Exercise a key activity for healthy aging - tips to get you started

U.S. life expectancy continues to rise and now averages to be above 78 years. According to the Census Bureau, the nation's senior population is larger than ever before. At 40.3 million, seniors as a group have grown by 15 percent since 2000, faster than the U.S. population as a whole.

Staying healthy as you age is not as hard as you may think. The one key activity for seniors who age well is exercise. Scientific evidence shows that regular exercise is even more important for seniors than other age groups since the risk of disease and lost mobility is greater, and positive effects are realized more quickly. If there is a magic bullet for aging, exercise is as close as it comes.

Getting started on a regular exercise program can be challenging. Consult your primary care provider before starting, but it's best to take it slow until you get a sense of how much you can do.

Some easy ways to get up and be active:
  • Look for daily opportunities to exercise in work and in play.

  • Choose an exercise you like and stick with it.

  • Arrange to have a friend meet you.

  • Join a walking group or visit your local recreation center, park, church, or senior center.

Memory loss is also something to consider, but a decline in memory does not necessarily equate to serious disease, like Alzheimer's. Sometimes, memory loss is caused by factors that can be changed, such as diet, medication misuse and depression. Research from the National Institute on Aging shows that memory may be like other parts of the body, and that gradual declines take place until age 70, then increases after that but not to the extent that it impairs us.

To exercise your brain, stay mentally active doing things that use your memory:
  • Take a class.

  • Play games with people around you.

  • Call someone to talk just to see how things are going.

  • Get involved with a cause you believe in or in something that interests you.

  • Seek out something you haven't done before.

The greatest enemy to the healthy senior mind is depression. Enjoying activities, hobbies and exercise with friends old and new are wonderful anti-depressants. But, if you truly are depressed, don't bear it alone and seek help from a doctor.

Dr. John Kim is chief medical officer at Alignment Health Plan, a Medicare Advantage plan from Alignment Healthcare. Based in Orange County, Calif., Alignment works with diverse communities to promote health and wellness for its members. For more information, please visit www.alignmenthealthplan.com.
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