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Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023



Simple lifestyle changes are beneficial

Suzanne Tinsley, Ph.D., PT, | Marie Vazquez Morgan, Ph.D., PT

As we head into Health Aging Month in September, LSU Health Shreveport has some tips to share on how we can all prioritize our health as we age.

Healthy aging can mean different things to different people depending on their stage in life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Aging Research Network defines healthy aging as developing and maintaining optimal physical, mental and social well-being and function in older adults.

So, what does healthy aging mean to you? What are those things you are trying to change? How do you age with grace and maintain or improve your health? Hopefully, you have listed physical and nutritional health at the top of your list.

Maintaining or improving your physical state is an integral part of aging. Scientists have discovered multiple ways to improve your chances of maintaining optimal health later in life. Taking care of your physical health involves staying active, getting enough sleep, limiting your alcohol intake, making healthy food choices and proactively managing your health care.

Staying active is important. As we age, we must keep moving. Physical activity or exercise is the cornerstone of healthy aging. There are four types of exercise that are important to include: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Simple ways to promote increased physical endurance include increasing the number of steps you take each day through daily routines such as walking the dog, parking farther away from the store entrance or occasionally taking the stairs.

We also must maintain our muscle mass to help us function better and get stronger. Vigorous activities such as dancing, pickleball or simple resistance exercise with light weights can help maintain muscle mass and function. We can improve our balance by challenging ourselves with simple activities like standing on a soft pillow or trying to balance on one leg. Our local Council on Aging offers a balance class several times a year. Yoga and Pilates are excellent examples of activities for improving flexibility and can be tailored to your specific needs and skill level.

The bottom line is to find ways to get motivated and get moving.

Making smart food choices is also an important part of healthy aging. As we age, we are at greater risk of chronic, non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and health impairments related to decreased muscle and bone mass. In addition, weight gain due to changes in metabolism can cause detrimental effects on health and can lead to hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. The good news is that we can mitigate some of these risks by eating nutrient-dense foods.

The Mediterranean diet is a dietary plan that has been researched for over 25 years and facilitates heart health and longevity. This diet is rich in whole grains and includes eating two to three servings of colorful fruit and vegetables daily. It also includes lean protein and healthy fats – such as omega-3s (salmon, tuna, sardines, nuts and chia seeds) which protect against age-related diseases. In addition, the Mediterranean diet is fiber-rich, which can help to lower your risk for diabetes and help you to lose weight.

Poor nutrition can lead to cognitive decline and muscle and bone mass reduction. These conditions are associated with aging, and the consequences of these impairments include decreased functional status, depression, impaired mobility and a higher risk of falls, which can lead to an increased risk of death.

In a 2020 study published in Nutrients Journal, the Mediterranean diet was shown to slow down the progression of aging and help to prevent loss of muscle and bone mass. Further, in a 2021 study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging, the Mediterranean diet was shown to prevent cognitive decline and boost the immune system.

Even if on a sound nutritional plan, older adults may have more nutrient needs than younger adults. Dietary needs may be impacted by poor gut absorption. The ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decrease with age and with the use of certain medicines. Vitamin B12 is found in fortified milk and other dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese. Older adults should talk with their health care provider about using dietary supplements to increase vitamin B12 intake.

Lastly, staying hydrated is vital as we age.

Our bodies have a natural defense against dehydration – the feeling of thirst. However, with aging, our sense of thirst becomes less sharp, which predisposes us to be more prone to getting depleted. So, remember to sip water regularly (64 ounces of water or non-caffeinated/non-sugary beverages daily) to avoid conditions like urinary tract infections, constipation and even confusion.

In conclusion, to age gracefully and stay at our cognitive and physical best, move more daily, eat whole foods and stay hydrated. These simple lifestyle changes can impact both our longevity and our quality of life.

Suzanne Tinsley, Ph.D., PT, is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Institutional Development at LSU Health Shreveport. Marie Vazquez Morgan, Ph.D., PT, is the Assistance Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Wellness at LSU Health Shreveport


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