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Tips to Age Fabulously

1956-0313 FH SM Sep Healthy Aging AR

It’s never too late to take good care of yourself. Caring for your body and mind is important at any age, and taking extra steps for a healthier you as you get older can improve your physical health, mental health, and general wellbeing. At Frederick Health, we want every member of our community to stay happy and healthy as they age. Consider these tips for making your health a priority in your later years:

Boost Your Immune System

Having a strong immune system can set you up for a longer, healthier life. As you age, your immune system tends to slow down, your body doesn’t heal as quickly, and your risk of developing autoimmune disorders increases. However, there are ways to help strengthen your immune system and prevent the flu, the common cold, and other illnesses:

  • Get vaccinated. If you’re 65 or older, you have an increased risk of complications from the flu. Protect yourself by getting a flu vaccine before flu season (October through May), which can reduce your risk of infection by 40 to 60 percent. When you get your flu vaccine, also ask your doctor about whether you should receive vaccines to prevent pneumonia, meningitis, and shingles. You can get vaccines by visiting Primary Care or Urgent Care.
  • Eat healthily. As you age, you may have to change your diet to manage specific health problems. If you’re an older adult with hypertension or heart failure, you should reduce the amount of salt you eat. Those with diabetes or prediabetes should follow a low-carb diet. And if you’re over 50, eating at least 30 grams of fiber a day if you’re male or at least 21 grams if you’re female can help keep you regular. Overall, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables gives you the vitamins and antioxidants needed to promote good health. Reducing the amount of sugar, fat, processed foods, and red meat you eat is another step toward a healthier immune system.
  • Get active. Among other benefits, getting half an hour of physical activity at least three days a week can increase your circulation, improve your mood, and boost your immune system. Plus, exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, which also contributes to a more robust immune system. Even if you have limited mobility, gentle activities like yoga, tai chi, or water aerobics can help you keep up your strength and get your blood flowing.
  • Don’t stress. While this is sometimes easier said than done, it’s important to reduce your stress level and avoid chronic stress, which lowers your immune system response. Learn to set limitations for yourself and learn to say ‘no.’ Make time for activities you love, such as reading, gardening, or listening to music.
  • Quit smoking. There’s nothing good for your health about smoking. The chemicals in cigarettes are known to damage lung tissue, cause cancer, and even cause respiratory illness. One of the best things you can do for your immune system is to stop smoking and using tobacco products. You’re never too old to quit—making your most recent cigarette your last can add years back onto your life.
  • (Safely) soak up the sun. Vitamin D works wonders for strengthening the immune system. Spending some extra time outside allows your body to convert vitamin D from sun exposure—but don’t forget to wear sunscreen. Go outside before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays aren’t as strong. As you get older, it becomes harder for your body to control its temperature, so it’s important to prevent heatstroke. When you’re out in the heat, be sure to drink plenty of water even if you’re not thirsty, wear loose and lightweight clothing, be aware of the heat index, and avoid outdoor exercise in extreme heat.

Monitor Your Mental Health

No one should let depression or anxiety go untreated. Unfortunately, older adults are less likely to seek treatment for mental health problems than younger people. Depression and anxiety are not an inevitable part of getting older, but they are the most common mental disorders in older adults. Your first step toward treatment should be to see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Frequently having negative emotions
  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Frequent sadness or hopelessness
  • Increased worry or stress
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with your daily life
  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern others

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor might prescribe medicine—like SSRIs—or refer you to a behavioral health specialist who can help you manage your mental health. Remember, having a mental health disorder is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. It can impact your way of thinking and feeling, and it can even affect your ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. The sooner you get help, the quicker your mental health can improve.

Take Care of Your Heart

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, causing about 1 in 4 deaths, especially in older Americans. However, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease through lifestyle changes, and in some cases, through medicine. Measures you can take to prevent heart disease include:

  • Eating healthy—Choose more fruits and vegetables, and less fat, sugar, processed food, and red meat.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight—When you’re overweight, you’re more likely to develop conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, which put you at risk for heart disease.
  • Getting regular exercise—Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking—Smoking increases your risk of dying from heart disease, heart failure, or a heart attack.

You may be at risk of heart disease if you:

  • Have high cholesterol
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have diabetes
  • Are obese or overweight

If you have any of the risks for developing heart disease, talk to your doctor about how to manage these conditions. If you’re having trouble losing weight or quitting bad habits like smoking, your doctor can help you work toward a healthier lifestyle.

Keep Your Nervous System Healthy

It’s natural for your brain to change as you get older, but its core purpose never changes. Your brain’s central mission is to help you make sense of the world and oversee your daily tasks and life. Keeping your brain and nervous system healthy is one of the most important things you can do as you age.

  • Know what’s normal and what’s not. Just because it may take you longer to learn new things or recall a specific word doesn’t mean you’re developing serious memory problems. Making an occasional bad decision, sometimes forgetting which word to use, or losing things from time to time doesn’t mean you’re developing a memory disorder. However, if you begin having trouble remembering recent events, thinking clearly, or holding conversations, talk to your doctor. They may suggest a thorough checkup to see what could be causing these symptoms.
  • Stimulate your mind. Doing activities that make you think stimulates new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells. Brain-stimulating activities include word puzzles, reading, taking courses at your local community college, or experimenting with things that require using your hands and mind, like drawing, painting, or crafts.
  • Eat healthily and exercise. It’s no secret that healthy eating and regular exercise benefit your body in many ways. But eating nutritious foods and using your muscles can also help your brain. People who eat a Mediterranean diet (which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, plant sources of protein, and nuts) are less likely to develop cognitive impairment or dementia. Regular exercise helps increase the number of blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain responsible for thought. It also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, and reduces mental stress—all of which promote a healthier mind.
  • Monitor your mental health. You’re more likely to score poorly on cognitive function tests if you’re anxious, depressed, or exhausted. Keep tabs on your mental health, and see a doctor if you’re concerned about your mental state.
  • Protect your head. One in four Americans over 65 falls each year. Falling can cause concussions, which increase the risk of brain injury, so it’s important to learn how to prevent falls. Staying active, reviewing your medications for side effects that increase the risk of falling, wearing sensible shoes, and keeping your home free of clutter help reduce your risk of falling. If you participate in activities like riding a bike or rock climbing, be sure to wear a helmet. If you hit your head, it’s essential to see a doctor to rule out a concussion or to get proper treatment if you’re injured.

You may have noticed a trend in the things you can do to promote a healthier lifestyle, and in turn, a healthier you. Nutritious eating, regular exercise, and weight management can go a long way in helping your body, mind, heart, immune system, and general wellbeing. If you’re having trouble making these lifestyle adjustments, don’t get discouraged. Your doctor is there to help, and they can create a personalized plan to get you started on the path to healthy aging.