Healthy aging? It sounds like a contradiction in
terms. But for an aging population it means exercising
and eating right -- plus a whole lot more, doctors
The Healthy Aging Campaign, a national health promotion
designed to broaden awareness of the positive aspects
of aging, breaks down four keys to growing old with
style: physical fitness, social wellness, mental wellness
and financial fitness.
Of those four, physical fitness is the key upon which
the others turn, said Dr. Carmel Dyer, associate professor
of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston,
and director of the Harris County Hospital District
"The fountain of youth truly is exercise," Dyer said.
Exercise increases your muscle mass and flexibility,
making it less likely you'll fall and suffer a fracture,
Dyer said. It also helps you metabolize blood sugar
better, decreasing your risk of diabetes. And it keeps
your blood vessels open and dilated, which reduces
your blood pressure, she said.
Dyer recommends exercising for at least 30 minutes
three times a week, and adding days as your fitness
Good nutrition, including a diet low in saturated
fats and containing five or more servings of fruits
and vegetables each day, also is crucial to good health.
And if you're a smoker, quit -- it's never too late.
Another part of good health is making sure you get
regular checkups, said Dr. Michael Fleming, a Shreveport,
La., physician and board chairman of the American
Academy of Family Physicians.
"It's important for everyone to have a personal physician
you can have a relationship with, that knows you and
your family and your risk factors," Fleming said,
adding that everyone should have a "coordinator of
Dyer agreed, adding that people should proactively
plan for health screenings for conditions such as
heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis -- to name
a few -- that could both prolong life and make it
"Why not see your doctor once a year and get the
proper preventative treatment?" Dyer said. "It puts
you more in control of your health."
Seniors also should try to avoid unnecessary medications,
Dyer said, noting that people taking eight drugs --
even vitamins -- have a 100 percent chance of suffering
from some sort of drug interaction.
"I would have everyone ask their doctor for the reason
for each medication, and what they could do in place
of the drugs," she said, noting that physical activity
or a healthy diet could supplant the need for some
Having good health and being physically fit also
can help keep your mind clear and healthy, both Dyer
and Fleming said.
Just being active can go a long way to improving
one's attitude as you grow older, Fleming said. "If
you don't believe you can age actively, I'm pretty
sure you can't," he said.
Seniors also should exercise their minds by traveling,
learning new skills, reading, researching new interests
or developing a hobby.
A healthy social life also can help seniors stay
mentally sharp, Dyer said.
"Any type of activity is important because it keeps
you more alert," she said. "When your social network
starts to shrink, it becomes easy to get depressed.
It's easier for people to take advantage of you. You
may not eat well because you don't like eating alone."
Many seniors stay socially active by contributing
time to their communities through local volunteer
groups, religious organizations or civic groups. They
also can attend classes at local senior centers or
Experts also recommend staying in close contact
with friends and family, writing or calling someone
every day to be in touch.
Finally, people should take care to make sure they
are financially secure as they enter their senior
years, Dyer said.
Long before you near retirement, you should save
at least 10 percent of your income and invest in savings
plans that compound interest. And people on the verge
of retirement should establish financial goals and
prepare a budget for their post-employment years.
"People need to prepare for a stable financial future,"
Dyer said. "And make sure your money is in a safe
place with responsible people. You want to be sure
your funds are in trustworthy hands."
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