By Diana Weber, M.D., Medical Director, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico
As we age, all areas of our bodies are affected, though the manifestations are different in every person. While we cannot reverse the aging process, we can take actions to minimize the impact of aging. Adopting healthy habits and becoming aware of the changes in our bodies can provide benefits in many ways. Below is information about two conditions that can occur with aging and tips on how to reduce your risk.
Half of all adults aged 65 and older in the United States have arthritis. Here are some things you can do that have been proven to reduce the symptoms of arthritis.
- Stay active. Physical activity can decrease symptoms of arthritis, including pain. The goal is to move more and sit less. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. This can be walking, bicycling, swimming or any other physical activity that you enjoy. Many community centers have exercise classes and equipment that are available for a nominal fee. When you make a commitment to exercise with others, you increase your chance of sticking to your exercise goals. There is also the added social benefit of interacting with other people.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts additional stress on your joints. By keeping your weight down, you can decrease your risk of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the knee.
- Protect your joints. If you find that certain activities or movements cause discomfort, you should do what you can to avoid these activities to decrease the stress on your joints.
- Diet can impact arthritis. Try to avoid foods that cause inflammation, such as sweets, refined grains, snack foods — such as chips — sodas and other sweetened drinks, and fried foods.
- Participate in a chronic disease self-management program. This type of program can teach you techniques to manage your arthritis.
Cognitive impairment is defined by difficulty with remembering, learning new things, concentrating and making decisions. Dementia is a term to describe this impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death of individuals over the age of 65. Women comprise two-thirds of older Americans with dementia, and African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk of developing dementia.
Dementia is described as a slow decline from healthy cognitive function that progresses to pre-symptomatic, then to mild cognitive impairment and finally to dementia. Not all people with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia. Since the process of dementia can start long before any manifestation of symptoms, it is never too early to adopt healthy behaviors that can reduce the risk for cognitive decline. Research shows that people who engage in the following behaviors are at lower risk for developing dementia.
- Eat a healthy diet and focus on foods high in flavonoids; these have been demonstrated to prevent cognitive decline. High flavonoid foods include berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries; citrus, such as grapefruit and oranges; apples and pears; and celery, cherries and peppers. Look for yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.
- Increase physical activity with exercises, such as brisk walking. The recommendation for 150 minutes of exercise a week will help prevent dementia while also helping with arthritis pain as mentioned above.
- Spend time on activities that are physically challenging, such as doing puzzles and playing card games.
- Do not smoke. Even if you have been smoking for decades, quitting will improve your health.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
Knowing what you can do to prevent progression of arthritis and cognitive decline means you have agency over the aging process. We can’t turn back the clock, but we can make daily choices to mitigate the aging effects on our bodies.
For more information, visit the National Institute on Aging at https://www.nia.nih.gov/.
If you have a health question that you would like to be considered in Ask a Health Care Professional, please email [email protected]. BCBSNM will select questions that may appear. Questions will not be personally answered. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of BCBSNM. This column is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical care.