National Healthy Aging Month | VA Washington DC Healthcare

Take a step during National Healthy Aging Month to make sure your golden years stay golden.

September is recognized as National Healthy Aging Month. While some factors that influence healthy aging are beyond our control (like genetics), other factors are readily available to everyone.

Washington DC VA Medical Center geriatrician Karen Blackstone, MD, studies centenarians, or people who live well past 100. Through her work, she’s put together a handy list of tips that can help you maintain your health, live as independently as possible, and live a great quality of life as you age.

“I urge you to make even a small change today to take care of your physical, emotional and mental health so you can live a long and happy life,” Blackstone said.

The following advice is backed by scientific observations and research supported by the National Institute on Aging:

  • Eat and drink healthy. Dietary needs may change with age. A healthy diet includes nutritious foods that are low in cholesterol, fat, and artificial ingredients. You should also drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to stay hydrated. Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Move more, sit less. Staying active can help you prevent, delay and manage chronic disease, improve balance and endurance, reduce the risk of falls and improve brain health. Aim for moderate physical activity, such as walking, at least 150 minutes per week (22 to 30 minutes per day) and muscle-strengthening activities, such as carrying groceries, at least 2 days per week. Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise regimen.
  • Enjoy a hobby. Your favorite activities aren’t just fun, they can also be good for your health. Research shows that people who participate in hobbies, social and leisure activities, even owning a pet, have better cognitive and physical functions.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol consumption. Like all adults, seniors should avoid or limit their alcohol consumption. In fact, aging can lead to social and physical changes that make older adults more susceptible to alcohol abuse and misuse and more vulnerable to the consequences of alcohol. Alcohol addiction or excessive alcohol consumption affects every organ in the body, including the brain.
  • Stop smoking. No matter how old you are or how long you’ve been smoking, research confirms that even if you’re 60 or older and have been smoking for decades, quitting smoking will improve your health. Quitting smoking at any age will reduce your risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke and lung disease, improve your blood circulation, improve your sense of taste and smell, increase your ability to make exercise and set a healthy example to others.
  • Get regular checkups. Going to the doctor for regular health checkups is essential for healthy aging. Regular checkups help doctors catch chronic diseases early and can help patients reduce risk factors for disease, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In some cases, regular health checkups have been linked to a better quality of life and a sense of well-being.
  • Be aware of changes in emotional and cognitive health. Everyone’s brain changes with age, but dementia and depression are not part of normal aging. Consult your doctor if you have any questions about your memory or brain health.

Dr. Blackstone recommends talking to your doctor early and often to understand which steps to improve aging health are most appropriate for you.

“Adopting a healthy lifestyle that supports your body, mind and emotions will have a direct impact on your ability to enjoy life into your golden years,” she said.

Learn more ways to increase your physical activity and improve your health from the National Institute on Aging.

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