Growing old should be a healthy experience

Aging is an inevitable part of life, but getting older doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting less healthy.

Remember fitness guru Jack LaLanne?

He followed a daily diet and exercise routine well into his 90’s, and encouraged others to do the same.

With September being Healthy Aging Month, it’s the perfect time to look at some of the steps we can take today to help ensure a healthier tomorrow.

For example, you’ve probably heard the old saying “you are what you eat.” Getting the right nutrition is important at any age, but as we get older, there are essential nutrients that we need to help maintain brain function, vision, and our muscles and bones.

According to WebMD, eating a wide variety of foods can help provide the nutrients that are necessary for healthy aging.

For example, protein from poultry, fish, eggs or egg substitutes, soy, and limited amounts of nuts and low-fat meat and dairy can help maintain and rebuild muscles.

Low-fat dairy is also a great source of calcium and vitamin D, which are important for healthy bones.

Some foods have also been found to help boost memory and brain function.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends foods such as broccoli, cabbage and dark leafy greens, as well as dark berries such as cherries, blackberries and blueberries. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and tuna, have also been shown to be good for brain health.

Many of these foods, along with foods such as sweet potatoes and carrots that contain beta carotene, also promote eye health.

Please also remember that as we age, our daily energy needs typically decrease, so we need fewer calories.

Your doctor or a dietician can help determine a recommended daily calorie intake for your age and lifestyle.

Staying active is an important aspect of healthy aging.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), staying active improves strength and balance, which can help you prevent injuries and stay independent.

HHS recommends two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity each week, like walking briskly, dancing or raking leaves.

Strengthening activities such as using resistance bands or hand weights and balancing activities such as yoga or tai chi can also help prevent falls and other injuries.

Something else to consider as we age is changing sleep patterns.

With retirement, for example, we may get up later in the morning, stay up later at night or travel more – all of which can disrupt our normal sleep cycles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults, even older adults, should get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Sufficient sleep, according to the CDC, is increasingly being recognized as an essential aspect of chronic disease prevention and health promotion.

Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, may also disrupt sleep in older adults.

If you are having trouble sleeping, speak to your health care provider for help in getting the proper amount of sleep.

Finally, keep in mind the old saying that “prevention is the best medicine.”

That’s true for older adults, too.

According to the CDC, however, only 25 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 are up to date on preventive services and less than 50 percent of adults 65 or older are up to date.

Among the preventive services that the CDC recommends for older adults are annual flu vaccines and routine colorectal cancer and breast cancer screenings.

Health insurers such as Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BCNEPA) cover many of these preventive services, often with no cost to the patient.

BCNEPA’s Blue Health Solutions wellness program also offers personalized health coaches, dieticians, nurses, and other health professionals to help older adults eat right, exercise and get recommended preventive services.

Whether you are a young adult, older adult or middle aged, take time during Healthy Aging Month to learn more about the ways you can prepare your body for a healthy future.

Dr. John Viteritti, DO, is an emergency room physician and medical director for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.