Longer life spans and aging baby boomers will combine to double the population of older Americans to about 72 million by 2030. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes continue to be the leading causes of death among older adults. While some risk factors are unavoidable, you can counter many others with simple lifestyle changes.
The latest State of Aging and Health in America 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Dept of Health and Human Services provides a snapshot of our progress in promoting prevention, improving the health and well-being of older adults, and reducing behaviors that contribute to premature death and disability by looking at 15 key health indicators that address health status (physically unhealthy days, frequent mental distress, oral health and disability); health behaviors (physical inactivity, nutrition, obesity and smoking); preventive care and screening (flu and pneumonia vaccine, breast and colorectal cancer screening); and fall injuries for Americans aged 65 years or older. While progress is being made in many areas, not all health goals have been reached. As complex as the problem is, there are health-enhancing steps you can step to ensure a long and healthy life. Many of these steps are inter-related and have a cumulative effect—the more you follow, the greater the benefits. Get started today!
1. Get Screened.
Less than half of men and women aged 65 years or older are up-to-date on preventive services including flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccine, colorectal cancer screening and mammography for women.
2. Get Vaccinated.
Flu and pneumonia combined represent the seventh leading cause of death among adults 65 years or older, despite the availability of effective vaccines. Older adults should get the flu vaccine every year and get the pneumonia vaccine at least once. Don’t have a doctor visit coming up? You can get a flu shot at most chain pharmacies.
3. Be More Physically Active.
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things older adults can do for health. Physical activity can prevent many of the health problems that may come with age, including lowering the risk of falls. Get up and get walking—use a pedometer to track steps and note progress. Talk to your doctor about other forms of fitness appropriate for your abilities.
4. Eat Fruits and Vegetables Daily.
Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some cancers and chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and dozens of micronutrients that are important for good health—and that you often can’t get from a daily vitamin supplement. Adults aged 65 years or older should eat 5 or more fruits and vegetables daily and in a rainbow of colors—each one indicates a different group of nutrients.
5. Quit Smoking.
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. For help quitting, talk to your doctor about a cessation program that includes support. You can also visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-Quit-Now.
6. Take Medication for High Blood Pressure.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of illness and death among older adults. Of the almost 67 million Americans with high blood pressure, more than half do not have it under control. Patients should take the initiative to monitor their blood pressure between medical visits, take medications as prescribed, tell their doctor about any side effects, and make lifestyle changes, such as eating a low-sodium diet, exercising, and stopping smoking. Taking prescribed medication is important for another no-symptom risk factor, high cholesterol. Remember, just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging your health. Use a pill organizer to help you stay on schedule.