive feelings and thoughts are known to take root and flourish with help from instituting healthy eating habits, making time for daily exercise and enjoying time spent in the great outdoors.
    Those who make a conscious daily effort to maintain positivity also suffer less from stress and other negative issues like anxiety and depression that can infringe and erode your mental health, which can consequently diminish your quality of life.
  • Boost your cognitive health. Studies indicateseniors who actively engage their minds face lowered risk of dementia and depression. Those seniors pursuing social activities and volunteer their time live longer plus feel happier and healthy. What’s more, social isolation and feeling lonely may be bad for brain health. Loneliness has been linked to higher risk for dementia and less social activity to poorer cognitive function.
    You can maintain your cognitive health through physical exercise; a healthy, low-fat diet; and seeking out enjoyable activities and pursuits:
    • Sign up for an intriguing cooking or art class at your local community college.
    • Revisit a much-loved hobby or pursuit a new one you’ve been wanting to explore.
    • Share your wisdom and knowledge by becoming a tutor or mentor within your community.
    • Volunteer your time and talent with an organization, non-profit or group you support.
    • Travel to destinations both near and far that you’ve put on hold due to previous obligations.
    • Socialize with others sharing common interests – seek out a book group, sports league, dinner club, or service organization to meet others and initiate friendships.
    • Nurture current friendships through planned get-togethers or lunches, catch up with your gal pals at your neighborhood cafe or coordinate an outing to a new restaurant or destination you wish to explore.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking increases lung and heart disease risks and can contribute to mobility problems among other health issues as you age. If you smoke, make it a priority to quit.
  • Maintain annual wellness check-ups. Doing so can increase chances for early detection of disease or chronic conditions as soon as they are determined, giving you best chance for positive outcomes. Make it a priority to schedule wellness exams. See your doctor annually to monitor your health, get appropriate tests and vaccines as recommended by your health care practitioner and discuss any health and/or life changes you notice and experience since your previous well visit. 

Important screenings include:

Cholesterol and blood pressure -- Women ages 20+ should have these checked annually. Your physician may recommend a more frequent schedule if you have family history of problems associated with either or additional risk factors. 

Pelvic exams and Pap smears --Women ages 21 to 65 should have annual pelvic exams and Pap smear at least every 3 years.

Breast exams and mammograms -- Generally, all women should have a breast exam yearly starting at age 20. Most healthcare providers recommend annual mammograms from age 40 through 50 years, and every-other-year mammograms thereafter. Get into the habit of monthly breast self-exams.

Osteoporosis screenings -- Women 65+ are at greater risk for problems with their bones, which is why most doctors recommend annual bone density screenings beginning at age 65.

Colorectal screenings -- Once you are 50, ask your physician about recommended screenings (such as colonoscopies) for colorectal cancers and other potential problems.

Skin cancer -- Women of all ages should develop the habit of paying attention to changes in the skin or changes in moles and birthmarks. Report anything that seems different during your annual wellness checks. If you have risk factors for skin cancer like family history, fair skin or childhood sunburn history, ask about regular screenings.

Diabetes – Know its signs and symptoms and manage your risk factors. You may need regular screenings from age 40 onward, depending upon your family history and personal risk factors.

Vaccines – Talk with your doctor about maintaining appropriate vaccine schedules and recommendations based on your personal health plan and history to optimize the function of your immune system and protect your overall physical health.  Seasonal flu and pneumonia vaccines are important to discuss during your annual well checks, as well as any changes within your life or health such as planning for pregnancy, travel and/or recent medical diagnoses.

For detailed  health tips on what you can do to optimize your physical and mental health, visit https://www.womenshealth.gov/healthy-living-age. Each decade-specific health information checklist features steps you can take to ensure continued good health from your 20s through your 90s.

  • Catch enough ZZZZZZZZ’s. Don’t skimp on sleep. Besides fighting signs of aging, regular sleep promotes mental alertness and helps keep your stress levels in check.
    Strive to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly. Here are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:
    • Maintain regular waking and sleeping times to establish a consistent sleep schedule.
    • Create a quiet, tranquil and clutter-free bedroom that emphasizes rest and relaxation.
    • Devise a ritualistic, soothing bedtime routine to help you wind down and relax.
    • Minimize distractions and avoid computer screen time one hour prior to retiring. 
  • Care for your skin. Always wear sunscreen with minimum 30 SPF protection (even on cloudy days) and avoid being outside when the sun is highest, when it can inflict the greatest damage and harm to your skin, including increased risk of skin cancers, immune suppression and cataracts.
    In addition to applying sunscreen, wear UVA/UVB blocking sunglasses, cover arms and legs, wear wide-brimmed hats and use an umbrella or seek out shaded areas while outdoors to avoid potential skin damage.
  • Prioritize and set aside “me time” daily.  Whether it’s a few minutes to read a chapter from the latest bestseller by your favorite author or an hour spent enjoying a hobby you’re passionate about, time spent doing things you love helps you to keep your life balanced, allows time for your own personal growth and fulfillment and provides some time away from pressing daily duties. Doing so every day not only enhances the quality of your relationships with others but also your role within your family and community, reduce your daily stress so you can recharge and relax.

The foundation for good health is the same, no matter your age. To ensure your chance of having a long, quality life, eat healthy, remain active, see your local Capital Women’s Care team for regular check-ups, take care of your mental health and well-being plus avoid unnecessary risks. Your Capital Women’s Care team offers comprehensive, individualized healthcare from caring, friendly professionals whose focus is optimizing your health so you can enjoy a long, quality life.

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