By Keri Collins Lewis
MSU Ag Communications
Getting older can make chasing after the grandkids tougher, but positive choices now can make it possible to keep up with them for years to come.
David Buys, health specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said that physical, mental and social wellness each play an important role in aging well.
“Staying physically active and eating healthy foods are lifestyle choices that pay big dividends over the span of your life,” Buys said. “Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest older adults should engage in about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, or about 30 minutes per day five days a week, to maintain health.”
Activities such as brisk walking, dancing, gardening, hiking or swimming can keep adults active as they age.
“Muscle-strengthening activities that work each major muscle group two days each week also help adults maintain their strength, while inactivity allows muscles to weaken,” Buys said.
Healthy nutritional choices are a key component of wellness.
Buys said the National Institutes of Health found people had better health outcomes when they chose diets with more high-fiber cereal, reduced-fat dairy, fruit, nonwhite bread, whole grains, beans and legumes, vegetables and less red and processed meats, fast food and soda.
“Lifestyle choices are important, but adults also need to engage effectively with their health care providers,” he said. “Know your numbers — your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar — and what your doctor recommends for you. Keep track of your medical information and take charge of your health care.”
Buys recommended getting the proper health screenings and taking a list of questions and all medications when visiting the doctor.
“It can be hard to remember all of the different medicines, so take the bottles with you to make sure the doctor knows what you’re taking,” Buys said. “You can also take someone with you to be a second set of ears to hear to what the doctor tells you.”
Staying engaged in interesting activities will help preserve mental wellness. Buys said people who try to learn new skills can keep their minds working well.
“Stimulating your mind with crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other challenging games keeps your brain sharp,” Buys said. “Seeking out new activities can reduce the risk of dementia, but doing what you enjoy can also help fend off depression. If you like quilting, reading or playing a musical instrument, keep it up. Stay involved in activities that bring you joy.”
While some adults feel getting older means they are no longer as useful to those around them, they have a lot of wisdom to share with their families and communities.
“Staying active in the community and in social groups is shown to lengthen your life,” Buys said. “Whether it’s connecting through technology, attending local events, travelling, or keeping a paid or volunteer job, social wellness contributes to a longer life, as well as a more satisfying one.”
Frances Barham of Steens is a grandmother to seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She said they are great motivators for her.
“I know from experience, even when you are not physically well in old age, you can still be a positive influence,” Barham said. “I feel mental health and especially good attitudes are very important. You learn a lot of patience when you can’t get out much because of physical limitations.”
Barham said her grandchildren are older now — most of them are in college or older — and when they come to visit, they enjoy talking about her early life and memories of visiting her when they were younger.
“You would be surprised at how the simple life we led is so interesting to kids now,” she said. “I encourage older people to share their stories with young people and practice being positive. Good health is very important, but good attitudes and interaction with younger people mean a lot even when physical health is not good.”
For more information on aging well, visit http://www.nihseniorhealth.gov.