Our health is one of the most important things we have, and something we often take for granted. It can all too easily slip away from us, at a moment’s notice, without any warning. There are simple, proactive steps we can take to maintain our health, and add value as well as years to our lives. Here are a few things we can do to make healthier changes, starting now.
1) Walking – just about every doctor recommends it and for good reason!
Walking is one of the healthiest forms of exercise there is. It is low impact and literally as easy to start doing as getting off the couch. Any kind of aerobic exercise will produce great benefits, but jogging or riding bikes might be too difficult for some seniors to do. Most of us though can still walk. That accessibility is one of the great things about walking, and it can be as much a social experience as a physical one.
In most parts of the United States, walking can be done year around. Many city parks have great walking trails and there are several clubs dedicating to mall walking. Even if those aren’t an option, every gym has a treadmill or there are several options for a home exercise version. Walking is also a great way to get out of the house, even if it’s just to walk around the block a few times.
2) Keep up with medical news
You and your doctor are partners in the business of keeping you well. He or she may be the expert, but you know your own body better than anyone else. Being as educated as possible about your health conditions puts you in a much better spot to take a proactive role in your personal health. One thing we as seniors can do is keep up with the latest news and research regarding any condition we may have. New treatments and drugs are being developed every day that your doctor may not yet be aware of. It’s also a good way to find out when some past or current wonder drugs have been found to cause severe, or even deadly, side effects that weren’t discovered during clinical trials.
Just be careful when researching information online. There are quacks and frauds out there promising miracle cures for nearly anything. Whenever you see a revolutionary breakthrough or “all natural” miracle cure, remember the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
3) Don’t ignore your mental health
Problems like high blood pressure and cholesterol have tangible symptoms that we can point to, and tell whether or not they are a problem. Mental health is another story. The signs and symptoms aren’t as readily definable, and are too often ignored. Feeling a little blue every now and then is normal, but if it persists or has no definable cause, it could be depression. Many of us grew up seeing mental illness, like depression, bipolar disorder and PTSD, as a stigma or sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are an illness like any other, and with the right treatment, they can be controlled.
Keep an eye out for the symptoms, and if you notice them, ask your doctor about the best ways to treat them. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help. And for you veterans out there, issues resulting from PTSD can strike at any age so please don’t ignore them.
4) Cut out tobacco
This is one of those tips that everyone already knows. There is no end to irrefutable evidence about the ill effects caused by even light smoking. However, quitting is easier said than done. There are nicotine patches, new drugs and support groups available to those who wish to finally kick the habit for good. “Vaping” isn’t the healthy alternative many have come to believe, and they have been shown to pose their own dangers, but they can be used as a tool to stop smoking altogether. No matter how long you might have been a smoker, it’s never too late to quit, and the positive impact on your health will be astounding.
Smokeless tobacco products, like chewing tobacco and snuff are also bad for your health. Many people started using these as a way to keep getting their nicotine fix, without the lung problems such as emphysema or COPD. Diseases such as oral cancer, tooth decay and throat cancer are still health problems users might face.
5) Limit your alcohol consumption
Like smoking, there have been numerous studies that show the ill effects of drinking. Unlike smoking, there have also been quite a few other studies that have shown certain health benefits to be had from drinking particular adult beverages, in moderation—moderation being the key here. A glass of red wine or a beer might help your heart or give you an anti-oxidant loaded vitamin B boost, but drinking too much of either, in a single sitting, will negate any benefit you would have gained. Many doctors say it’s ok to enjoy that drink or two at a party or as a way to unwind after a long day, but don’t overdo it.
Another thing to be aware of is that there is a difference between drinking a little too much and alcoholism. If you think that you might have a problem, or are finding yourself unable to make it through a day without a drink, ask your doctor for help or seek counseling.
6) Be social
Research has shown that just seeing a friend lowers stress and reduces the risk of depression. Our friends are the ones we can talk to and confide in when life’s problems come around. They are going through the same trials we are, whether its health issues, family problems, grief or financial worries. Having someone who you know will be there, or being that someone for another, can make all the difference in the world.
Another way to keep socially active is to volunteer. This can be a great way for other healthy habits to have a little cross over. Picking up litter in the park is a good way to exercise that also helps the community. Working in a soup kitchen or being a mentor can fill a volunteer with warmth and comfort, knowing that their efforts are having a measurable and positive impact on the future. It’s also a great way for make friends and meet new people.
7) Keep mentally active
Staying in shape mentally is just as important as staying in shape physically. The last thing you would want to do to your body is just sit it in front of the TV and watch game shows day. You want to avoid doing something like that with your mind as well. An active and healthy mind goes hand in hand with an active and healthy body. Engage in mentally challenging hobbies or tasks, do a puzzle or two every day, or find other ways to actively stimulate your mind. As long as it makes you think, it’s doing its job. You don’t have to study physics to do this. Simply playing a game of chess in the park, or even having a stimulating conversation with a friend will do the trick. There are also apps for your smartphone or tablet that will get the gears turning.
8) Guard against STD’s
In many ways, getting older is like entering a second childhood or adolescence, of sorts, where we get to indulge in a little more carefree fun. It’s also a time where many of us are embarking on a new chapter in our love lives. Unfotunatelt, there is a downside to this. The number of seniors with sexually transmitted diseases has been rising for the better part of the last decade.
The increase in sexual activity in seniors can partially be attributed to drugs like Cialis and Viagra. Social attitudes of seniors have also changed, especially among the baby boomers who came of age in the era of free love and take a more casual, laid back view of sex. Another issue is the number of doctors who might misdiagnose an STD. Often, the symptoms are attributed to something else but if you feel that you are at risk or have contracted an STD, tell your doctor. Many caregivers still operate under the false assumption that seniors can’t also have active sex lives.
9) Eat right
There are more options for meals than ever before, both good and bad. It seems like a new fast food restaurant opens every week, and the grocery store knows exactly where to place the cookies in the exact way that will make us tempted to buy them. Even many “healthy” choices aren’t really good for us. These foods are often highly processed and loaded with fat or sugar. Many of us are also dealing with dietary restrictions, which limit our options. All of this can make eating healthy a real struggle.
Talk to your doctor about finding a healthy diet that works for you, and make a plan. Finding meals and snacks that are both tasty and healthy is possible. And remember, just because you’re making an effort to eat healthy doesn’t mean you can’t have a cookie every once in a while.
Eating right is another area where technology can really make life easier. There are dozens of apps out there to help us plan and make delicious meals that are nutritious and healthy. Also, signing up for healthy cooking classes can be both informative and fun.