U.S. Navy photo by Joe Schmit

Healthy Aging – You may have more control than you think

By Trish Rose, Naval Hospital Oak Harbor

If you’re considering when the right time is to start collecting retirement benefits, one important factor to take into account is how long you might actually live.  But a more important factor to consider is what your health might be during that time.  What good is a long life if it is not a happy and healthy one?  Being in the know on the components of healthy aging may help you ward off a significant number of problems related to aging, both mental and physical.

Staying active and social in retirement are important ingredients for healthy aging.

U.S. Navy photo by Joe Schmit
U.S. Navy photo by Joe Schmit

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), inactivity tends to increase as people get older. By the age of 75, approximately a third of men and half of women don’t engage in any physical activity. In fact, much of the deterioration of stamina and strength that most people blame on aging is due to the reduction in physical activity.

Since you are no longer heading to the office or worksite every day, it’s going to take some extra work to stay active and to maintain social relationships.  The CDC has outlined a number of benefits of staying physically active, including:

  • Reducing the risk of falling and bone fractures.
  • Helping seniors remain independent.
  • Reducing high blood pressure in some seniors.
  • Reducing the risk of death from heart disease and the risk of developing medical conditions including diabetes and colon cancer.
  • Improving mood and feelings of well-being, and decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Maintaining healthy muscles, joints and bones.
  • Helping control swelling and pain from arthritis.

Physically fit is great, but don’t forget about the importance of social activity

 Instructors and students from the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) at Joint Base San Antonio - Fort Sam Houston dance during a latin dance lesson in METC's student activity center. The Diversity Council at Navy Medicine Training Support Center (NMTSC), METC's Navy service component administratively responsible for its personnel, began holding weekly lessons to promote health and cultural awareness in the command. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jacquelyn D. Childs)
Instructors and students from the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) dance during a latin dance lesson in METC’s student activity center.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jacquelyn D. Childs)

As we age, our social circles tend to shrink and we don’t have as many opportunities to socialize as we once did.  But staying socially engaged is key to staying healthy and mentally sharp.  It may even help reduce the chances of developing dementia. Like physical activity, social interaction provides plenty of benefits for seniors, including:

  • Lowering the risk for heart problems, osteoporosis, some forms of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Reducing blood pressure.
  • Lowering the risk of mental health problems, including depression.
  • Possibly reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

All of this gets easier if you take charge of your health

Strive to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, which are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fiber, to fuel your body. Make healthier choices by limiting foods and beverages that are high in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.

Besides maintaining your activity levels, many of the contributing factors to health in your youth still apply in your older years.  Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, and find ways to reduce stress in your life.  People who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially live longer than those who become isolated.

Most of our health is not controlled by the health care system but by our own actions, our environment, our genes, and social factors. The more patients participate in their own health care, the more satisfied they tend to be with the care they receive.  Think about the ways that your health can improve by changing your lifestyle, and make those changes.

Staying socially active and maintaining your relationships are an important part of healthy aging. Reach out to your loved ones—neighbors, friends, family members—and stay as vibrant, active, and social as you’ve always been.