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Six Ways to Stay Healthy As You Age
By Daniel Casciato

One of the keys to successful aging is maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing.

Some common health ailments among seniors include hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease as well as mental health issues such as depression. By making some lifestyle modifications, you may be able to prevent these health issues or at least allow you to better manage them.

Brittany Sphar, M.D., Clinical Instructor for Washington Health System Family Medicine Canonsburg, offers six lifestyle changes to lead a healthy life as you age.

1. Eat a healthy diet
Everyone can benefit from eating more healthy. Be sure your diet includes plenty of veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy.

You should also avoid eating processed foods and sugar as much as possible since they tend to pack on the pounds, notes Dr. Sphar.

“Focus on whole foods and fresh foods,” she says. “We know it’s difficult for some people to do especially if they live alone and don’t have help preparing food. But if you’re eating three microwavable meals a day, try to replace one of those meals with a salad. That’s something you can reasonably make on your own.”

2. Exercise as much as possible
By becoming more active, it can help you stay fit so you can maintain your independence longer and allow you to perform regular daily activities of living. Regular exercise may also help prevent many common chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, and arthritis.

“Research has shown that exercise can be very beneficial among older adults,” says Dr. Sphar.

She recommends a weekly combination of aerobic exercise as well as weight training, balance and flexibility training such as tai chi or yoga. Check with your physician to make sure your choice of exercise is appropriate for you.

“The recommendations for aerobic exercise haven’t changed much over the years,” she says. “We still recommend moderate intensity five days per week for 30 minutes a day. The nice thing is that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can split it up throughout the day.”

3. Stop smoking
If you are a smoker, one of the most important lifestyle change to make right now is to stop smoking, notes Dr. Sphar. It’s never too late to quit.

Tobacco affects almost every organ in your body. Whether it’s cigarettes, cigars or chewing, these nicotine-laced products can lead to heart disease, cancer, lung and gum disease, and other health problems.

4. Drink in moderation
Excessive drinking or alcohol increases your risk of serious health problems. Dr. Sphar recommends only drinking in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day if you’re over the age of 65.

Examples of one drink include:

  1. Beer: 12 fluid ounces
  2. Wine: 5 fluid ounces
  3. Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces

5. Get regular checkups
Don’t skip out on your annual physical exams. Health issues and concerns can be addressed more easily if you see your physician on a regular basis.

“Your physician might be able to catch a health ailment before it becomes too serious,” says Dr. Sphar.

6. Maintain a healthy support system
Loneliness is also detrimental to your health.

“Some seniors can’t leave their house so it gets pretty lonely and isolating,” says Dr. Sphar. “For caregivers, friends and family, if your loved one is homebound check up on them and spend time visiting with them.”

Since we can’t stay young forever, it’s important to develop a healthy support system and maintain relationships, she adds.

“Depression is common among older people. As our health starts to decline, some people become depressed,” she says. “Make sure you’re telling your loved ones when you are feeling down and depressed. Tell your doctors too because there are effective treatments even for elderly people who have depression.”

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