If you’re an older adult wondering what you should be doing to stay healthy, the most important answer is staying active.
“Physical activity is more powerful than any medication a senior can take,” says Dr. Cheryl Phillips, a San Francisco physician and president of the American Geriatrics Society.
Much of the frailty that accompanies advanced age can be mitigated through exercise. Even moderate activity makes a difference. Frailty often leads to impairment and the loss of independence -- developments that can be preventable.
Phillips recently offered this preventive-care advice for older people:
Sure shots: “Get a flu shot every winter and a vaccination against pneumonia once after you turn 65,” she says. The American Geriatrics Society also recommends a single vaccination against shingles after age 60 and a tetanus booster shot every 10 years.
Fighting the fall: Talk to your healthcare provider about falls and what you can do to prevent them. Each year, almost one-third of adults age 65 and older fall, resulting in nearly 450,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Getting rid of throw rugs, installing easy-to-grab bars in the bathroom and altering medication regimens can minimize the potential for a tumble.
Medication awareness: Your doctor should know every prescription, over-the-counter medication, supplement and vitamin you’re taking. Once a year, Phillips says, review the list, asking, “Do I need to keep taking this?”
Checkup savvy: Have your hearing, vision and blood pressure tested every year, get dental checkups annually and cholesterol tests at least every five years (more often if your levels are high).
Weighty (non)issue: Don’t worry about a few extra pounds. “People 65 and older actually do better with a little extra weight on them,” Phillips says. Getting sufficient nutrition is more important.
Early detection: Secondary prevention is aimed at finding illness early enough. This includes periodic screenings for colon cancer and mammograms for women who have a life expectancy of at least five years. Men should discuss prostate cancer screening with their doctors. Women can stop pap smears for cervical cancer after age 65 if three previous tests have been normal.
Supplemental help: Since bones thin with age, take calcium (at least 1,200 milligrams a day) and vitamin D (at least 600 international units) and periodically assess your risk of osteoporosis, Phillips says. Otherwise, she advises against taking vitamins, saying that older adults should get nutrients from well-balanced meals.
Smoke screen: If you’re a man and you have a history of smoking, you may want to get an abdominal aortic aneurysm screening once between the ages of 65 and 75, according to the American Geriatrics Society. Men are five times more likely than women to develop these bulges in the aorta, a major blood vessel, that can rupture and cause uncontrolled bleeding.
Take control: Tertiary prevention means controlling illnesses that exist. “Make sure you have good knowledge about your diabetes or heart disease and that you understand the things that can impact it and that you can manage,” Phillips says.
Start good habits: Last but not least come lifestyle changes that people know they should adopt but still ignore. Give up smoking; drink only in moderation; spend time with other people (try not to become isolated) and get active -- “anything you do with any kind of regularity will make a difference,” Phillips says.