By Johnnie S. Wijewardane, Ph.D., APRN, FNP-BC, FAANP
The aging process – it’s something we all face. Instead of dreading it as so many do, I recommend embracing aging as a new stage of life where you can build strength and happiness. The world’s older population demographic is increasing faster than ever, and this pattern impacts our entire society. Shifting our perspective from extending lifespan to extending healthspan helps change the focus to being active and mentally healthy. The United Nations declared 2021-2030 the “Decade of Healthy Aging,” a global collaboration to improve the lives of older people. As we age, our goal should be to maintain our bodies in the healthiest state possible. Becoming and staying healthy means reducing modifiable risks that might affect physical and mental health.
The easiest ways to maintain health through reducing risk factors and fostering healthy aging include:
- Eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and adequate proteins, such as lean meats or plant-based proteins including tofu, edamame, lentils and beans.
- Staying active.
- Engaging in social activities.
Recent research found that diet contributes to preventing age-related diseases and preserving overall good mental and physical health as we age. Leafy greens and other vegetables, nuts, fruits, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, plant-based proteins and olive oil significantly optimize health and aging. Diets rich in these foods help achieve and maintain a healthy weight by giving your body the nutrients it needs to maintain lean muscle. Making these foods your primary diet may reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and inflammation. Steps like these may also improve brain health and reduce the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Being physically active helps stave off physical decline by maintaining lean muscle mass, improving core strength and reducing the risk of falls. Activities like walking, dancing, yoga and muscle strengthening can improve physical and mental function in older adults. Participating in exercise groups or dancing classes also offers social opportunities to engage with others.
Staying engaged with others and being involved in activities where you find purpose may decrease the risk of mental decline and depression. Keeping mentally active through reading, traveling, playing with grandchildren, painting and cooking can keep your mind sharp and reduce stress. Being mentally and socially engaged may include activities like playing an instrument, going to church, singing in a choir and playing bridge.
Whether you are age 40 or 80, you can begin your journey to healthy aging by making small changes to your diet and activities. These changes can produce big payoffs! Consider seeing a nurse practitioner, who can partner with you to help you make the right choices and get the care you need to stay healthy as you age.