You have a surprising amount of control in preventing and managing chronic disease. Chronic disease is defined as a health condition lasting a year or longer, requires ongoing medical attention and limits the activities of your daily life. In other words, no fun. Be fueled by this one statistic: 80 percent of adults have at least one chronic disease and 68 percent have at least two or more.
To age well and maximize the years ahead, consider adopting a ‘small steps’ mindset to preventing and managing chronic disease: take on just one ‘habit of health’ at a time until it is integrated into your daily life. I have confidence you will find it easily blended into your daily routine. Let’s give it a try!
At the Top of the List: Your Arteries and A Healthy Heart
Last year, 58% of older adults were treated for high blood pressure – a condition that involves both challenges in how much blood your heart pumps, as well as resistance in your arteries to blood flow. Knowing ‘your number’- your blood pressure reading – is vital to good health. As we age, the arteries that lead to the heart narrow, causing a build-up of plaque and reducing blood flow to the heart. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease (29% in older adults) and even heart failure (14%). Symptoms can include feeling tired, lightheaded or having a rapid heartbeat. Black adults are 33% more likely to have high blood pressure and are at least 50% more likely to die earlier from heart disease or stroke.
Build on these Daily Lifestyle Habits toward Better Health:
- Reduce sodium: This includes more than table salt—read food labels and calculate your daily intake (no more than 2300 mg for adults unless your physician advises even less)
- Maintain a healthy weight; your heart works harder if you carry extra weight
- Get some daily movement for your body and brain, including functional fitness (see earlier blog post)
- Sleep seven-to-eight hours each night; your heart needs the rest
- Follow doctor’s orders around medication compliance
Bring Down that Cholesterol
Another way for your arteries to get clogged with plaque is through high cholesterol, an excess of bad fats in the blood that then clog your arteries. An astonishing 47% of older adults are treated for high cholesterol, including 60% of Hispanic adults. Integrate these Daily Dietary Habits for Better Health:
- Eat protein-rich foods like fish, which contain Omega-3 fatty acids
- Minimize saturated fats, like red meat and high-fat dairy
- Increase the number of whole grains like high-fiber cereals and breads
Your Brain and Your Mood Affect Your Mental Health
It’s common for older adults to seek treatment for depression (14% last year). If you are experiencing persistent feelings of hopelessness, difficulty making decisions, changes in appetite or a loss of interest in activities, contact your primary care physician, who may talk to you about medication or psychotherapy. Try one of these Daily Well-Being Habits for Better Health:
- Stay social by phone, online, or in person if safe to do so, even if you initially don’t feel like it; 15 minutes can do a world of good!
- The foods you put into your body can affect your mood, so refrain from ‘comfort’ or processed foods that only momentarily dull the feelings of stress. Instead, shop the perimeter of the grocery for nature’s foods: fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, high-fiber grains and low-fat dairy products that benefit your brain with Vitamin B and folate in particular.
- Limit consumption of alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners, which can negatively affect your brain and your mood
- Take a 10-minute walk, ideally outdoors, to release endorphins and other “feel good” brain chemicals. Puzzles, adult coloring books, board games and digital apps for good brain health will also boost your self-confidence and self-worth – you did it!
- During sleep, your brain acts like a dishwasher each night, clearing out harmful toxins, so getting at least seven hours is recommended
Bone Health and Arthritis
Arthritis is an inflammation of your joints that causes pain and stiffness, and can greatly affect daily movement. More common in women, likely due to hormones; 31% of older adults were treated for arthritis last year. Here are some suggested Daily Physical Habits for Better Health:
- While it may seem counterintuitive, exercising at least five times per week for 20 minutes will improve function and decrease pain. Try to include a mixture of aerobic, strength-building and stretching movements, like Tai Chi and gentle yoga.
- Maintain the recommended weight for your body frame—losing just one pound can remove four pounds of pressure on your knees!
- Make sure your back, legs and arms are always supported when you sit or lie down
- Don’t smoke; avoid anything that interferes with tissue regeneration
Monitoring Your Blood Sugar and Diabetes
Insulin is a hormone used to get energy from the food you eat into your cells. When you have diabetes, the sugar (glucose) from the food stays in your blood, resulting in ‘high blood sugar.’ This is a dangerous condition but can be managed through medication and lifestyle actions. The risk of having diabetes increases after age 45. Last year, 27% of older adults were treated for diabetes and among ethnic groups, the diagnosis rates are 77% higher among Blacks, 66% higher among Hispanics and 18% higher among Asians. As a starting point to help regulate blood glucose, choose one of these Daily Wellness Habits For Better Health:
- Fill half your plate with high-fiber fruits and vegetables (emphasis on veggies!)
- Hydrate! Many older adults simply do not drink enough water. Drinking a full eight-ounce glass of water first thing in the morning sets you on a good pace for the day.
- Daily exercise to keep your blood glucose levels in check and to control weight gain; try not to miss two days in a row.
- Lose just 5-7% of your body weight can reap tremendous benefits (for a 200 lb. person, that’s 10 pounds).
Power Your ‘Better Health’ Potential
The foundation of good health is, and always has been, what you put in your body and how (and how often) you move from a sitting position to an active one. When it comes to your heart, your brain or your joints, these factors can be a game-changer in preventing and managing chronic disease. Start by making one small choice for your wellness each day, build from there, and you are well on your way to better health.