Strategies for healthy aging

September 17, 2012 By Marc Levesque

There are many strategies out there designed to help us stay healthy as we age, some more complicated than others. I prefer to keep it simple by encouraging seniors to move, think and stay engaged.

The first strategy is to move. Regular exercise is the cornerstone of healthy aging. The American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association issued a statement on physical activity recommendations for older adults (2009) that focused on four fitness areas: cardiovascular, muscular strength, flexibility and balance.

According to these recommendations, we should get some form of cardiovascular exercise (like walking, cycling, swimming, dance) at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Two or three times per week we should challenge our muscles with resistance exercises, like body-weight exercises (for example, pushups, squats without extra weights), resistance bands, machines or free-weights. Stretch the muscles to preserve your range of motion two or three times per week. And if you have mobility problems or a history of falls, perform exercises that challenge your balance, like tai chi and yoga, a few times per week. Consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise program and consider joining a senior-appropriate exercise facility to get the proper instruction and supervision.

The second strategy is to think. Our brain is like our muscles: use it or lose it. To keep the brain active, do crossword puzzles, Sudoku, learn a foreign language, take a class or attend a lecture. The idea is to challenge our minds to preserve our memory, and have some fun at the same time!

The last healthy aging strategy: Stay engaged. Become a participant in life instead of a spectator. “Work” doesn't need to be a bad, four-letter word. In fact, work can be energizing and life-sustaining. Play is also important. Participate in sports, hobbies and activities you've enjoyed your whole life -- or even better, be adventurous and try new activities. Consider volunteering, which not only improves your community, but gives you a sense of purpose. Studies have shown that people who volunteer tend to have lower rates of depression, greater functional ability and lower mortality rates.
Move, think and stay engaged: Three simple strategies to improve your health and quality of life as you age. What are you waiting for? It's never too late to start!

Marc Levesque is the senior resource case manager at the Connecticut Center for Healthy Aging, with offices at The Hospital of Central Connecticut's New Britain General and Bradley Memorial campuses. To learn more, call 1.877.4 AGING 1.