[Image description: An older woman has a telehealth visit from her kitchen.]
Growing older brings its rewards: Researchers say most people get happier as they age. But it also brings changes to our physical and mental health needs. Here are 8 tips to help you protect your health in older adulthood:
Practice prevention. It really is the best medicine. Start with checkups from your primary doctor, dentist, and eye doctor. They’ll guide you on what screenings, tests, and vaccines you may need, including:
- Blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol tests
- Mammography and pap tests for women, prostate cancer evaluation for men, and colorectal cancer screening for both
- Vaccines for flu; pneumonia; shingles; tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough); and COVID-19
Your provider’s recommendations will vary based on your age, gender, and health history.
Stay active: Physical activity offers a long list of benefits, and many are especially important as you age. Moving more and sitting less can help you:
- Manage your weight
- Stave off or control health problems like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis
- Boost your mood and reduce anxiety and depression
- Sleep better and feel more energetic
- Increase your strength and balance, allowing you to remain independent longer
Experts recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity such as walking, plus twice-weekly (or more) muscle-strengthening activity. If you haven’t been active in a while, check with your doctor first. Then start slow, and choose activities you enjoy — like dancing, cycling, or walking in nature — to keep you motivated.
Eat for wellness: As you age, you need fewer calories, but your body still needs nutrients. Fill your plate with high-nutrition foods such as:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Lean meats and fish
- Low-fat dairy products
- Nuts and seeds
Try to avoid the empty calories in candy, chips, soft drinks, and alcohol. And be sure to drink enough water to stay hydrated.
Quit tobacco: It’s never too late to quit smoking (or other forms of tobacco) — and it can reduce your risk for heart disease, lung cancer, other types of cancer, and lung disease. It often takes more than one try to quit, so don’t give up — and do ask for help. Talk to a doctor or call 1-800-QUITNOW; there are resources and support that can help you succeed.
Get involved: Research shows that older adults who engage in social activities, volunteer work, or hobbies have lower risk for some health problems, including depression and dementia. They also report feeling healthier and happier — and may even live longer. So, choose something you find fun, relaxing, meaningful, or all three, and make time for it on a regular basis. Bonus points for recruiting a friend or loved one to join you; you’ll both reap the benefits of social connection.
- A change such as retirement or move to a care facility
- Loss of loved ones
- A physical health condition
- A cognitive problem, such as dementia
Symptoms that could signal depression include sadness, tiredness, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, and sleep changes. In older adults, depression can also cause memory problems, confusion, and even delusions. It’s important to know that depression is an illness, not a sign of weakness or failure — and it can be treated. Talk to a therapist on Amwell, your doctor, or a caregiver, and be honest about how you’re feeling.
Mind your memory: Research shows that habits like physical activity and healthy eating may help ward off dementia. Challenging your brain with activities like games, puzzles, or learning a new language, craft, or skill can also keep your mind sharp — and the earlier you start the better. If you have occasional memory lapses, like losing your keys or forgetting a name, don’t worry; that’s normal. But if you’re having more severe memory problems — such as forgetting how to do familiar tasks or how to get somewhere you’ve been many times before — it may be time to see a doctor. While dementia is one possible cause, depression and certain medications can also cause memory problems.
Adapt to change: Growing older brings changes in our abilities — and adapting to them can help keep us safer, healthier, and more active. If you’re having trouble reading medication instructions, ask your pharmacist for large-print labels. If arthritis makes toothbrushing painful, try a power toothbrush or ask your dentist about ways to modify your toothbrush handle.
If you’re at risk of falling, make home-safety modifications such as:
- Removing clutter
- Taping down area rugs
- Placing nonslip mats or stickers in your tub or shower
If you drive, be alert to changes in your vision, attention, and reaction time, as well as any physical limitations that may affect your driving. There may be ways to adapt your car or your driving to improve safety. But if a loved one has expressed concerns about your driving, or if you’ve had accidents, near misses, or police warnings, look into other ways to get around and still be independent. Contact your local area agency on aging to see what transportation resources and benefits you may be eligible for.
Finally, if you have a concern about your physical or mental health — whether it’s age-related or not — consider talking with an Amwell doctor or therapist. They’re as close as your smartphone, tablet, or computer and available 24/7.