Physical Health for Seniors: Why It's Important & How to Maintain It
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Taking care of your body and properly managing your physical health is a vital part of helping ensure that you truly enjoy your senior years. After all, you probably want the ability to spend your retirement participating in fun activities—including some that you may have been dreaming of and planning for most of your adult life. But you can only do that if you feel well. So take a look at the following sections. You'll find out how you can make that happen, and you'll discover additional benefits that you may experience by taking good care of yourself. Learn more about:
Equipping yourself with this essential knowledge can help you feel great and full of life during your senior years instead of like you're simply getting by.
Common Physical Health Issues for Seniors
It's natural for your physical health to change as you age. It's simply a part of growing older. But you can take actions today that may help you maintain or improve your physical health as well as prevent or slow down the onset of certain conditions and diseases. Explore some of the most common physical ailments that seniors experience below, and uncover useful tips for preventing and managing them.
Heart disease—Over 11 percent of American adults have been diagnosed with heart disease, and almost half are at risk of developing it.1 So it's certainly a top concern for a lot of seniors. It's important to discuss any concerns and potential signs and symptoms with your doctor because early detection is a key factor for preventing heart disease-related death.
Heart disease itself can often be prevented by getting regular exercise, controlling your weight, not smoking, monitoring your glucose level, lowering your LDL cholesterol level, and managing your blood pressure. Depending on your risk factors and family history, your doctor may also recommend taking a daily aspirin.
Arthritis—Almost half of adults over the age of 65 have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis.1 So learning how to prevent and manage arthritis is a common priority for many seniors. Controlling your weight, getting regular exercise, adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, avoiding injuries, and protecting your joints are all things that you can do to prevent it.
If you're diagnosed with arthritis, then be sure to seek treatment early on because that can be one of the most important factors for slowing down its progression. Along with taking medications, arthritis pain can sometimes be managed with topical products, orthotic shoes, hot and cold therapies, TENS treatments, exercise, acupuncture, and steroid, hyaluronic acid, and trigger point injections.
Cancer—Many different kinds of cancer can affect seniors, but skin, lung, breast, prostate, colorectal, bladder, kidney, lymphoma, and leukemia are the most prevalent types. Prevention and early detection are the two most important considerations when it comes to cancer. Regular medical screenings and certain vaccines can help prevent cancer from developing. Additional preventative measures include protecting your skin from the sun, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, eating a healthy diet, managing your weight, and getting regular exercise.
Even if you're diagnosed with terminal cancer, you may have a number of treatment options presented to you. So it's important to understand all of your different choices. In addition, you'll likely want to learn about support services and coping mechanisms related to your emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and financial well-being.
Respiratory disorders—Some of the most common conditions in this category include COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and pneumonia. There are steps that you can take to improve your lung health in order to help prevent and manage respiratory disorders. For instance, avoid common lung infections by washing your hands regularly, avoiding touching your face, and staying current with your vaccines (i.e., influenza, pneumococcal, and pertussis vaccines). You should also avoid smoking and limit exposure to air pollutants and chemicals. Additionally, regular exercise helps strengthen your lungs.
How you manage a respiratory condition depends on the specific diagnosis. For example, bronchitis or pneumonia may need to be treated with steroids and antibiotics, whereas asthma may require regular, long-term use of an inhaler. Your doctor will discuss your different treatment options, and you'll also want to learn about triggers to avoid that could make your condition worse.
Osteoporosis—It's estimated that more than 16 percent of adults over the age of 65 have osteoporosis at the femur neck or lumbar spine. Additionally, almost half of seniors are at risk due to low bone mass.1 So it's important to know what steps to take in order to prevent osteoporosis.
You can maintain strong bones by regularly participating in weight-bearing exercise, eating enough calcium and vitamin D, eating foods that are recommended for bone health, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. Many of the preventative measures mentioned here are also recommended for osteoporosis management. Your doctor may also prescribe medications in order to help manage it.
Diabetes—More than 25 percent of seniors have diabetes, so it's essential to learn how to prevent and manage it.1 Exercising regularly, managing your weight, eating healthy foods, avoiding processed and high-sugar foods, limiting your alcohol intake, and not smoking are all excellent ways to prevent diabetes. If you're considered at-risk or have a family history of diabetes, then you should also have regular checkups with your doctor in order to monitor your blood sugar levels.
