Oh, healthy aging…the common goal we all have as we approach and embrace the second half of our lives. But wait, what does “healthy aging” actually mean?
The key to healthy aging is making a series of small but impactful lifestyle changes to keep your mind and body functioning as optimally as possible. A great deal of scientific research has gone into the concept of healthy aging and the below are just a few of the many things we can do to ensure that we are setting ourselves up for utmost success as we live out our “golden years”:
Stay on top of your health (yes, this means your mental health too!)
If you don’t take care of you, who can? Especially for women, caring for others and putting others before oneself comes second nature but it is important to remember that you must put yourself and your health first!
One of the ways you can put yourself first is schedule and keep your medical appointments. Regular check-ups with your primary care, specialists and dentists are paramount when it comes to achieving overall good health. As we age, we become more susceptible to things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, different kinds of cancers, osteoporosis, pneumonia, arthritis etc. which is even more of a reason to ensure that you are speaking with your doctor(s) regularly and addressing any concerns you may have. Of course, smoking and alcohol consumption can harm your body in more ways than you can imagine. If you smoke or drink, you will want to curb those habits immediately for optimal health and wellness.
While there are many joys in getting older, unfortunately, there are a few setbacks that can happen as well. Whether these setbacks are due to the loss of a loved one, the stress of an ailing spouse or friend, the difficulty of learning you may be unable to do some of the things you once used to do or the loneliness of being further away than you would like from family and friends, it can really take an emotional and mental toll on your overall well being. The best thing you can do is recognize these feelings, allow yourself the time to process and work through these feelings, and discuss these feelings with your doctor. You may be able to develop better coping mechanisms by seeking professional therapy and/or you may need the assistance of anxiety medication or an anti-depressant. We all feel down sometimes and these feelings you have are completely normal and validated. Conquering your mental health with therapy and/or medication is not a weakness, it is one of the most brave and respectable things you can do for yourself!
Remain focused on nutrition and ensure your diet is balanced
After age 50, your body requires more of some vitamins and minerals from certain foods or supplements than before. Such vitamins include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B6
Taking a daily multi-vitamin once a day is usually a good start when it comes to ensuring you are getting the additional vitamins and minerals you need, however, you cannot rely on a daily multi-vitamin alone.
Improve your nutrition by loading up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and low-fat dairy while reducing your intake of fatty meats, butter, sugar, salt and processed foods. Also, make sure you are getting lots of fiber!
At age 50 and older, men should aim for 30 grams of fiber a day while women should get 21 grams a day. Fiber comes in the form of whole grains, beans, avocados, berries, broccoli, apples and more and makes you feel full for a longer period of time. Fiber is super important because it aids in the reduction of cholesterol levels as well as it lowers your chance of heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
Enjoy being active
Exercise…some love it and some dread it. If you love it, that’s great- keep working out because exercise is one of the very best ways to keep your overall mind and body in check! However, if you are one of the people that absolutely dread working out…you’re not alone!
The good news is that being active doesn’t mean that you need to live in the gym for all hours of the day or that you need to complete near-impossible strenuous workouts. Tai Chi is a gentle Chinese exercise that combines slow movements and deep breathing that can be easily modified for an older adult based on their abilities. This can be an effective way to ease stress, improve balance, and strengthen muscles. However, if Tai Chi is not for you, there is a simpler alternative…WALK! Science proves that incorporating a 30-minute walk even just once a day (which can be broken up into shorter strolls if that is easier to manage) delivers incredible health benefits. In addition to helping with weight management, improving quality of sleep, regulating cholesterol levels, and improving mood, other health benefits include keeping brain cells healthy by delivering more blood and oxygen and even delaying or improving symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.
While there is a lot of focus on physical activity when it comes to healthy aging, equally as important is mental stimulation. Activities like jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku, Chess and reading are like workouts for your brain! Keeping your brainpower going strong is not only fun but it can help lower your chances of developing Alzheimer’s Disease too!
You’ve spent most of your life working extremely hard for your career, your family and your friends and now it is time to enjoy working on YOU! Whether you like to garden, do arts and crafts or complete do-it-yourself projects, play music, read etc., you should do more of what makes you happy!
Older adults can also find a renewed sense of purpose by getting involved in their communities. There are a variety of different ways to do this but some of the most popular are “sitting” on a town board or panel, volunteering with a local charitable organization, joining a local senior center and/or becoming an active member of a church (if not already). Loneliness has harmful effects on your health and lonely people are more likely to get dementia or suffer from depression. Lonely people have higher levels of stress hormones that cause inflammation or swelling that can often be linked to arthritis and diabetes. Be sure to get out of the house when you can and visit friends and family when the opportunity presents itself. Also, take advantage of social media and use it to keep up with friends and family that may have moved away.
Have a plan
As older adults we have realized at this point that there is little in life that we can actually truly control but, nonetheless, we always want to remain in the driver’s seat of our own destiny and do our best to create the life we want to live. Just as a map is crucial to have on a cross-country road-trip, having a clear and executable plan is critical when it comes to healthy aging and living your golden years to the fullest!
So, how do you want to age?
According to a 2018 AARP National Survey, 76% of Americans 50 years old and above prefer to age in place. Luckily, home care agencies like ABC Home Healthcare Professionals exist to do just that- help you and/or your loved one(s) live safely and independently at home for as long as possible. Another key thing to note is that home care is the most economical and affordable option as compared to assisted living facilities and nursing homes. However, as with all elder care, home care services come at a cost but the cost for services doesn’t have to “break the bank”…so long as you have prepared accordingly!
How do I know if I am prepared for my aging journey?
A clear and executable plan comes in the form of estate planning and includes the following:
- Health Care Proxies/HIPAA Authorizations and Living Wills
- Durable Powers of Attorney
- Medicare/Medicaid Planning
- Estate Tax Planning
- Crisis & Non-Crisis Planning
Wills and trusts are critical when it comes to protecting your assets. With an active will and trust, YOU get to decide how your assets will be distributed upon your death- NOT the government! Because our futures are unknown and nothing is guaranteed, it is equally as important to ensure that conservatorships and/or guardianships are established in the event that you develop a cognitive impairment that prevents you from being able to think and care for yourself. Similarly, a Health Care Proxy (HCP) and Durable Power of Attorney (POA), exist to make executive decisions on your behalf when it comes to healthcare and other estate matters like real estate sales etc. if you are unable to do so yourself.
A common misconception is that Medicare will pay for home care services when they are required. This is NOT the truth- home care services are NOT covered by Medicare or under any Medicare Advantage Plans! Medicare/Medicaid Planning is one of the most important aspects of estate planning because not only will this work with your wills and trusts that are in place to ensure your assets are protected but it will also provide peace of mind that if you wind up requiring more care and money becomes tight, you will be able to receive assistance from the state. MassHealth “Look-back periods” exist and are very strict so it is best to start your Medicare/Medicaid Planning sooner rather than later.
While there are many attorneys that seem to be “a jack of all trades” and are certainly capable of assisting with basic estate planning, it is highly recommended that you entrust your estate planning needs with a Certified Elder Law Attorney. Certified Elder Law Attorneys are truly specialists in their field and, just like you wouldn’t see a foot doctor to operate on your heart, you should approach your attorney selection with this same vigor.