A century ago only four out of every hundred people in the U.S. were age 65 or older.
Today that number is 12 of every 100, and older adults make up the fastest growing part of our population. While growing older is inevitable, many people don’t realize that there are many things we can all do that will help keep us stay healthy as we age. The following is a guide to healthy aging that can help you enjoy better health and greater independence in later life.
Make sure you’re not making medication mistakes
■ MANY OLDER ADULTS take prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and other supplements, such as herbs or home remedies, every day. Taking lots of different pills can cause side effects and problems. It is very important that your healthcare provider, pharmacist and others who care for you know every medication or pill you are taking.
■ BRING A LIST of each and every pill, vitamin or medicine you take—even if you buy it without a prescription—with you every time you see your healthcare professional. Make sure you write down the dose of the pill and how many times a day you take it. Your healthcare provider should check all of your pills to make sure they are safe for you to take.
■ ALWAYS CHECK with your healthcare professional, or your pharmacist, first before taking any new medicines of any kind. Take all medicines as directed, and tell your healthcare professional right away if a medication or pill seems to be causing any problems or side effects. Ask if there is any way to take care of your health problems without having to take pills or medicine. Never borrow or take any pills or medications that were meant for someone else.
Stay on top of health problems
■ GET YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE CHECKED at least once a year: High blood pressure can cause heart disease, kidney problems, blindness and other health problems.
■ GET A CHOLESTEROL TEST at least every five years. Cholesterol is a fat in our bodies; when cholesterol levels are high, this fat can cause heart disease, strokes and other health problems. If heart disease or diabetes runs in your family, you should have your cholesterol checked more often.
■ GET CHECKED FOR DIABETES, especially if you are hungry or thirsty all the time, are overweight or find that you have to urinate often. These problems could all be signs of diabetes.
Lower your risk of falling
■ HELP KEEP YOUR BONES STRONG by taking calcium and vitamin D every day. Most older adults absorb calcium citrate better than calcium carbonate, so read the labels on the calcium bottles carefully. Ask your healthcare provider how much calcium and vitamin D you should take.
■ IF YOU DON’T EXERCISE REGULARLY, START. Just be sure to talk with your healthcare provider first, so he or she can help you come up with an exercise plan that’s right for you. Walking is an ideal aerobic (“heart healthy”) exercise; gradually increase the amount of time you spend walking, aiming for at least 20–30 minutes a day. In addition to walking, or doing other aerobic exercises like cycling, lift weights to help strengthen your muscles—and help protect your bones. Learn to do yoga or tai chi, which can improve your balance and make you less likely to fall. Many local senior centers and Y’s offer exercise, yoga and tai chi classes.
■ IF YOU’VE ALREADY HAD A FALL, be sure to ask your healthcare provider about exercise programs in your community that include not only strength training and balance exercises but also flexibility, and stretching exercises. These can also help lower your risk of falls.
■ GET AN EYE CHECK-UP. Make sure your vision is good and your eyeglasses are right for you. Many falls happen when you do not see well.