3 things to know about aging

Creating a healthy aging checklist now can help you live at home longer as you age

Stock image (laflor, laflor/CCA Health Michigan)

Healthy aging doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Knowing where to start and what to consider is key to planning. A few simple, yet vital practices can go a long way when it comes to improving your outcomes as you age.

Dr. Debra Sylvester, director of geriatrics at CCA Health Michigan, offers three things to know about aging.

1. What are most important things you need to have as you age?

Dr. Sylvester said aging well, in general, requires advance planning and many people don’t start this process until they have to. Sometimes it can be too late.

The foundation for healthy aging requires that peoples’ needs are addressed holistically. It is done by looking at all aspects of health, including physical, mental, and emotional well- being. A few simple, yet vital practices can go a long way when it comes to healthy aging.

  • Social support systems. These are not just valuable, but essential to aging well. For example, as we age, it’s critical that we tell our family and trusted friends about our wishes. Where do we want to live? What do we want to do? This support system will be critical to achieving these wishes. Socialization with family and friends will also be important as you age because it can help reduce feelings of loneliness and keep your mind sharp. It’s important to build a network of friends through activities like book clubs, senior centers, or the local library. We all need people we can lean on.
  • Have a trusted relationship with your primary care provider. This means going to your appointments, being prepared, writing questions down, bringing medications with you, and making sure to get routine vaccinations and preventive screenings.
  • Exercise. This the cornerstone to healthy aging, but you don’t have to run a marathon to make an impact. Rather, take a walk outside to increase your heart rate, use resistance bands to maintain healthy muscles, and incorporate chair exercises into your daily routine to improve your flexibility.

2. Is there a certain age where it’s best to have those things on a checklist?

Dr. Sylvester said sometime after the age of 50 is a great time to start a checklist that can help you plan for “aging well”. This is an important time because in our 50s and 60s, people often develop chronic conditions that can start to impact their lives.

Implementing small and consistent lifestyle changes can result in significant improvement in both physical and mental health.

Around this time, people are thinking about retirement, specifically what they’ll be doing after they retire, whether they’ll want to down-size their home, or at what age they’ll be able to stop working all-together. But many people don’t consider if their health will impact these plans.

Planning now for the future can make a big difference and give people peace of mind. For example, as you age and lose your mobility, you may need grab bars or ramps in your home, and you may no longer be able to walk up flights of stairs.

Rugs, furniture, and clutter around your home may also lead to fall risks in the future. Simple home modifications made today, or at least budgeted for today, can help you live in your home longer.

The earlier you plan, the better.

3. How expensive are those checklist items?

Dr. Sylvester said planning to age well doesn’t have to be expensive.

For instance, spending time with family and friends in order to maintain your social network can be free!

Incorporating more exercise into your day can also be free or low-cost. You’ll find plenty of free videos online that can teach you how to use your own chairs at home or inexpensive resistance bands. Many senior centers in your community may also offer free or low-cost classes that can help you socialize more and keep both your mind and body strong.

Making small home modifications, such as clearing clutter, can also be free or low cost. And in terms of building a relationship with your provider and keeping up with your preventive care, just be sure to shop around for a Medicare health plan that offers the services you need at a low cost.

Dr. Sylvester has outlined even more healthy aging tips in this checklist.

To learn more about CCA Health Michigan, visit www.ccahealthmi.org.