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Why Staying Healthy at a Young Age is Important for Thriving in the Golden Years

Medicare-aged couple shopping for fruit at an outdoor market

At what age can I still change my personal health?

By: KiErrin Phillips, MSN, RN at Network Health
Originally published on 10/12/2020 at 4:20 p.m.

As we age, we begin to see visions of a “healthy” life popping up in our favorite magazines, during television ad breaks and in the form of advice from our personal doctors and medical professionals. Being healthy is important at any age, so why is it emphasized so much as we make the transition to our golden years?

Before we go into why it’s helpful to know exactly what’s meant when we use the word healthy. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word healthy as “something beneficial to one’s physical, mental or emotional state, reducing the risk of disease or associated with good health.” For additional clarity, when we talk about the golden years, we’re talking about the advanced years in a person’s life.

The golden years, after all, are the time you’re supposed to enjoy your achievements. By their late 60s and early 70s, many people have retired, have a family and have found the hobbies and activities which make them happy. One can see why ensuring poor health doesn’t infringe on this newfound freedom would be important.

When is the right time to start a healthy lifestyle?

As you get older, you’ve likely found many of the small changes and actions you made/took or didn’t make/take earlier in your life have led to the things you do and who you are now. The same is true about health.

You can improve your chances of being healthy during the golden years by maintaining a healthy lifestyle in your younger years. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that prevention of chronic diseases such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis and kidney disease decreased the chances of mental decline later in life.

The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has supported this information, sharing that “six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more.” In many cases, getting the most out of those later years in life is a product of making healthy, prevention-focused choices early on.

On the flip side, chronic diseases have more than a few major known causes, the most significant of which include exposure to tobacco smoke, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and alcohol abuse.

How do I avoid health issues when I’m older?

There are many things you can do at a young age to eliminate or decrease the chance of chronic conditions that negatively affect qualify of life.

Liming exposure to the above risk factors is one of the best places to start. The earlier in life you start to build healthy habits, the more ingrained the habit will become and the better the outcome is likely to be. It is important to remember you do not have to overhaul your entire life at once. One small change at a time will eventually grow into a healthy lifestyle allowing you to thrive in your golden years.

What are the benefits of focusing on your physical health as a young person?

Your physical health, which you may neglect when you’re younger, due to feeling like you have energy and agility, decreases as you age. The earlier you focus on your physical health, the better your later years will be.

As a young person, you may also think you do not need an annual checkup because you never get sick.

Your annual wellness visit is a great time to review your family and personal medical history and discuss any recommended screenings and/or vaccinations based on factors for which you may be at risk. Your personal doctor can also assist you with eliminating or decreasing the use of harmful substances such as tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, etc.

Whether you’re 15 or 85, there are three important health factors to focus on to get the most out of life. They are the following.

  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Mental health

Nutrition – healthy input, healthy output

What you feed your body plays a major role in health factors like the development of disease. Healthy living through nutrition means putting a focus on filling your plate with real foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

For many people, slowing down while eating is another important aspect to nutritious eating. Practice mindful eating. Take the time to appreciate your meal and understand your sense of hunger and fullness. Doing this will help you work toward the goal of reaching and/or maintaining a healthy weight – an important factor in preventing chronic health conditions in your later years.  

Physical activity – working out for the future

Physical activity has been shown to not just prevent, but also treat and even reverse, many common chronic conditions.

When it comes to the type of exercise that will benefit you most as a young person and carry forward into your golden years, you’ll find aerobic exercise is great for your heart, lungs and overall physical stamina.

Weightlifting is another activity that can really help. As we age, our muscle mass decreases. Even if you have built additional muscle mass and maintained it throughout your younger years, you’ll find yourself having to work extra hard to maintain it as you age. This is another reason to build positive habits, which will keep you invested in this extra work, is important.

Flexibility and stretching are also important because they help keep your muscles nimble enough to maintain your posture and balance, decreasing your risk of injury. Fall risk is a serious issue for aged populations. Building muscle and increasing your agility with stretching and flexibility exercises will give you an edge over this common and potentially life-threatening risk.

Mental health – staying sharp for years to come

Mental health is the management of your emotional, psychological and social well-being. In your younger years, mental health impacts your ability to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is important to work on building your resiliency, stress management, self-care practices and focus on cultivating and maintaining a healthy sleep routine. All pieces influence how you react to the natural and unexpected stressors occurring each day.

Changes can be good with age. It starts with choices.

As you age, there are always going to be changes. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in your younger years, however, can eliminate or delay some of the changes which can turn into chronic disease.

While it can be difficult to determine which changes are normal and which ones are associated with disease, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can increase the chance of independently performing activities of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, showering, shopping, etc. well into your golden years.

Taking control of your health early will also mean you have a decreased risk of cognitive decline, which can negatively impact your quality of life.

Find ways to stay active, eat well and think about your mental health as something deserving as much attention as your physical health. Participate in events put on by your school, work or other groups in your community – either virtually or in-person (social distancing of course).

You’ll also find fitness events, farmers' markets, wellness programs, smartphone apps and more to help you achieve your lifestyle goals.

Your Network Health plan can support you in reaching your goals. If you would like to work with someone on our wellness team, please email healthcoaching@networkhealth.com.

It is never too early to start thinking about your future.

 


For more information on Network Health wellness programs or to learn more about how your Network Health plan can assist you with preventive care, contact us today.

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