Older Americans Month is celebrated during May. The Administration for Community Living (ACL), a government organization that aims to help older Americans stay in their home communities, sets the theme each year. 2022’s theme is Age My Way! This is especially important as people in the U.S. are living longer lives, and the older adult population is increasing over time.
Older adults are often affected by issues that can prevent them from living independently such as the natural effects of aging and chronic diseases. These issues can make it harder to perform activities of daily living like cooking, shopping, or getting around. However, research shows that engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors helps maintain independence and manage chronic disease, along with other health benefits. Whether you are currently an older adult or not, it is never too late to adopt healthy habits to help you age your way!
There are plenty of ways to age healthfully:
- Stay physically active! Pick the activities you enjoy the most or vary your activities by trying new things. Different types of physical activities, such as aerobic exercise, strength training, or flexibility training have different benefits.
- The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend including activities that include balance training, aerobic exercise, and muscle strengthening activities. For significant health benefits, the guidelines recommend at least 150-300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Any additional physical activity provides even more benefits!
- For those with chronic diseases, the guidelines recommend including however much physical activity you can manage. Speak to your doctor if you have any specific concerns about exercise.
- Maintain a balanced diet. As you age, the needs of your body change. Older adults often need less calories as a result of decreased activity, but they often need more nutrients due health conditions, medications, or changes in the way the body digests foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a balanced diet with lots of foods that are high in nutrients.
- Nutrient dense foods are foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and other health promoting nutrients while having little or no added sugars, sodium, or saturated fat. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, are just some nutrient dense foods that you can include in your diet. MyPlate has additional easy to include recommendations for older adults.
- Mind your mind. Both mental and cognitive health are very important to staying healthy as we age.
- Mental health includes psychological, emotional and social health. It impacts how you function on a daily basis, thoughts, and how you act. If you feel that you may have any concerns about your mental health, reach out to your health care providers so they can offer advice for your specific situation.
- Cognitive health is the ability to think & remember. Aging naturally slows cognitive function, but there are ways to maintain your brain as you age. Physical activity, social activity, and maintaining a healthy diet are associated with better cognitive health in older adults. You can also keep your brain active by continuing to learn or by teaching others.
- Stay hydrated! Water is used in all kinds of functions your body does including maintaining your body’s temperature, cushioning your joints, and digestion. Unfortunately, signals telling the body that it is thirsty decrease with age. This can lead to dehydration which affects your body’s ability to function properly. Drink water regularly throughout the day to stay hydrated. Fruits and vegetables with high water content can help with hydration, so you can “eat” your water too!
- Keep connected. Some older adults can feel isolated or lonely which can lead to poorer health. Having a good support network can keep you connected and engaged, improving mental health.
Written by Rita Cook