More than 10,000 people in the United States turn 65 years-old every day, according to the Census Bureau, which amounts to one every eight seconds. This is expected to continue for the next 20 years or so, raising critical questions about the readiness of the nation’s health care system to treat an aging population. Of course, as every doctor will tell you, the best kind of health care is preventative health care, the kind that keeps you out of the doctor’s office in the first place.
For seniors near or past the 65-year threshold, it’s never too late to start improving your health and remaining as mobile and functional as you were 30 years ago. In fact, one of the myths of aging is that your health most decline. On the contrary. Sure, there are some diseases that become more common with age. However, getting older does not automatically mean that you’ll have to stay home and use a walker to get around. It is more and more common for older adults enjoy great health, often better than many younger people.
And guess what? The keys to improving your health at 65 are the same as they were when you were 16. Ok, maybe a little different. Here are the most important.
Quit smoking (if you’re 16, the advice is “don’t start smoking”). Smoking impairs your health in many ways. It vastly increases the risk of terminal lung or throat cancer, and smoking has a strong correlation to strokes and heart failure. For guys, smoking leads to erectile dysfunction in men due to atherosclerosis. And for women who care about their skin, smoking causes excessive wrinkling by attacking skin elasticity. The best time to quit is now.
Exercise. Yes, this advice doesn’t change between 16 and 65. Exercise is a key to maintaining strength, balance, and flexibility. Exercise also keeps your heart healthy, blood pressure down, and elevates your mood. I side benefit of fitness is social mobility. When you are fit you are more able to participate in social activities with friends and loved ones, which also prevents depression.
Eat right. You probably knew this one was coming. We’ve learned a great deal in recent decades about the links between nutrition and physical and mental health. Many illnesses associated with aging can be prevented in part by eating nutritious foods in the right quantities and combinations. Heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis are among the conditions that can be prevented or controlled with dietary changes and exercise. Calcium and vitamin D supplements can help women prevent osteoporosis. Nutrition can also improve mental health, and prevent age-related decline in hearing and vision.
The good news is that aging is a completely different experience now than it was in previous generations. There are more people living longer lives than at any other time in history. The 65 and older demographic is expected to reach 78 million by 2030, for example, and this generation is more committed to physical and mental health than any before it. “We need to become activists in promoting healthful behaviors and try our best to remain active and healthy the rest of our lives.”