Aging gracefully – happiness matters

Stephanie Fitzsimmons Sexton

September is Healthy Aging Month

Studies indicate that our approach to the world makes a big difference in the quality of our lives. Negativity and anger lead to more of the same and are certain to create sick feelings within ourselves. On the other hand, those who approach their days with a positive attitude, feeling grateful for what they have, are much more likely to lead healthier and happier lives.

As a nurse who treats the elderly and has witnessed the way that personal outlook affects their lives – as well as their health – I offer our seniors the following simple advice:

– Reframe the way you look at life and its many situations, and try to adopt a positive plan of action. For instance, become a volunteer. Agencies that do great work abound and are eager to take on more seasoned older helpers who have been around the block a time or two. That’s because you have valuable lessons to impart. And you will feel good about yourself, too. Knowing that you are helping others can yield huge amounts of personal satisfaction.

– Do what you can to avoid stress. Stress can accelerate aging. It can trigger a fatal heart attack, drain one’s health, and generate age-related diseases. Yoga, walking, meditation, exercise, coloring – whatever the activity – find an enjoyable outlet to minimize stress.

– Connect with friends and family. Social networks are critical to staying vibrant.
It is well-established that social connections lift the mood and help keep depression at bay.

– Eat as close to a simple, fresh, natural diet as possible. That means fewer processed foods – i.e. those with ingredients lists that typically contain excess sugar, salt, and unnatural chemicals. Focus on making healthy food and beverage choices from all five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy – to get the nutrients your body needs.

– Eat the proper amount of calories for you based on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. Building a healthier eating style can help you avoid becoming overweight and will reduce risk of ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

– Get enough regular, moderate exercise. Your body was made to move, not sit all the time. “Move it or lose it” is an important anti-aging principle. Find an exercise that you enjoy and easily fits your schedule. Get an exercise buddy. He or she can help motivate you.

– Reconnect to nature. Walk in the park. Or perhaps buy some seedlings and grow some vegetables that you like at home. A lot of joy, happiness and plain good food can result from just a few seedlings. Is it difficult to get on the ground? Plant seedlings in pots and place them on an outdoor table. Plus, you will benefit from all of that clean fresh air.

– Vaccines are essential. I imagine and hope your personal M.D. will review the vaccines you need during your annual physical examination. I strongly urge that seniors discuss the flu and pneumonia vaccines with their doctor. The 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Vital Statistics Report lists flu and pneumonia as the eighth-leading cause of death among older adults. The flu vaccine will not eliminate your chance of contracting influenza, but it may lessen the severity of the flu should you become ill.

– Age-appropriate screenings are recommended for the elderly. Please take advantage of these often free screenings when they are offered at health fairs and by area health providers. The CDC has a wonderful site on which you can enter your age and health recommendations for disease prevention. Go to: https://www.cdc.gov/prevention/

– Plan. Make a decision about where you want to live in your later years. Even seemingly simple health issues such as a bone fracture can create a lot of change later in life. Be prepared. Know where you would like to go for rehabilitation, if necessary. If you do not have a plan, it is guaranteed that someone else will make those decisions for you, so visit facilities, get opinions – do your homework before a crisis hits.

Aging is complex and many people do age well. But take charge. Prepare. You will be better off – and so will your loved ones – if you take care of your present and future health.

Stephanie Fitzsimmons Sexton, EdD, MSN, RN, APRN –BC, is nurse manager of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System geriatrics services at the adult communities in Monroe.

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