AGING AND LONG-TERM SUPPORT ADMINISTRATION
Long-term Care Planning
Make Healthy Choices for Your Lifestyle
Healthy lifestyle choices can prevent or control many of the nation's leading causes of death. Nearly 40% of deaths in America are linked to smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet, or alcohol abuse.
Are you one of the many people who continue to make some of these or other unhealthy life choices?
There is now more and more strong, scientific evidence that it is never too late for healthy life-style choices to positively, and often greatly, impact your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Below is just a small sampling of the wealth of information, resources, and support available that can help you make healthy choices in your life today.
Make the last quarter of your life active and independent. Commit to taking one small step to making healthy choices in your life today.
Learn more about the benefits, importance, and the next steps to take in making healthy choices in:
- Physical Activity
- Good Nutrition
- Keeping Your Mind Active
- Maintaining Social Connections
- Important Health Check Ups
Older adults are often too inactive. By age 75, one in two women and one in three men get no physical activity at all!
Studies at Stanford University conducted at Veteran's Hospitals among older and out-of-condition veterans, showed that regular, moderate exercise produced surprising improvements in strength, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, balance, and body composition.
The greatest improvements were seen among the vets that were the most out of shape. Changes were both physical and psychological. Improvements in self-confidence, self-image, and physical ability all helped to reduce depression and promote a sense of well-being.
Other studies have shown:
- Many older people grow physically weaker not just because of age but because they stop using their muscles as much as they did when they were younger.
- An older individual who remains active through a moderate exercise program has approximately the same strength as an inactive individual much, much younger.
- A study of exercise training showed that people 55 and older can see the same amount of improvement in muscle strength, oxygen consumption, and other benefits as people in their 20s and 30s. Increases in strength as much as 40% have been documented for people as old as 96.
- Some studies suggest that as little as three to four months of proper training can reverse as much as thirty years of decline in function.
- When physically active seniors’ brain activity was monitored and compared with that of young adults, there was little difference in their ability to process information. Low and moderately active seniors’ mental performance lagged behind.
In the long term, most older adults in all age groups hurt their health far more by not exercising than by exercising. As a rule, older people should stay as physically active as they can.
Taking the Next Step
- Get more information.
The National Institute on Aging has two resources to get started.
- Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging (PDF) offers examples and illustrations on how to do strengthening, endurance, balance, and flexibility exercises. Get the on-line version by clicking the link above or by calling 1-800-222-2225.
- Go4Life is an entire website devoted to motivating older adults to become physically active for the first time, return to exercise after a break in their routines, or build more exercise and physical activity into weekly routines.
- Other resources
- Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults (PDF) from the Center for Disease Control and Tufts University
- Physical Activity and Get Motivated from AARP.
- Stay Active and Independent for Life: An Information Guide for Adults 65+ (PDF) from the Washington State Department of Health. This 25-page booklet will help you prevent falls and fall-related injuries - a major threat to independent living.
- Tai Chi for Health and Fitness from Eldercare On-line is an introductory article explaining tai chi and its effectiveness for seniors in increasing mobility, balance and strength and reducing falls.
- Talk to your health care provider.
Check with your doctor first if you plan to begin a new fitness program. Your doctor might be able to give you a go-ahead over the phone, or ask you to come in for a visit.
- Get started and stay motivated.
The Melpomene Institute of Women's Health Research offers the following tips to become or stay physically active (or make any positive, behavior change).
- First, realize that change is hard. Break the process down into manageable goals that are realistic.
- Set aside time to be physically active.
- Find role models.
- Cultivate the habit of activity.
- Each person's schedule, interests, and talents will vary. Obstacles will be present, but the important thing is to get started.
- Choose activities that fit your physical condition, budget, and lifestyle.
- Start slowly and gradually increase your activity time and intensity.
- Finally, make a commitment to get moving and developing a healthier lifestyle.
- Find support from other people or make a contract with yourself.
- Develop rewards that will help motivate you to achieve your goals.
Read positive suggestions for overcoming the top 5 Causes of Inactivity in Seniors from the American College of Sports Medicine.
A healthy diet means choosing a variety of healthy foods and setting limits on how much and how often you eat less healthy foods. Good nutrition can:
- Increase overall health and energy - prolonging your independence.
- Prevent or control certain diseases (diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, tooth decay).
