May is Older Americans Month, a great time to bring attention to the issues that affect older adults and create communitywide opportunities to help elder Arizonans improve their quality of life.
This year’s theme is “Living Today for a Better Tomorrow,” and we, as a community, must work together to give older adults the tools they need to make healthy decisions.
By 2030, 1 in every 5 Americans will be 65 or older. Although the risk of disease increases with advancing age, poor health is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Many illnesses, disabilities and even death associated with chronic disease are preventable.
Nearly 40 percent of deaths in America can be attributed to poor health habits such as smoking, and lack of physical exercise and proper nutrition. Older Americans can prevent or control chronic disease by adopting healthy habits such as exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet and ceasing tobacco use.
The benefits of regular physical activity include weight control; healthy bones, muscles and joints; arthritis relief; reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression; and more.
Exercise does not have to be strenuous and is safe for people of all age groups. In fact, it’s healthier to exercise than eliminate it altogether. Older Americans can greatly benefit from a regular routine that includes strength, balance, stretching and endurance exercises.
In addition to a regular exercise routine, good nutrition is vital in maintaining good health. Improving older Americans’ diets can reduce the occurrence of chronic diseases, but most adults over age 65 do not maintain a healthy diet. Reducing saturated fats and eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and grains can help older Americans get on the right track to staying healthy.
Tobacco use increases the risk of heart disease and cancer and is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Older adults who stop smoking will gain immediate and long-term health benefits.
While it’s important for older Americans to have good physical health, it’s equally important that they maintain good mental health. Nearly 20 percent of Americans 55 and older experience depression and anxiety disorders.
Studies have shown that engaging in social activities within the community can greatly improve mental health. Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between volunteering and mental health, and that volunteering provides older adults greater benefits than younger volunteers. Benefits include better mental and physical health; greater life satisfaction; less depression; and lower mortality rates.
The U.S. Administration on Aging and its National Aging Services Network support a number of successful programs throughout the country that are helping older adults live better today and in the future. These programs help keep people independent and out of nursing homes through streamlined access to health and long-term care information and options. And they provide home and community-based systems of services that include support for family caregivers.
These home and community-based programs also encourage older people to remain active and make behavioral changes through the increased use of evidence-based disease prevention programs under the Older Americans Act as well as the use of preventive benefits available under Medicare.
Arizonans of all ages and backgrounds can celebrate Older Americans Month. Contact Pima Council on Aging, your local Agency on Aging, and volunteer for activities in your area; promote community, state, and national efforts to serve older adults; and find ways to enrich the lives of older adults who touch your life.
Additionally, actively search out ways you can involve your community’s older adults in volunteer efforts, allowing them to share their wisdom and energy. By working together, we can improve the health and well-being of our community’s older adults and pave the way for better health as we age.
For more information about PCOA’s programs and services, call its Help Line at 790-7262 or visit pcoa.org online.
Information for Friday’s column is provided by Jim Murphy, PCOA’S president and chief executive officer.
Pima Council on Aging