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Three habits to become a happy, healthy senior
Aging gracefully requires a plan.
“You have to set yourself up for healthy aging,” says Helen Coons, Ph.D., and clinical psychologist at Rose Medical Center. “Oftentimes we see very educated and even resource-rich people do no planning for their aging.”
Geriatric experts recommend three winning strategies that anyone can adopt.
Good health trumps most factors when it comes to enjoying a long life. Balanced diet, good sleep habits, timely health screenings and solid medical care are undeniably important. But perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself is to keep moving.
Seniors want to stay independent, age in place and continue performing daily tasks for themselves. Those who succeed are different in many ways, but they all have one thing in common, says Emily Wilkinson, occupational therapy student coordinator at Swedish Medical Center.
“They have stayed active their entire lives,” Wilkinson says. “They usually eat well, but they are active every day.”
Sport, dance or exercise routines are great options, but so are walking, gardening, house cleaning — any action. Good circulation, balance, bone strength, muscle mass, joint flexibility and mental acuity all depend on maintaining motion.
“Life is motion. Motion is life. Joints and muscles like to be moved,” says Dr. Nate Faulkner, a surgeon with Colorado Orthopedic Consultants. “Underuse impairs joint health as much as overuse.”
Old age can be experienced as a series of losses — everything from physical strength and reliable bodily functions to careers and loved ones. Successful seniors counteract loss by continually adding new purpose, skills and social contacts, Coons said. They work or volunteer part time. They participate. They stay current.
“Continuing to do what is meaningful and important to you is vitally important to the quality of aging,” Coons said. “Staying connected with friends, family and community maintains hopefulness and minimizes isolation.”
Paula Thomas, a University of New Mexico geriatric researcher and a registered nurse, spent two decades studying seniors and focusing on what made for great old age.
“I assumed it was going to be good genes, healthy habits and relatively low stress,” Thomas says. “But most of our thriving seniors had as much adversity in their lives as anyone. They are resilient.”
Most of their strategies involve maintaining strong interests and social bonds. “Intellectual curiosity is evident among all happiest seniors,” Thomas says. “And they all have confidantes — a friend, relative or spouse they can laugh with and tell anything.”
If older adults become anxious or depressed, it’s not a sign of the natural aging process. It needs to be treated as early as possible, Coons says.
Take and Keep Control
“Maintain as much control over your lives as possible,” Coons says.
Consider where you want to be living in 10 or 20 years. Start saving to make your home accessible and to reduce the likelihood of falls. Grants are available to modify homes — safety bars, ramps, step-in showers and baths — at no charge to middle- and lower-income seniors.
Think ahead to services you might need — shopping, cooking, cleaning, gardening, home repairs or transportation. Many nonprofits provide or coordinate these services for free.
All adults should explain to family the type of medical care they want if they’re ever too sick or injured to speak for themselves. Advance care directives, living wills or durable power of attorney allow you to decide.
Emergencies happen. Know whom to call. Have a network in place among friends, family members and neighbors who can regularly check on you.
Did You Know?
Nearly 90 percent of baby boomers want to age in place in their own homes, according to the AARP Research Center.
Tags: aging, aging parents, Rose, Swedish
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