The health challenges that potentially come with aging don’t need to stop anyone from living their best life. In fact, the number of Americans age 65 or older increased tenfold in the last century, and people are living longer and in better health than ever before.
However, only 41 percent of people over the age of 65 say their health is very good or excellent. What are some of the health concerns for an aging population, and how do you prepare for what could happen as you get older?
Everyone knows that exercise, eating well, quitting smoking and managing stress are high on the priority list for most people. Living a healthy life is important because pre-existing health conditions can affect your ability to get life insurance and burial insurance, which are issues you may want to be thinking about.
Let’s examine some of the secrets to staying on top of your health so you can focus on the best years to come.
Take Care of Your Eyes
Something as vital as eyesight is often neglected. Millions of people complain of suffering from dry eyes, poor vision and other discomforts, yet only 22.4 percent of the population have regular check-ups.
Common eye diseases, such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), have no symptoms or warning signs. You may also need glasses or a prescription change without even knowing it. The only way to be sure your eyes are healthy is to have an annual eye exam.
Eyesight inevitably decreases as you age because the eye muscles weaken over time. Neglecting to go to the eye doctor can have devastating consequences, not only in terms of diseases, but also potential accidents or falls in your home.
Take Care of Your Bones
Speaking of falls, broken brittle bones are tougher to heal than strong, healthy bones. Inadequate intake of calcium contributes significantly to the development of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is not necessarily a normal part of aging, but low bone mass affects almost 44 million adults age 50 and older, mostly women.
Women over 50 need to eat three to four servings of foods high in calcium every day or 1,200 milligrams. Men of the same age need at least 1,000 milligrams per day. Calcium should be consumed with at least 800 mg of vitamin D for proper absorption. Keep in mind that many multivitamins only have about 400 mg.
Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin.” As we age, our bodies become less efficient at making vitamin D from sunlight, which is why it’s important to get it in other ways. Vitamin D and calcium are two essential nutrients for maintaining healthy bones throughout a lifetime.
Keep Strong With Exercise & Strength Training
The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease. One of the best things you can do for your heart is exercise, which lowers your chance of developing heart disease.
It’s never too late to start exercising. Even if you don’t start until later in life, the key to longevity is exercise. It helps you maintain strength, agility, improves sleeps, gives you a mental boost and can help diminish chronic pain. And most importantly, exercise improves your quality of life.
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program to find out if any health conditions or medications affect the type of exercise you choose. Choose an activity you enjoy. It could be a spin class, or a water aerobics class, or even something as simple as walking with a friend(s).
Studies have shown that strength training for 6 months can increase resting metabolism, so you’ll burn calories long after you’re done with the workout. Strength training with a professional actually burns slightly more calories than a spin class or running. However, exercise doesn’t have to mean strenuous activities or time in the gym.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Many people falsely assume depression is a natural condition of old age when that shouldn’t be the foregone conclusion. But it is common. Depression and mood disorders are widespread among older adults and often go undiagnosed and untreated.
Of the nearly 35 million Americans aged 65 and older, there are an estimated 2 million with a diagnosable depressive illness and 5 million more that may have depressive symptoms.
“Sometimes older people who are depressed appear to feel tired, have trouble sleeping, or seem grumpy and irritable,” according to the National Institute on Aging. “Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders. Older adults may also have more medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke or cancer which may cause depressive symptoms. Or they may be taking medications with side effects that contribute to depression.”
Talk to your health provider, a geriatric counselor and family members so you don’t have to feel so alone. They are there to help.
The second chapter of life doesn’t mean you’ll suffer from poor health or wind up with a walker or a wheelchair. Preventive measures like managing stress, eating right, regular check-ups, and exercising will all contribute to a happier, healthier life for years to come. Seize the day!