By Dr. Gilberto Heredia, Family physician, Optum New Mexico
Older adults who engaged in healthy lifestyle choices such as physical activity, not smoking, not heavily drinking, following a nutritious diet, and taking part in mentally stimulating activities had a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2020 study by the National Institute on Aging. While many people might wish to make the kinds of daily choices that lead to better life outcomes, they are also likely to have difficulty doing so if it means a lifestyle overhaul is required. Instead, it is important to set simple and realistic goals that are manageable, as success is more attainable with bite-sized change.
Here are seven achievable steps to help you start loving your path to health this February:
- Pursue an active lifestyle.
Staying active doesn’t have to mean joining a gym, spending extra cash, or even breaking a sweat. Adults can engage at home in aerobic activity, resistance training, and yoga, or take walks around their neighborhood. The Optum New Mexico Community Center, 4010 Montgomery Blvd. NE. in Albuquerque offers a wide variety of exercise classes, including yoga and strength and balance classes, at no cost to anyone 55 and older. For a schedule, visit optum.com/nmcommunitycenters.
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says regular physical activity is vital for healthy aging, be sure to speak with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. Ask about the amounts and types of activities that may be best for you. This is especially important for those with underlying medical conditions.
- Eat healthfully.
Prioritizing healthful eating and nutritious snacks is crucial. Potential benefits include living longer, strengthening bones, and lowering the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Depending upon how they are prepared, home-cooked meals often have lower levels of sodium, sugar, and fat when compared to meals at a restaurant. If you have allergies or conditions that require a special diet, talk to your doctor about your meal plan. Check out Optum’s two-minute tips on meal planning.
- Challenge your brain and stimulate your mind.
It is important to practice some form of daily brain stimulation, as age can cause changes to brain size, vasculature, and cognition, according to the National Institute of Aging. A healthy life, both physically and mentally, may be one of the best defenses against the changes of an aging brain. Completing crossword puzzles or playing games, such as chess, can be fun ways to keep your mind active. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about changes in your memory and thinking. A physician can help determine if those changes are normal or something more serious.
- Nurture an interest.
People who engage in activities or hobbies may feel happier and healthier, according to the National Institute of Aging. Learning new skills may also help increase cognitive function. Music, theater, dance and creative writing are just some ways that older adults may be able to help improve their well-being through hobbies. These specific interests may help with memory, boost self-esteem, reduce stress, and increase social interactions. If you are looking for something new to learn, Optum’s Community Center offers arts and crafts classes such as jewelry making, painting, and dance that spark creativity and are also socially engaging.
- Stay connected with friends and family.
Time spent with family and friends can be very beneficial. The National Institute of Aging mentions that older people with strong social and community ties are more likely to live a longer life and cites research stating that isolation can contribute to high blood pressure. Even a virtual visit is better than no visit at all when it’s not possible to get together face-to-face.
- Discuss your family’s health history with family members.
Family health history is a record of diseases or medical conditions that may run in your family. You and your family members share genetic makeup, which can dictate certain conditions and disease states for which you may be at a higher risk. While you cannot change your genetics, you can adopt healthful lifestyle habits and behaviors that may be able to prevent or reduce your risk of disease in the future. Just because someone in your family has a chronic condition or disease does not mean that you will. There are certain lifestyle habits that can potentially reduce your risk of getting certain diseases.
- See your doctor.
Getting routine preventive care – through visits that are separate from those due to sickness, injury or for ongoing medical conditions – can help you stay well and catch problems earlier, helping you live a healthier and longer life. These visits should focus on things like disease prevention strategies (diet, regular physical activity and smoking cessation) and screenings that can check for early signs of diseases, improving the chances of catching certain conditions early when they may be easier to treat. Sharing your family health history with your health care provider can help them decide which screenings you may need and how soon.