Many of those preventative measures are also used as management tools for people who are diagnosed with diabetes. Depending on the severity of it, your doctor may also prescribe medications, such as insulin. Additionally, many diabetics have to self-test their blood sugar several times throughout the day to make sure that their levels are staying consistent.
Stroke—Each year, almost 800,000 Americans have strokes, and nearly half of adults are at risk for a stroke.1 As with many other diseases, prevention and early detection are essential for protecting yourself from a stroke. The top risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. So managing those three things can make a huge difference to your health. So can participating in regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Stroke recovery is different for every individual, so if you do have a stroke, it's important to follow your healthcare providers' instructions.
Cholesterol disorder—A lot of seniors have high LDL cholesterol levels. (LDL is known as "bad" cholesterol.) But you can keep your cholesterol levels under control by eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and not smoking. Diet, especially, plays a big part in preventing and managing high cholesterol. You need to eat healthy fats, avoid trans fats, choose whole grains, consume lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and limit your alcohol intake. If you're not able to control your cholesterol through those measures, then your doctor may prescribe medication.
Influenza—The flu can hit seniors hard because their immune systems tend to weaken as they age. That's why seniors have a higher rate of flu-related complications and hospitalizations. But you can take actions to help prevent the flu. For example, the CDC recommends that all seniors get a yearly flu shot (i.e., influenza vaccine). In addition to that, you can also boost your immune system by washing your hands regularly, eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, and not smoking. If you do get the flu, then make sure you stay hydrated and seek medical attention early (if you feel that it's required).
Falls—More than 25 percent of seniors experience falls every year. Additionally, falling once doubles your chances of falling again, and 20 percent of falls result in serious injuries.1 So it's a good idea to implement measures to help protect yourself against falling. Have a family member help you assess the safety of your home. Get rid of any hazards, like throw rugs, and make sure that you have appropriate hand rails. Ensure that your blood pressure levels are under control. (Low blood pressure in elderly people can cause dizziness and lead to falls.) Also, be sure to get enough vitamin D, take part in balance and muscle-strengthening exercises regularly, buy proper footwear, and take care of any vision problems that you may have.
Obesity—Over one-third of older adults are obese, so obesity is definitely a concerning issue for many seniors.1 That's because obesity can lead to many other health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. So managing your weight through measures like implementing a healthy diet, participating in regular exercise, and getting help from a personal trainer and/or nutritionist can be essential for maintaining your overall health.
Gum disease—This condition is also known as periodontal disease, and it affects approximately 70 percent of adults over the age of 65.1 So, what kind of senior dental care can prevent and treat it? Seeing your dentist yearly and brushing and flossing your teeth daily are two of the most important steps. If you're diagnosed with gum disease, then you may need additional dental treatments, surgeries, or medications.
Shingles—This condition is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus stays dormant in people's bodies and can reactivate years later for unknown reasons. The CDC recommends that all seniors receive the shingles vaccine in order to help prevent the virus from reactivating. Shingles is often treated with anti-viral medication, but it needs to be started as soon as possible. Pain medications and topical products can also help relieve the pain and itch from the rash.
Kidney disease—Older adults—specifically those who are older than 70—are the most affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD).1 Controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure levels are the two most important factors for keeping your kidneys healthy. If you have a family history of CKD, then your doctor may order occasional screening tests in order to catch any problems early on. When CKD is present, your doctor will work with you to treat the causes and complications. And, depending on the severity of your illness, you may have to undergo dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Eye disease—A visit to your eye doctor—at least every couple of years—can help prevent certain conditions like cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Seniors are at a higher risk of developing those conditions than people in other age groups, so it's important to stay on top of your vision health. Along with regular eye exams, you should also incorporate leafy greens into your diet and wear sunglasses that block out UV rays. If you develop any problems or vision changes, then contact your eye doctor immediately rather than waiting for your next appointment.
Sleep problems—The older you get, the more difficult it can be to sleep properly. Seniors often have problems related to falling asleep, staying asleep, sleeping deeply, and waking too early. Those things can lead to daytime fatigue and start a cycle that eventually leads to other health problems due to mental and physical exhaustion from lack of sleep. You can prevent that from happening by establishing a regular sleep schedule, practicing pre-sleep rituals (such as dimming the lights and turning off digital devices), exercising regularly, and limiting caffeine and alcohol during the evening.
