By Andrea Forde
A new year brings new resolutions that can lead to improvements in daily habits as well as health benefits for many older Americans.
In fact, according to a 2020 study, older adults who engaged in healthy lifestyle choices such as physical activity, not smoking, not heavily drinking, following a healthy diet, and taking part in mentally stimulating activities, had a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. For people who are already suffering from chronic conditions, setting simple and realistic goals that are manageable with their health challenges is important.
As you consider changes and goals for 2024, here are five achievable resolutions that can help kick off the new year on the right foot.
- Pursue an active lifestyle.
Staying active is an admirable goal to have every year. Adults can engage in activity at home including aerobic activity, resistance training, yoga, and walks around their neighborhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity is vital for healthy aging. As a reminder, it’s important to talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level – particularly for those with underlying medical conditions. Ask about the amounts and types of activities that may be best for you.
- Eat healthfully.
Prioritizing healthy eating and healthful snacks is the best place to start. Potential benefits of eating healthy include living longer, strengthening bones, and lowering the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Depending on how they are prepared, home-cooked meals can often have lower levels of sodium, sugar, and fat when compared to meals at a restaurant. If you have allergies or conditions that require a special diet, talk to your doctor about your meal plan. You can also learn more about tips on meal planning here.
- Challenge your brain and stimulate your mind.
It is important to practice a form of daily brain stimulation as age can cause changes to brain size, vasculature, and cognition, according to the National Institute of Aging. A healthy life, both physically and mentally, may be one of the best defenses against the changes of an aging brain. Completing crossword puzzles or playing games, such as chess, can be fun ways to keep your mind active while enjoying a new hobby. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about changes in your memory and thinking. They can help determine if those changes are normal or something more serious.
- Stay connected with friends and family.
Time spent with family and friends can be very beneficial. The National Institute of Aging mentions that older people with strong social and community ties are more likely to live a longer life and cites research stating that isolation can contribute to high blood pressure. Even a virtual visit is better than no visit at all, when it’s not possible to get together face-to-face.
- Nurture an interest.
People who engage in activities or hobbies may feel happier and healthier, according to the National Institute of Aging. Learning new skills may also help increase cognitive function. Music, theater, dance and creative writing are just some ways that older adults may be able to help improve their well-being through hobbies. These specific interests may help with memory, boost self-esteem, reduce stress and increase social interactions. If you are looking for something new to learn, try this art exercise that you can do from your home to stimulate your brain and improve your mental health.
- See your doctor.
While New Year’s resolutions such as watching what we eat or starting a fitness routine are common to many, prioritizing and scheduling a wellness visit with a primary care physician also is an important first step. Getting routine preventive care, through visits that are separate from visits due to sickness, injury or routine care for ongoing medical conditions can help you stay well and catch problems earlier, helping you live a healthier and longer life. Our care teams at Atrius Health in Watertown can help you achieve these goals, along with providing 24/7 medical advice by phone, and weekend and holiday urgent care.
Andrea Forde, NP, is a primary care provider at Atrius Health’s Watertown practice.