Over the years, people have come together to pursue a healthier lifestyle to ensure they age as gracefully and healthily as possible. While healthy aging can seem complicated or even daunting, establishing simple habits and routines can be transformative. Together, we can work towards supporting one another in maintaining our physical and mental health and fostering a culture of active living and holistic wellness.
For me, as both a physician and Chief Medical Officer for Aetna, healthy aging means guiding people toward a life of vitality and wellness as they age. While this involves addressing medical concerns, it’s also about emphasizing the significance of preventive care, balanced nutrition, regular exercise and nurturing strong social connections.
Thankfully, there are a number of things we can do to maintain overall good health as we age. We can all take charge of our total health by keeping some simple tips in mind.
1: Prioritize preventive care
A recent study from Gallup found that more Americans than ever are delaying medical care because of costs. And even more alarming, they were more likely to report delaying treatment for a serious condition than a nonserious condition.
Scheduling regular screenings with your doctor is crucial for preventing and managing health conditions. Detecting and addressing health problems early can often prevent them from becoming more severe and harder to manage as we age. Be sure to review your Medicare Advantage plan, as many cover a variety of important screenings at no cost for things like breast cancer, diabetic eye exams, high blood pressure, colorectal cancer and more.
Being proactive about preventive care also includes keeping up to date with your vaccinations. For example, fall is flu season and the best way to prevent the flu is to get your annual flu shot. A flu shot can protect you and those you love.
2: Stay physically active
Regular physical exercise is a critical part of healthy aging. It helps keep muscles and bones strong, improves heart health, lowers the risk of chronic conditions, and can provide you with another social outlet, which is important for your total health. Exercise also boosts flexibility and balance, reducing the chances of falls. Plus, it's great for our mood and mental well-being. Overall, staying active can keep us feeling good and enjoying life as we age.
Medicare Advantage plans can also provide benefits related to exercise. Many Medicare Advantage plans offer fitness benefits at little to no cost. For example, at age 87, Aetna member Rita Yetsko started attending Zumba classes through a SilverSneakers fitness membership at no additional cost and was named the SilverSneakers 2023 national Member of the Year.
3: Manage mental health
Good mental health is essential to your overall health, especially as we age. With age comes additional life changes that might be difficult to navigate – from retiring, managing chronic conditions, losing loved ones and experiencing increased social isolation. These factors can all have a significant impact on mental health.
The National Institute on Aging suggests ways to handle stress and loneliness, two factors closely associated with mental health. They recommend trying meditation, staying active and engaging in hobbies or activities you enjoy. Writing in a journal can help challenge negative thoughts and talking to friends and family offers positive coping. Additionally, staying connected can make you happier and improve your well-being. Chat with friends and family, either in person or on the phone, and set aside time every day to stay in touch.
According to the National Council on Aging, older Americans make up 12% of the American population but account for 18% of all suicide deaths. Depression in this population is a growing health care crisis as this segment of our population ages, and ways to better manage the mental well-being challenges of this population are critical.
4: Take medications as prescribed
Life's demands can lead to confusion or forgetfulness in taking medications, especially when facing new conditions and treatment plans. The CDC reports that one in five prescriptions goes unfilled, and even when filled, about half are taken incorrectly.
Ensuring you are taking medications correctly (and as often as prescribed) is crucial to maximizing their effectiveness. Simple strategies like taking your medication at the same time every day or tying it to a daily routine like brushing your teeth or getting ready for bed can help you remember to take your medications. You can also try putting your medications in pill organizers to make it easier to take the right dose at the right time. It’s also important to discard old medications to eliminate confusion with your medication plan.
Check with your pharmacist to see if they can review your medications with you to help ensure you’re taking them properly and answer any questions.
5: Prevent falls
Every year, older adults report 36 million falls, and 3 million are treated in emergency departments for fall-related injuries. The National Council on Aging offers six key steps to prevent falls. These include maintaining a good balance and exercise routine, checking your vision and hearing every year and ensuring your home is safe from fall risks, like loose rugs or exposed cords. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer home visits to assess your surroundings for potential risks, as well as vision and hearing benefits that can increase your awareness of your environment. Review your health plan to see what fall prevention tools and benefits are available.
Supporting our overall health includes being aware that our health care needs will change as we age. Keeping the above tips in mind and scheduling regular appointments with your doctor to assess changing needs can be the keys to staying healthy as we age.