10 Steps to a Healthier Life

Let’s face it: We could all do a better job of taking care of ourselves. It can be tough to make time for what we need to do to stay healthy, especially as we get older.

Here’s a quick refresher and perhaps some things you hadn’t thought of for how to get and stay healthy, no matter your age.

health1. Eat right. There’s a tendency to believe that as long as you stay away from junk food, you’re probably doing a fairly good job of getting the nutrition you need. But in a culture saturated with processed and fast foods (including microwave-ready meals), that’s not necessarily the case.

2. Read labels to be sure you’re actually getting what you think you’re getting from food. Foods labeled low-fat may be loaded with high-fructose corn syrup to compensate, for example. A healthy, well-balanced meal plan includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat or no-fat dairy products. Whole, fresh foods are much better for you than pre-packaged, processed foods. And be sure to watch your portion sizes — there is such a thing as too much of a good thing!

3. Stay active and keep your weight in check. Keep moving! Research has shown that 150 minutes of exercise per week can go a long way toward helping you prevent or delay diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and experts now recommend not being sedentary for more than 90 minutes at a stretch. Studies show that people who are sedentary for long periods of time are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease or to die prematurely than those who are active. Not only will moving more help you keep off the extra pounds, it will help make you look and feel good. Exercise provides health benefits whether you lose weight or not. So walk, run, cycle, swim or dance your way to better health.

4. Manage stress. They call it the silent killer. We’re all coping with stress of one form or another. Whether it’s coming from work or you face problems at home, stress can cause physical as well as psychological and emotional damage. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends reducing the stress in your day by taking time out to practice yoga, listen to music or meditate; getting enough sleep; not skipping meals; remembering to breathe deeply; maintaining a positive attitude; talking to friends; and finding humor in life!

5. Don’t smoke. Not only does smoking cause lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses, it can harm those around you, such as spouses, children and grandchildren. It also contributes to aging and exacerbates other diseases, such as diabetes. If you smoke, ask your healthcare team for help quitting.

6. Use sunscreen. Don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays on a daily basis (not just at the beach). Some Medications, such as antibiotics, increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so remember to read the label or check with your pharmacist about taking extra precautions. If you’re going to be outdoors for long periods of time, put on a hat for extra protection.

7. Drink alcohol in moderation. A glass or two of wine is fine for most people, and may even provide some moderate health benefits. But overindulging in alcohol can lead to extra calories, depression and, for some people, substance abuse. If you find yourself using alcohol as a crutch or drinking alone, contact a member of your healthcare team for help.

8. Stay connected. Growing older can sometimes mean becoming more socially isolated. You may no longer go to work. Your kids are grown and friends and neighbors may move to another state to retire. But research shows there are strong correlations between social interactions and health and well-being among older adults, so be sure to make the effort to stay connected! Volunteer, take care of the grandchildren, join a club. You’ll have more friends, greater memories and better health to show for it.

9. Get your zzzs. Sleep plays an important, and often overlooked, role in maintaining good physical and mental health. Not getting enough sleep can raise your risk for chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease and high blood pressure. Lack of sleep also makes it harder for your body to fight infections and increases the risk of obesity.

How much sleep you get every night can also affect your mood, your ability to make decisions and your capacity to get along with other people. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep deficiency has been linked to depression, suicide and risk-taking behaviors.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule, avoiding artificial light (from TV and computer screens) and strenuous exercise an hour before bedtime, avoiding heavy meals and alcohol late at night, not drinking caffeinated beverages after lunchtime and making the last hour before bedtime a calm and quiet one can improve sleep patterns.

10. Have regular screenings. As you get older, health screenings can become more important. The sooner a condition is detected, the sooner you can begin to treat it.

The AARP lists eight screenings that people over the age of 50 should be sure not to miss, based on guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. These include a PSA test for men to check for prostate cancer (up until age 75), a mammogram every two years for women between the ages of 50 and 74 to check for breast cancer, a colonoscopy for people ages 50 to 75, cardiovascular health checks (blood, pressure, cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels and weight), a pap smear for women to test for cervical cancer every three years until age 65 or 70, a bone mineral density scan for osteoporosis beginning at age 65 for women and 70 for men, a depression screening and HIV/AIDs testing for anyone under the age of 64.

Hearing loss, which grows increasingly common as people age, is not recommended across the board for seniors, but rather only in individuals who exhibits symptoms.