May is Older Americans Month. People in the U.S. are living longer than ever before. Many older adults live active and healthy lives. But there’s no getting around one thing: as we age, our bodies and minds change. Though there are things you can do to stay healthy and active as you age, it is important to understand what to expect. Some changes may just be part of normal aging, while others may be a warning sign of a medical problem. It is important to know the difference, and to let your healthcare provider know if you have any concerns.
As you age, your heart rate becomes slightly slower, and your heart might become bigger. Your blood vessels and your arteries also become stiffer, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood through them. This can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems. To promote heart health:
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. Try walking, swimming or other activities you enjoy. Regular moderate physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure and lessen the extent of arterial stiffening.
- Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat and sodium. A healthy diet can help you keep your heart and arteries healthy.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking contributes to the hardening of your arteries and increases your blood pressure and heart rate. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit.
- Manage stress. Stress can take a toll on your heart. Take steps to reduce stress — or learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.
- Get enough sleep. Quality sleep plays an important role in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. People’s needs vary, but generally aim for 7 to 8 hours a night.
Memory might naturally become less efficient with age. It might take longer to learn new things or remember familiar words or names. To keep your memory sharp:
- Stay mentally active. Mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape—and might keep memory loss at bay. Do crossword puzzles. Take alternate routes when driving. Learn to play a musical instrument.
- Be social. Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others.
- Lower your blood pressure. Reducing high blood pressure might reduce vascular disease that might in turn reduce the risk for dementia. More research is needed to determine whether treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of dementia.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine and eat a healthy diet.
If you’re concerned about memory loss, consult your doctor.
For more information about healthy aging, visit these websites:
Sources: Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health