Age is just a number!
By Mary Obear, MD, PhD, Oak Orchard Health, celebrating our 50th Anniversary with offices in Albion, Alexander, Batavia, Brockport, Pembroke, Hornell, Medina, and Warsaw, New York.
Americans are living longer. Over the last four decades, life expectancy in the United States has largely risen, although certain groups have experienced slight decreases in their life expectancy (according to the U.S. Census Bureau). Americans are projected to have longer life expectancies in the coming decades. By 2060, life expectancy for the total population is projected to increase by about six years, from 79.7 in 2017 to 85.6 in 2060.
Since we are living longer, the question is how do we live a healthier life? How can we age gracefully? As a primary care physician, I often discuss this topic with my patients. Here are a few tips for you to consider.
Have a good relationship with your primary care provider (PCP).
This is a simple yet important step to take to live a healthy life. To have a good relationship with your provider, you need to see a medical professional annually, get a physical, and have open, frank discussions. If your primary care provider suggests medical advice that you do not want to do or you don’t see any utility in doing so, don’t just ignore it. Instead, have a conversation about why it is important and try to reach a compromise.
Waiting too long before going to see your primary care provider is not good practice. If you have not been feeling well for a period of time or something has changed, please make an appointment with your primary care provider. Be careful not to seek medical information on the internet. Please reach out to your medical providers for the best advice.
Preventive measures: medications and screenings
As you age, you may be prescribed many different medications and it’s important that you understand why you are taking each and what the long-term benefit is. Have you been taking medications for 20+ years? It may be time to have a conversation with your physician about whether it is still having a positive effect on your health.
Screenings such as a colonoscopy are especially important but so is getting a yearly physical. At your physical, discuss with your PCP which screenings are appropriate for you. Be sure they know your family’s cancer history.
Nutrition and Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is a key component to staying healthy so practice good sleep hygiene. There are things that may interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Think about screen time including TV, computers, and your telephone. If watching certain programming upsets you, please avoid it. Consider turning all your screens off two to three hours before sleep time. If you need entertainment, an enjoyable book or magazine will help relax you. Sleep in a cool dark room with no stimulation on and avoid drinking a lot before you sleep. Also, the timing of your medication is important. Again, be sure to discuss this with your PCP.
Of course, the food you put into your body is another way to age gracefully. Eating real food and not processed food is the key to healthy living. Processed food can have a lot of salt or ingredients that contain salt, and that is not good for you. Everyone needs a little sodium in their diet but avoiding fast foods is a good idea. Eating well also includes drinking well. Be careful not to drink empty calories in soft drinks and flavored coffees. Coffee can be fine, but most creamers do not contain natural ingredients.
I know many people think of cooking as a chore, but mealtimes can be a pleasant way to nurture your body. Spend time thinking about what healthy foods you can cook quickly or consider “batch cooking” where you make three or four meals and freeze them. If you have healthy foods in the house, you are more likely to eat healthily.
Also, the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest choices because it emphasizes seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, plants, and whole grains.
I want to close on an important thought about aging. Be sure to exercise. Walking is one of the best exercises but please be sure you are doing it in a safe location. Be careful not to trip or fall. In the winter, the mall, community centers, and schools are better places to go. They are warm and safe.
If you need a primary care provider, please call Oak Orchard Health at (585) 589-5613.