Mobility problems—Decreased mobility is a common issue for many seniors. You may experience unsteadiness on your feet, find it harder to get in and out of a chair or bed, have more difficulty walking around, or begin falling or having close calls. Mobility issues can arise for any number of reasons, but you can do certain things to prevent them as you age. The two biggest factors are eating well and exercising often in order to keep your bones, joints, and muscles healthy and strong. Also, work with your doctor and other healthcare professionals to address any conditions or diseases that may be impairing your ability to move around.
4 Great Ways to Maintain and Improve Your Overall Physical Health
1. Properly manage your medical ailments, conditions, or diseases. Along with making sure that you're receiving the proper medical care for any health issues you may have, you should also learn about the types of daily activities that can help you manage your medical conditions. For example, certain types of exercise can reduce your blood sugar and eliminate the need to take insulin. And small changes to your diet can improve your metabolic rate and make it easier to lose weight. (You can take off those few extra pounds that may be hurting your back and knees.)
2. Get an appropriate amount of exercise. Regular physical activity is highly beneficial for almost every senior, regardless of age or health status. Seniors should be incorporating aerobic, balance, flexibility, and muscle-strengthening exercises into their daily or weekly routines. Doing so can provide you with countless benefits. Recommended exercise guidelines exist, but you can adjust any exercise or activity to suit your own fitness level. (There's even a discipline called chair yoga that adapts traditional poses for people who have difficulty getting up and down from the floor.) If you have any concerns about an exercise routine or activity, then be sure to discuss it with your doctor prior to starting it.
3. Practice good nutrition. Feeding your body well and drinking enough water will help you feel better. Good nutrition can give you more energy, prevent illnesses and diseases, and assist with safe and sensible senior weight loss, if necessary. All of those things can have a huge positive effect on your overall physical health.
4. Get enough sleep and rest. Just like your body needs activity, it also needs time to recharge. Resting when you need to and getting a good sleep at night can help improve your energy levels so that you're able to be more physically active during the day. Additionally, getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night can help prevent certain illnesses and diseases. It also gives your body a chance to recover from the day's activities.
8 Reasons to Care for Your Physical Health
If you're still unclear about why it's important to maintain your physical health, then check out these eight reasons. Among other things, they'll probably motivate you to start implementing a healthy diet and regular exercise routine. They're all about helping you feel your best.
1. Ward off heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other conditions and diseases like those discussed above. Along with lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer, regular physical activity also helps you manage your weight and lowers your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
2. Maintain and improve your mobility and flexibility. As people grow older, they often experience limitations in their functional abilities because their mobility and flexibility decrease. As a result, once-simple activities like cleaning house, running errands, and playing with grandkids can become challenging. But regular physical activity can prevent that from happening. Incorporating a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises into your weekly routine can also help improve your balance and lower the risk of falling.
3. Reduce bone, joint, and muscle aches and pains. Regular physical activity has been shown to help maintain your bone density, lower your chances of having a hip fracture, and improve arthritis symptoms. It also helps you maintain and build your muscle mass. That can result in less neck, shoulder, and back pain, in addition to other benefits like improved balance and increased overall strength.
4. Feel better mentally. Regular exercise offers more than physical benefits. It can also improve your mental health. Studies have shown that physical activity reduces your risk of depression and improves your judgment, learning, and thinking abilities.
5. Improve your sleep. Exercising regularly and managing your weight can both help improve your sleep. Along with falling asleep more easily, you may find that you sleep deeper and longer. That's great news considering that many seniors report more frequent sleep issues as they age.
6. Increase your energy levels. It's no secret that people often feel they have less energy as they age. But physical activity can help keep your energy levels high. That's because exercise improves your heart and lung health and helps provide nutrients and oxygen to your body's tissues.
7. Keep your independence. All of the benefits of caring for your physical health can add up to one thing: being able to live on your own for longer. If your health is good, your mind is well, and you feel well, then you're more likely to be able to live independently, whether that's in your current home, in a 55+ community, or in some other type of independent or assisted living community.
8. Save money on healthcare costs. It's simple: Good physical health results in fewer trips to the doctor's office or hospital. Use that money to boost your savings account, participate in activities you enjoy, or go on a vacation that you'll love because you feel so great.
- 1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics, website last visited on January 24, 2017.