I recently celebrated a birthday, and it got me thinking about healthy aging. Although I have fantastic genes (my great-grandmother lived to 102, and my grandmother just celebrated 100 1/2), I want to know that I can do my part for living a healthy life.
My colleague, Jean Sniffin, is the Community Health nurse for Century Health Systems and Natick Visiting Nurse Association. She gave me some good insight on ways I – and we – can age healthfully.
Jean suggests to take advantage of all of Medicare’s preventive services with our physicians. They include mammograms; prostate cancer tests and exams; colorectal tests; and getting recommended vaccines. She also encourages postmenopausal women and men over the age of 50 get bone density tests. “A bone density test,” according to The National Osteoporosis Foundation, “tells you if you have normal bone density, low bone density (osteopenia) or osteoporosis. It is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis. The lower your bone density, the greater your risk of breaking a bone.”
Jean also recommends getting screened for depression, which is a common cause of forgetfulness in older adults. Medscape says that “depression can accompany or stem from serious physical problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, endocrine disorders, infections or Parkinson’s disease. And depression can delay recovery from these illnesses or worsen outcomes.” Jean encourages people to discuss with their physicians the utilization of anti-depressants, which help to improve mood, concentration and sleep; and increase appetite, to name a few. Alcohol acts as a depressant, so cutting down or eliminating it from your diet may be helpful to ward off depression.
High blood pressure is a serious condition for older adults. It can lead to heart attacks, stroke, heart disease (the leading cause of death among women in the United States), coronary artery damage, congestive heart failure and more. To minimize your risk of high blood pressure, Jean suggests cutting out or significantly decreasing the amount of salt you consume. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt intake daily.
Other ways to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level include eating lean and green; getting exercise (the Mayo Clinic suggests at least 30 minutes of daily activity); and quitting smoking, which has myriad health risks besides contributing to high blood pressure.
• Some additional tips from Jean:
• Eat less fat and more colorful produce
• Avoid “negative news” as much as possible.
• Cry. It provides physical and emotional release.
• Listen to upbeat music.
• Light a vanilla-scented candle for feelings of relaxation.
We all know that there’s no quick fix to improve our health or our aging bodies. But taking small — but important — steps can help to ensure that we can, indeed, grow old gracefully and in good health.
Lauren B. Schiffman is Director of Communications for Century Health Systems, the parent company of the Natick Visiting Nurse Association and Distinguished Care Options.