The growth of the number of adults over age 65 is unprecedented in the history of the United States. The National Institute on Aging reports that by 2030, almost one of every five Americans will be 65 years or older. In the next five years, 65+ year olds will outnumber children under 5. This population change is driven by the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, and an increase in life expectancy of older adults.
With this demographic shift, greater attention is being given to the healthy aging.
What is healthy aging?
Healthy aging is adapting to the physical, social and emotional changes that occur with age. It is preventing or managing chronic diseases that occur with age, like heart disease or dementia.
What do we know about healthy aging?
Exercise is the key to a healthy lifestyle at any age. Multiple studies have shown an association between exercise and disease prevention. It doesn't have to be high impact running or mountain biking. Walking as little as 20-to-30 minutes a day for five days a week is beneficial. For those who cannot walk, resistance or "chair" exercises have proven beneficial. Regular physical activity can prevent heart disease, improve blood sugar levels, prevent falls, regulate mood and may prevent some forms of dementia.
Maintaining connection to friends, family and your community is an important part of healthy aging as well. Aging is often associated with losses of loved ones and of the ability to live independently. Friendships and other social connections can help buffer the losses that we face as we age. Some studies have linked social engagement with a lower risk of dementia. Social connection can be as simple as having coffee with a friend, performing volunteer work, belonging to a club or going to church.
Stimulating your brain with new experiences, or challenging puzzles and games may reduce the risk or slow progression of dementia. Taking a community education class or attending a lecture or musical performance keeps your mind engaged. For those who have hearing and/or vision impairments that limit the ability to participate in these activities, treatment of these conditions can improve quality of life, prevent falls and improve cognitive function.
Treatment of chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure will decrease risk of end-stage kidney and heart disease, and may decrease risk of dementia. Many of the lifestyle changes needed to control these diseases (like a healthy diet and exercise) also promote healthy aging. Over time, control of chronic conditions with medication and life style changes will prevent disability and lengthen life.
There are no pills or herbal remedies to reverse the aging process, but we know more about factors that affect how people age. The good news is that older adults are now living with less disability and more independence. So, if you are able, take a walk outside and enjoy the summer weather, and bring a friend. It will benefit you now and later in life.
Editor's note:?Dr. Katriina Hopper is a board certified internal medicine and geriatric medicine provider at Portage Health. Learn more about Dr. Hopper at portagehealth.org/hopper.