Where did the summer go? Once again, it's September, which always feels like the start of a new year—that going-back-to-school mentality (or reality).
As we leave behind the carefree days of summer, there's an opportunity to reevaluate and readjust our health habits, whether that involves getting fitter, losing weight, eating better or improving other everyday habits—all of which add up to reducing our risk of disease and disability.
It's always important to think about our health, but it becomes more pressing as we age, because aging brings a variety of health challenges. But those challenges can be met head-on with the right attitude and the right tools.
The fact that people in our country are living longer than ever before is encouraging, don't you think?
There are so many positive aspects about growing older. In fact, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatryreports that older people tend to be happier than younger people and, overall, had higher levels of satisfaction, happiness and well-being with lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress.
And good mental health leads to better physical health; it's that old mind-body connection. Poor emotional health affects your physical health by weakening your body's immune system and making it more vulnerable to illness. Being stressed or upset can lead to things like high blood pressure, upset stomach, general aches and pains, headaches, back pain, chest pain, change in appetite … the list goes on.
So, let's embrace getting older with a promise to age as healthfully as we possibly can. And we can celebrate the annual observance of Healthy Aging Month, begun 15 years ago by Carolyn Worthington, who reminds us it's never too late to find a new career, sport, passion or hobby!
1. Socialize. Good friends benefit your health by lifting your spirits and reducing your stress levels. Loneliness, research finds, can lead to serious health-related consequences. Having friends also keeps you mentally healthy. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that older women who maintained large social networks had a reduced risk of dementia. Help your health by staying social and surrounding yourself with good, supportive friends.
2. Exercise and stay active. Even if you don't like structured exercise, your agility, energy levels and strength—not to mention your mental health, sleep and ultimate level of independence—can still benefit from things like gardening, dancing, walking, water aerobics, yoga, tai chi and qi gong. It's never too late to start! Studies show that people who increase their activity later in life often gain greater physical and mental improvements than younger people.
3. Limit your fall risk. The risk of falling increases with age, so it's wise to minimize your chances of taking a spill. Exercise will improve your balance and strengthen the muscles that support you. In your home, remove any loose rugs and make sure there are stable handrails on stairs and adequate lighting in hallways and other dark areas.
4. Eat right. A balanced mix of foods is essential for good health and factors into reducing the risk of things like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, bone loss, anemia and some types of cancer. You can't go wrong with sensible portions of good-quality, high-fiber fruits, veggies and whole grains in your diet. These give you the nutrients necessary to maintain your muscles, bones and other vital organs and keep your energy level at its best.
5. Develop good bedtime habits. Sleep is essential to good health. Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine reports that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to things like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even premature death. Rituals—like baths, reading or playing music—can help ease you into sleep. Making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool will further enhance your sleep, a time when your body heals and repairs and restores its energy levels for the next day.
6. Volunteer. How can helping others help you? For one thing, it helps you feel more socially connected, and that's good for your health (see item #1). And for another, a growing body of research shows that it can help lower blood pressure, which contributes to heart disease, stroke and premature death.
7. Practice optimism. A positive outlook has a positive effect on your overall health and longevity; according to research, having an optimistic outlook early in life can be a predictor of better health and a lower risk of mortality. Partly cloudy or partly sunny? You have a choice in how you view things.