- Reduce bone fractures.
To avoid disease, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend:
- Eating a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat dairy products.
- Watching calories to prevent weight gain.
- Limiting alcohol, and cutting back on foods high in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugar.
The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition provides fresh fruit and vegetables to lower income seniors and supports local farming by increasing the use of farmers markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture. Learn more.
Taking the Next Step
- MyPyramid Plan for Older Adults from Tufts University.
- Nutrition Source Knowledge of Healthy Eating from Harvard School of Public Health.
- Nutrition for Seniors from Medline Plus (a service of US National Library of Medicine)
- Guide to Behavior Change - Information from the National Institutes of Health on behaviors that will help you lose weight and keep it off.
Maintaining Social Connections
Social activities serve many purposes. While some activities are purely for enjoyment, being socially active also helps keep the body, mind, and spirit active and alive. In fact, people who remain socially active are less likely to show physical decline as they age.
There are two important things that motivate most people to stay involved in life: interaction with people and contributing to life in some meaningful way.
The Importance of Friends
Friendships have been found to have as positive an effect on healthy aging as keeping physically fit. Friendships help to:
- Extend the length of our lives.
- Have a positive impact on our immune systems.
- Help to protect our minds from mental decline as we age.
Those who participate in social activities or groups seem to experience protective benefits similar to those who remain physically active. Those who participate in work or volunteer activities and who socialize regularly with friends are less likely to show physical, emotional, and mental decline as they age.
Those who remain active with friends tend to revise the way they define friendship as they age. They no longer require being nearby or face-to-face. Letters, e-mail, and talking on the phone help to support closeness.
- Staying connected from the Positive Aging Resource Center.
Community volunteering is one way that many older adults feel they can continue to contribute to life in a meaningful way. Your help is always needed and very much appreciated.
Below are just a few links to get you started.
- Volunteer Chore Services - Help other adults remain independent. Volunteers generally provide 2-8 hours per month assisting their neighbors depending on their schedules and availability. Contact your local Senior Information and Assistance for more information.
- Foster Grandparent Program - Make a difference in the life of a child. Volunteers must meet certain income eligibility guidelines and be able to serve between 15 and 40 hours a week.
- Senior Companion Program - Help other adults remain independent. To participate in the Senior Companions program, volunteers must be 60 or over and be able to serve between 15 and 40 hours a week
Keeping Your Mind Active
According to recent research funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), studies suggest that memory loss is not a normal part of aging and keeping your mind active is the key to maintaining brain function.
Researchers believe that many of the supposed age-related changes which affect the mind, such as memory loss, are actually lifestyle related. It appears to be a package deal. Keeping an active body and social life and reducing stress are also crucial for an active mind.
Improve your Mental Fitness
The brain is like a muscle – it needs regular workouts. Here are a few suggestions.
- Keep up your social life and engage in plenty of stimulating conversations.
- Read a variety newspapers, magazines and books.
- Play games like Scrabble, cards and Chess.
- Take a class on a subject that interests you.
- Begin a new hobby.
- Learn a new language.
- Do crossword puzzles and word games.
There are some conditions and situations more common to older adults that can affect brain function including:
- Dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease.
- Heart disease.
- Medication side effects.
- Poor nutrition, vitamin deficiency, dehydration.
- Parkinson's disease.
See the section below on check ups and prevention.
- Brain Health and Staying Sharp Program from AARP.
- Think About Your Future. Maintain Your Brain Today from the Alzheimer’s Association.
- Ten Tips for Maintaining A Healthy Brain from the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
Important Health Check Ups
The following are three important steps you can take to make sure you stay on top of your health and learn of any problems early.
- Immunizations. Make sure you're up to date on all recommended immunizations.
- Get regular physicals. Get a complete physical examination based on the schedule outlined by your health care provider.
- Maintain your dental health. Visit your dentist regularly and have your teeth professionally cleaned every six months (or whatever is recommended by your dental hygienist).
- Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule from The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides adult immunization information.
- Shots for Safety from the National Institute on Aging.
- Oral Health and Adults from the CDC.
- Choosing a Doctor: Tips for Making the Right Decision from HealthCareCoach.Com.
- Team Up to Stay Healthy (PDF) What you should know about your Medicare preventative benefits.