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Healthy aging: Doable and it beats the alternative

10/12/2017, 4:56 p.m.
It is never too late to focus on the positive aspects of aging and on positive steps to stay active ...

It is never too late to focus on the positive aspects of aging and on positive steps to stay active and maintain independence. These steps include regular physical activity, healthy eating, avoiding tobacco and alcohol and getting regular physical checkups.

Physical activity can help the body maintain, repair and improve itself, and help protect against problems associated with aging, such as frailty, loss of appetite and even depression. Physically active people tend to maintain higher levels of strength, flexibility and feelings of well-being. At least 30 minutes of physical activity are recommended every day to help maintain healthy heart and lungs, maintain muscle strength and tone, and control weight.

Getting started

When it comes to exercise, good intentions are not enough. You must literally take that first step. The steps listed below were adapted from those of the Healthy Aging Campaign and the NYS-DOH.

Look for daily opportunities to exercise. Park your car at the far end of the parking lot and walk briskly to your destination.

Choose an exercise program you like and stick to it. Remember the best exercise is the one you do.

Use the buddy system. You are less likely to skip exercise if you have made a commitment to meet a friend.

If you think you might find it more enjoyable to exercise with a group, check out programs offered by local health departments, community centers and senior centers.

People of all ages find that just simple walking can be a safe and effective way to gain the benefits of physical activity. Walking clubs are becoming popular and might offer an ideal way to hit your stride.

Other enjoyable ways to stay active include gardening, dancing, yoga, stretching and riding a bicycle.

Listen to your body and feed and water it

When engaging in physical activity, be sure to listen to your body. Brisk walking should make your heart beat and breathing faster, but stop if you feel nauseous, find yourself panting or if your breathing does not return to normal within approximately 10 minutes. See your doctor before resuming an activity program if these problems persist.

Good nutrition is another important component of healthy aging. The Medical Society of the State of New York urges everyone to follow federal and state health guidelines to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruit every day to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and to help maintain a healthy weight. Vegetables and fruit provide vitamins, minerals and nutritional fiber, and help reduce fat and cholesterol. Low-fat and fat-free dairy products are also great sources of calcium, which helps maintain strong bones.

You also need to drink plenty of liquids such as water, juice and milk. The National Institute on Aging advises aiming for eight 8-ounce glasses a day, but check with your doctor if you have been told to limit how much you drink. Do not wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking. With age, you might lose some of your sense of thirst, and some medications might cause you to lose fluids. If you are drinking enough, your urine will be pale yellow. If it is a bright or dark yellow, you probably need to drink more liquids. If the color still does not change, see your doctor.

Guard against alcohol and depression

The advice to drink a lot does not include alcohol. As we age, alcohol has a greater impact on our liver, kidneys and other vital organs. Alcohol can also interfere with medications, reduce appetite and prevent restful sleep. If you choose to drink, talk to your doctor about how much alcohol is safe for you.

Avoid drinking alcohol as an attempt to avert depression. Sometimes major life changes—such as retirement, moving or the death of a friend or loved one—can cause loneliness, boredom, anxiety and depression, but continued drinking can damage health and lead to other problems. If you are depressed, get professional help. Start by talking to your doctor.

You can also guard against depression by staying active. The Healthy Aging Campaign suggests taking a class, volunteering your time, seeking out other people, phoning friends to chat and continuing to seek out variety and challenge in your life.