Rita Hodges

Extension Service

May is Older Americans Month, a great time to bring attention to the issues that affect older adults and create community-wide opportunities to help older Americans improve their quality of life.

By 2030, one in every five Americans will be age 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 lack of physical exercise, poor eating habits and smoking. Older Americans can prevent or control chronic disease by adopting healthy habits.

The benefits of regular physical activity include:

• weight control;

• healthy bones, muscles and joints;

• arthritis relief; and

• reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

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 exercise 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 older 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 out older adults 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 U.S. 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 age 55 and older experience depression and anxiety disorders.

Studies have shown that engaging in social activities within the community can greatly improve mental health. In fact, research has demonstrated a strong relationship between volunteering and mental health and that volunteering provides older adults with greater benefits than younger volunteers. Benefits include:

• improved mental and physical health; • greater life satisfaction;

• lower rates of depression; and

• lower mortality rates.

Americans of all ages and backgrounds can celebrate Older Americans Month. Check the newspaper, library and the senior centers go find and volunteer for activities in your area. Find ways to enrich your life. By working together, we can improve the health and wellbeing of our Nation’s older adults and pave the way for better health as we age.

For more information, contact Rita M. Hodges, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, 701 S. Interstate 35E, Suite 3, Waxahachie; call 972-825-5175; or email rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.