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Mental Fitness for Seniors
Did you know that some of the same behaviors and activities that help maintain a healthy body can also help keep our minds sharp as we age? Risk for diseases and medical conditions such as heart disease, arthritis and arthritis-related problems, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers can be lessened by eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity and not smoking.1
Use these general health guidelines to keep your mind and body mentally and physically active.
Stay Physically Active
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults participate in either two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical activity or seventy-five minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (in intervals of at least 10 minutes) each week, or a combination of both categories of activity. Muscle-strengthening activities, using all major muscle groups, should also be included on two or more days each week.2 Regular, moderate physical activity can help to build strong muscles, decrease stiffness and joint pain and increase endurance and flexibility.1 If you are not currently active or have a challenge finding time for activity, break it up into 10-minute intervals and build up your time and intensity slowly. Remember to consult your healthcare provider before beginning an activity program.
When physical activity, such as walking, swimming or dancing, is included as a part of a consistent routine, it can help to decrease blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels, strengthen the heart and improve mobility.3 In addition to the multitude of health benefits it provides, regular activity can also provide numerous mental health benefits. Some of these include improved mental ability, memory and energy level, decreased depression, as well as helping to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.3 According to a study of people between the ages of 70 and 79, those who exercised at a moderate-to-vigorous level at least once weekly were 31% more likely to maintain healthy cognitive function.4
Stay Mentally Active
As we age our brains change beginning around the age of 30 and lead to decreases in weight, nerve connections and blood flow. However, our brains adapt to these changes and continue to grow and change over time. In fact, you can actually build new connections among your brain cells just by continuing to challenge and stimulate your brain.3 There are a variety of things you can do to build and maintain brain power, including working on a daily crossword puzzle or word search, reading a book or magazine, taking a class at a local college or community center, attending a lecture or event, working in your garden, volunteering in your community, or playing with your grandchildren. If you find that your memory may be lagging, keep a handy to-do list and follow routines to ensure you stay on track with medication and lifestyle.3 Most importantly, remember to have patience with yourself and choose activities that you enjoy.
Control Your Stress Level
Stress can wreak havoc on our physical health, increasing the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as contributing to depression. However, did you know that stress can also impair memory, learning ability and even shrink the brain itself?3 To keep your feelings in check and manage your stress, seek ways to alleviate your anxiety. Take a walk, talk to a friend, family member or counselor, keep a journal, such as the online journal on the Jenny Craig Website at www.jennycraig.com, meditate or spend some time relaxing in a favorite setting. Learn to recognize and avoid situations that increase your stress level. Instead, put your time and energy into people and activities that make you feel relaxed, healthy and happy.
Eat A Balanced Diet
A healthy diet that is rich in nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber is important for both your body and mind. Each day include a variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and nonfat dairy products in your meals. Remember to limit higher fat foods, especially those that contain saturated fat and cholesterol. If you would like to learn more about healthier eating and cooking habits and assistance maintaining a healthy weight, Jenny Craig Silver can help. This program is tailored to fulfill the nutritional and activity needs of older adults, and your weight loss consultant will help you learn how to live a healthier lifestyle that includes Food, Body and Mind.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Chronic inflammation associated with gum disease has been linked to health issues such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and can cause infections throughout your body. Many seniors suffer from gum disease and tooth loss, which can make it harder to get adequate nutrition since some foods may become difficult or painful to eat.3,5 The good news is that poor dental health may be largely related to factors other than age, such as medication and hormonal changes, so discuss any concerns you may have with your dental care provider. For optimal dental care, brush and floss daily, and visit your dentist for regular professional cleanings.
Get the most out of the golden years by taking care of yourself to stay physically and mentally fit. Enjoy the wisdom that comes with age and incorporate fun activities into your healthy lifestyle.
For additional information, visit the following websites:
©Geriatric Mental Health Foundation: www.GMHFonline.org
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Healthy Aging: www.cdc.gov/aging/health_issues.htm
National Institute on Aging (NIA): www.nih.gov/nia
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): www.nimh.nih.gov
- Health Information for Older Adults. Center for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/Aging/info.htm. Accessed on September 15, 2009.
- At-A-Glance: A Fact Sheet for Professionals. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Available at http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/factsheetprof.aspx. Accessed on June 25, 2010.
- Geriatric Mental Health Foundation. Healthy Aging: Keeping Mentally Fit as You Age. Available at: http://www.gmhfonline.org/gmhf/consumer/factsheets/hlthage_mental.html. Accessed June 13, 2010.
- Yaffe K, Fiocco AJ, Lindquish K, et al. Predictors of maintaining cognitive function in older adults: The Health ABC Study. Neurology. 2009;72:2029-2035.
- American Academy of Periodontology. How to Keep a Healthy Smile for Life. Available at: http://www.perio.org/consumer/smileforlife.htm. Accessed June 13, 2010.
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