Community Blog

10 Strategies in Support of Healthy Aging

By J. Caska

September is Healthy Aging Month is an annual initiative created by Carolyn Worthington, executive director of Healthy Aging and editor-in-chief of Healthy Aging Magazine. The goal of this health observance is to focus attention on the positive aspects of growing older.

Home Helpers & Direct Link of Amsterdam is dedicated to helping people live longer, healthier lives in the comfort of their own homes. We’re excited to celebrate healthy aging this month with our clients, and to help ensure the best possible health outcomes for everyone aging in our communities every day of the year.

Here are 10 strategies adults age 50 and over can use to improve all aspects of their well-being—physical, mental, and emotional.

1. Access and read Healthy Aging in Action: Advancing the National Prevention Strategy, prepared by the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council (National Prevention Council)1. This 2016 report identifies federal and non-federal programs that advance the four Strategic Directions of the National Prevention Strategy (Strategy) where the older adult population is concerned: Healthy and Safe Community Environments, Clinical and Community Preventive Services, Empowered People, and Elimination of Health Disparities. Each Strategic Direction individually guides actions to improve health, and together they provide a comprehensive approach to fully support Americans in living longer and healthier lives. HAIA provides evidence-based actions and concrete examples individuals and communities may adopt and adapt to promote healthy aging.

2. Schedule health screenings, annual exams, or procedures you’ve been putting off. Protect your health by going to the appointments, and hopefully you can stop worrying about any areas of your health you’ve been neglecting. You can utilize the My Health Finder tool, a free online resource, to determine which preventive services you or a loved one may need this year. Find out what tests or services are covered by Medicare at Medicare.gov.

3. Schedule a professional home safety assessment. Falls are a leading cause of injuries and death in older adults. You may be able to check your home for some hazards yourself, such as loose throw-rugs or poor lighting, but a second set of eyes is crucial. Right now, Home Helpers & Direct Link of Amsterdam is offering a Fall Prevention Safety Evaluation free of charge. Schedule yours today by calling (518) 842-5626.

4. Make learning something new a priority. Keep your mind engaged and ensure you stay cognitively stimulated by committing to start learning something new. Doing so may help you ward off cognitive decline and may even protect against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

While it’s very possible to learn through online courses or by reading a book, attending a course or workshop in person may be a better option if it's possible. Registering for a course can provide ‘accountability’ that may keep you going, and as an added bonus, you’ll have the chance to interact with others and socialize while you learn.

5. Focus on fitness every day. Regular exercise is proven to help older adults stay independent, and it may also prevent many health problems associated with aging. Staying active and making a point to move more every day, and you’ll have more energy, less stress, a healthier weight, and better sleep quality. 

If you don’t already follow a fitness program, it’s time to begin. Visit your doctor for the go-ahead first, and ask for recommendations on fitness centers or classes available in your community. It’s more fun and encouraging to get and stay fit with others, whether in a group or with a friend, neighbor or family member.

6. Opt for dietary patterns that support cognitive, emotional and physical health.

Did you know the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and reduced rates of depression? Many studies show a diet focused on whole foods is beneficial for cognitive and emotional health. Rather than following a strict ‘diet,’ this eating pattern includes eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy, and polyunsaturated fats. You eat less packaged and processed foods, fatty meats, saturated fats, salt and sugar.

A nutritious diet that supports mental and emotional health as well as physical wellness is a cornerstone of healthy aging. Working with a nutritionist or other specialist can make learning how to eat well easier. Shopping for, preparing and enjoying nutritious food can be a very enjoyable and rewarding part of a healthier lifestyle. It’s the perfect compliment to a focus on fitness and to learning new things, as an added bonus.   

7. Prioritize social engagement.

It’s well documented in research that social engagement is a strong protective factor for health. As individuals reach advanced ages, they’re at risk for social withdrawal and isolation due to retirement and physical decline. Making and maintaining social and emotional connections with others and spending time outside the home in social activities may help protect against cognitive decline. Research suggests that the more complex your social network, and the more different types of relationships you have, the better.  

Don’t limit yourself only to pursuing social activities you enjoyed in the past, or to only socializing with seniors. Try a new hobby or skill via classes or workshops, join a reading club, explore bus or train trip options, or get involved with fitness programs. Make the most of the benefits of social engagement by forming a variety of different types of relationships based around several different activities.

8. Challenge your brain to protect against loss of cognitive function. The brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to grow, rebuild and rewire itself, provides an exciting and important opportunity for Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention. It’s up to you to take advantage of what research has shown. The earlier you start taking steps toward training your brain to function better as you age, the better. This is especially important for those with a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s, or genetic predisposition.

There is no magical formula or ‘fountain of youth’ when it comes to challenging your brain. You can promote the formation of new nerve pathways and circuits through reading, puzzles, or playing chess or card games. Learning a new language or to play a musical instrument are some other ideas. Mix up your activities to exercise different parts of the brain, and try interacting socially as you stretch your brain through learning and playing. 

9. Choose to stay positive and optimistic. Seniors who maintain an outlook and attitude that is positive and optimistic enjoy life more and experience more of all life has to offer.

Optimism may support resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to adapt well when adversity, tragedy, trauma or significant loss occurs. Being able to cope and respond in action-oriented ways when faced with chronic health problems, disabilities, or the loss of loved ones is a key aspect of successful aging. You can commit to making good choices that support living a long, healthy and happy life. Optimism and staying positive can and should be cultivated and developed.

Start building your resiliency toolkit by being proactive instead of reactive. Commit to acting in your own best interest. Ask for support when you need it, and practice gratitude and reframing (source). 

10. Plan Ahead and prepare to ‘age in place.’ Nobody can predict the future, but we do know that every one of us will age, barring accidents. If you know you’d prefer to stay living in your own home as you grow older, even when health conditions make it difficult to manage for yourself, the time to plan for the inevitable is now.

Whether you’re seeking information to help yourself, your parents, or another loved one with healthy aging, Home Helpers & Direct Link of Amsterdam can help. We’ll tell you about the types of support available, including medical alert devices, and how to get started with home care. We’re also happy to meet with those in our community who may benefit from more personal guidance.

September is Healthy Aging Month provides an opportunity to educate yourself on the importance of healthy aging, so you can ensure your later years aren’t just plentiful, but lived and enjoyed in good health!

As summer gives way to fall, evaluate your current health status. Create new goals for improving your physical, mental and emotional health. Be proactive and make the choices and changes that will contribute to healthy aging, so you can safely and comfortably age in place at home.  

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References:

1National Prevention Council. Healthy Aging in Action. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2016.