Many factors influence how we age, and whether it’s in a healthy way. Unfortunately, some of these (such as genetics) are out of our control. The good news? Other factors — such as exercise and physical activity, a healthy diet, going to the doctor regularly, staying up to date on vaccines, taking your medications as prescribed, and taking care of our mental health — are all within our reach.
As we get older, our immune systems tend to weaken, putting us at higher risk for certain diseases, infections, and complications. However, there are actions you can take to help manage your health as you age while maintaining independence and quality of life.
Eating well is not just about your weight. Making healthier food choices can help protect you from certain health problems as you age and may even help improve brain function. The best part? You don’t have to make it complicated! Follow an eating pattern that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. If you feel overwhelmed by all the choices, start small. Try making small changes like introducing fish and more leafy greens into your weekly meals. Even if you haven’t given your diet much thought before, making those changes now can still improve your well-being as an older adult. ¹
Getting the proper nutrients and vitamins from food and eating the right number of calories for your weight and exercise level can contribute to health aging. ² If you are concerned about your eating habits, talk with a doctor about ways you can make better food choices.
As people age, muscle function often declines, and you may find yourself not having the energy to do everyday activities. This makes exercise and physical activity an important foundation of healthy aging. If you are new to exercising, start simple by taking a brisk walk each day. You can also do activities like yoga that do not require any special equipment. As you become more active, you should start to feel more energized after exercising rather than exhausted. You can still exercise even if you have a health condition like arthritis, high blood pressure, or diabetes. For most older adults with chronic conditions, activities like walking, riding a bike, swimming, and weightlifting are safe with your doctor’s consent. ³
Immunizations are not just for young children. Protection from certain childhood vaccines can wear off over time or your risk factors for certain diseases may change with age. On top of that, our immune systems can have a harder time fighting off diseases we are exposed to, making vaccination more important. All adults need immunizations to help them prevent getting and spreading serious diseases that could result in poor health. In addition to the influenza and Td or Tdap vaccine that are needed at regular intervals throughout a person’s life, adults should also get: ⁴
Shingles vaccine, which protects against shingles and complications from the disease (recommended for healthy adults ages 50 and older)
Hepatitis B vaccine, which provides protection from hepatitis B and complications including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death (recommended for all adults ages 19 and older, especially those 60 and older with risk factors for hepatitis B infection)
It is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about staying up to date on your vaccines and which ones are recommended for you based on your risk factors.