Debunking Myths and Embracing the Facts of Healthy Aging
Consider This Scenario
Mary, a 68-year-old retired teacher, has recently noticed a decline in her physical function. She struggles to climb stairs, carry groceries, and has observed her mobility has decreased. Additionally, she is concerned about her cognitive function, as she has experienced some difficulty with memory and decision-making.
Like Mary, many older adults face similar challenges as they age. In this article, we will debunk common myths and misconceptions about aging while offering practical tips and evidence-based strategies to promote healthy aging and maintain well-being.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
A balanced diet is essential for healthy aging. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products to maintain optimal health. These guidelines also suggest limiting added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium intake.1 Staying hydrated is equally important; older adults should aim for at least eight cups of water per day.2
Regular exercise also plays a critical role in healthy aging. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week and muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week; about 20 minutes per day.3 Exercise can help maintain muscle mass, improve balance and flexibility, and reduce the risk of falls.4 Older adults should choose activities they enjoy and are appropriate for their fitness level. Consult a healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise program.
Stay Socially Engaged
Loneliness and social isolation can negatively impact physical and mental health leading to an increased risk of depression, cognitive decline, and even premature mortality.5
To stay socially engaged, older adults can:
- Stay connected with friends and family members through regular phone calls, video chats, or in-person visits.
- Join clubs, groups, or organizations that share their interests.
- Volunteer in their community, which can provide a sense of purpose and connectedness.
- Attend local events, workshops, or classes to learn new skills and meet new people.
Manage Chronic Health Conditions
As we age, the likelihood of developing chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease increases.
Collaborate with healthcare providers to manage these conditions and prevent complications by:
- Following prescribed treatment plans, including taking medications as directed.
- Regularly monitoring health indicators, such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol.
- Scheduling and attending routine healthcare appointments, including annual check-ups and screenings.
- Communicating openly with healthcare providers about any changes in health or concerns.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.6 Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent these conditions and improve overall health.
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, older adults can:
- Adopt a balanced diet, as previously mentioned, focusing on whole foods and proper portion sizes.
- Engage in regular physical activity, including both aerobic and strength-training exercises.
- Monitor their weight regularly and consult a healthcare provider for guidance on an appropriate weight range.
Prioritize Mental Health
Mental health is an essential aspect of healthy aging.
Older adults can improve their mental health by:
- Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, or yoga.
- Ensuring they get enough sleep, aiming for 7 – 8 hours per night.7
- Seeking help if experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Psychotherapy, medication, and support groups are some of the available treatment options.8
- Engaging in activities that promote cognitive function, such as solving puzzles, learning a new skill, or participating in intellectually stimulating conversations.
Prevent Falls and Injuries
Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults and can result in significant disability or even death.9
To reduce the risk of falls and injuries, older adults should:
- Perform regular balance and strength exercises to improve stability and muscle strength.
- Make their home environment safer by removing tripping hazards, installing grab bars in bathrooms, and ensuring proper lighting.
- Have their vision and hearing checked regularly, and use assistive devices as needed.
- Discuss any concerns about fall risks with their healthcare provider, who may recommend additional interventions.
Stay Informed about Medications
As older adults often take multiple medications, it’s essential to understand how these medications may interact or cause side effects.
To stay informed and manage medications effectively:
- Keep an up-to-date list of all medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements.
- Share this list with healthcare providers and pharmacists to prevent potential drug interactions or duplicate prescriptions.
- Follow medication instructions carefully and consult a healthcare provider or pharmacist with any questions or concerns.
By following these evidence-based strategies, older adults like Mary can maintain their health and well-being, enjoy their golden years, and maintain their independence.
1. U.S. Department of Agriculture & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf 2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2004). Dietary reference intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10925 3. American Heart Association. (2018). American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults 4. National Institute on Aging. (n.d.). Exercise and physical activity. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-and-physical-activity 5. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227-237. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691614568352 6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Healthy weight. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/index.html 7. National Sleep Foundation. (2015). How much sleep do we really need? https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need 8. World Health Organization. (2021). Mental health of older adults. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults 9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Important facts about falls. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html