There are those who think that elder services organizations exist solely to provide care for those who can no longer care for themselves. There is some truth to that. Yes, there are many older adults who benefit from services that provide varying levels of support. But there are also many who are aging in the community and who don’t need our clinical support. Helping individuals to age in a healthy way is something we see as a vital part of our mission and commitment to the community we serve.
One of the things we know for certain is that no one wants to have a life that culminates in a long, slow decline. We’ve often said, as you likely have as well, that we want to live a healthy, active life right up until the end. Of course, we cannot control illnesses that strike us or injuries that change our trajectory, but we can do many things that can help us to stay well, to stay strong and to help us live our lives to the fullest extent possible.
What are some of the key pillars in our health aging journey? What can we do to help ourselves stay well? There are many but four that we would describe as critical are: 1) regular medical care and preventative care; 2) healthy diet; 3) regular exercise; 4) socialization and connection. These all sound like easy things we already know and that’s true. It’s also true that getting back to basics is what it’s all about.
Regular medical care and prevention: Seeing your doctor regularly, not just when you are ill, makes a difference. There are lots of conditions that lurk beneath the surface—and some of them are killers. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes . . . these are just a few of the life-threatening and life-shortening issues that you likely cannot recognize without a medical checkup. And, yet, all of them are controllable. Having regular preventive care and testing can help you to stay healthy and manage or resolve health issues before they become critical.
Healthy diet: You have heard so many times that we are what we eat. Our bodies need fuel and, while eating for pleasure is not all bad, we have to be aware of what our intake is and whether it is good for us. Limiting sugar and processed food is a great start. Eating fresh food, including fruit and vegetables, is also a big step in the right direction. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight puts less strain on your organs, your joints and helps you ward off disease.
Exercise: Did anyone ever tell you to “Move it or lose it?” Well, that is the truth. As we age, we cannot take our strength for granted . . . but we can build and we can maintain. Walking is great and easy for everyone to do. Even if you do it in short bursts, just 10 minutes a couple times a day, it matters. Stretching is also great and exercises like gentle yoga can help you to be limber and flexible. It doesn’t matter what you do—just do something!
Socialization: Loneliness is as big a life-limiting factor as many diseases. We need people and relationships in our lives. We were not designed to be solitary creatures. If your network of friends has diminished, and you have perhaps lost your partner, reach out. There are senior centers, classes, programs, volunteer opportunities—all of them open to you. Make the effort—it will be worth it.
Here’s wishing you a healthy 2023 and beyond!