Three of every 10 Snohomish County residents are 55 or older. The ability for older adults to stay healthy is important for individuals and for our entire community.
There are a number of things to consider when it comes to lifelong health. We want to highlight a few of them here.
Active lifestyles look different for different people – abilities, interests, and resources vary. But at the crux of it is the importance of regular physical activity. This could be walking, swimming, dancing, yoga, or any variety of activities that get you moving.
Starting an exercise routine may seem overwhelming. If you get down to basics, though, it’s simply about moving more. Whatever your current routine is, try to do just a little more. Extra steps on a walk,10 more minutes in the pool, or a small project that gets you moving when you might otherwise be still.
Exercising is important to maintain a healthy weight, to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and to improve mental health.
Know your limits at any age. Don’t overdo it and risk a fall or injury. Ask your doctor if you’re not sure about a specific activity.
Like exercise, a healthy diet helps maintain weight and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Choose nutritious meals and snacks that you enjoy for a sustainable diet. Don’t be afraid to try new foods and expand your menu.
Not all healthy diets are the same, but they have some key components. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Consider dairy options like low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese, or fortified milk alternatives. Protein could be eggs or lean meat like poultry. Seafood, nuts, and legumes such as beans or lentils are great, too. Limit unhealthy snacks that are high in added sugars, saturated fats, or sodium.
Eat regularly. Skipping meals can lower your energy and cause you to overeat when you do have a meal. Loss of appetite in older adults also may contribute to being underweight, which has health consequences just as being overweight does. It’s vital that your body gets enough nutrition to fuel it.
Good habits are much easier to stick to with support. Stay socially active and engaged with friends, family, and community groups. This can help to reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, as well as provide opportunities for learning and teaching.
Now may be good time for you to try volunteering or mentoring. Look into local resources for transportation and group outings. Places like senior centers, libraries, food banks and nonprofits have some great options. Studies have shown that giving back and volunteering is good for your long-term mental wellness, too.
Remember check-ups and disease prevention
Do you see a healthcare provider regularly? If not, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment.
Check with your doctor routinely to talk about your health, manage any chronic conditions, and receive appropriate screenings and tests. Catching problems early and managing chronic issues effectively can make a world of difference. There are wonderful healthcare providers in the area – don’t try to “tough it out” if you are experiencing challenges. The sooner you address them, the better.
Ask your doctor about immunizations. They can check if you are up-to-date and help you learn more about recommended vaccinations, such as those that protect against severe illness from COVID, flu, or shingles. Vaccinations help your body fight illness; they keep people out of the hospital and alive.
Sexual health is a topic that isn’t always talked about but remains important. While older adults may not have to worry about unplanned pregnancies, there’s no age limit on sexually transmitted diseases. The National Institute on Aging notes that nearly half of people in the U.S. living with HIV/AIDS are 50 or older. Other STDs are on the rise. The rate of syphilis in 2022, for example, was more than double the rate for 2018. It’s important for anyone who is sexually active to talk with their partner about their sexual health. Use protection if you are not exclusive or don’t know your partner’s history.
There are simple things that can reduce your chances of being injured.
Falls are one of the bigger risks – they tend to be easier to have and harder to recover from as we get older. Remove trip hazards from your home, use assistive devices like handrails and grab bars, and stay active to maintain balance and strength.
Know your medications and potential side effects. Some can cause dizziness or drowsiness, increasing your risk of falling or of an accident when driving or operating equipment.
Get your vision and hearing checked. Age can reduce vision and hearing so you can’t react as quickly to obstacles or surprises. Hearing aids or prescription lenses help reduce your risk.
Mind your mental health
There are multiple pieces to the puzzle of lifelong mental health.
First, keep your brain active. Like your body, your mind needs exercise. Socializing is one way to do this. Reading, puzzles, games hobbies, travel, and learning new languages or skills are also great ways to keep your brain active. Don’t ignore physical exercise – it boosts your brainpower. Regular exercise of your mind and body can reduce the risk of dementia and long-term health problems.
The other crucial piece for mental health is seeking help when you need it. If you regularly feel worried, nervous, or anxious, you are not alone. If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or loneliness, please reach out for help. This could include counseling, therapy, or participation in support groups. Make a note of the phone number 988 to use if you or someone you love is in crisis – this connects to the suicide and crisis lifeline.
You matter, and your mental and physical health are important.