Staying healthy and feeling your best is important at any age. But it’s especially important as you grow older to focus on your health and make good lifestyle decisions.
“It’s important for patients to take an active role in their health beyond disease management and discuss preventive measures with their providers, especially as they age,” said Mark Wargo, MD, an OSF HealthCare family medicine physician who specializes in geriatrics, the care of older adults. “Sometimes we get too focused on specific diseases, such as diabetes, that we don’t spend enough time on the things like the day-to-day life of a person.”
Dr. Wargo was drawn to geriatrics during his residency.
“I spent a lot of time learning from one of the teaching physicians who was a geriatrician, and I found it to be one of the most rewarding parts of my training,” he said. “You can learn a lot about life from talking with older adults. One of the most wonderful things about primary care is meeting a lot of people and getting to know them throughout the years.”
It’s more than DNA
While genetics does play a role in longevity, Dr. Wargo said other things also play a factor.
“Diet plays an important role. A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and healthy habits, are important, too,” he said. “In addition, intellectual stimulation and opportunities for socialization play important roles as we age. And access to health care and routine visits and screenings are necessary.”
Eye care and dental care also become more important as we age.
“Being willing to engage and play an active part in your overall health is vital.”
When to pay attention
“People need to start working on playing an active role in their health care and making good lifestyle choices when they are young to create healthy habits when they are old,” Dr. Wargo said.
Men, women – it doesn’t matter
It comes down to:
“Social engagement is definitely important. The amount of engagement is dependent on the individual,” Dr. Wargo said. “Some people prefer to be busy all the time, while others require much less. Loneliness is definitely a problem for some older adults.”
To help stay connected, he advises learning what programs are available in a community to help foster a healthy lifestyle for older adults.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 is changing that landscape and affecting the number of formal programs available, but it doesn’t have to be complicated,” Dr. Warg said. “I have patients that would meet at the YMCA every day to exercise and then have a cup of coffee together. I have patients that meet regularly to go for walks outside. Swimming is a great exercise as well for those that have access to a pool.
“The main thing is to make it part of your daily routine and hopefully have others that will be a part of it,” he said. “It is much easier to stay committed when you have someone else exercising with you.”
Sharp as a tack
“It’s important to continue to stay active mentally as well,” Dr. Wargo said. “Activities such as reading, doing crossword puzzles, playing trivia games, painting, coloring and other activities that stimulate our brain are vital.
“It’s not always easy as we go through different phases of our life. But the goal is to have the mindset of a healthy lifestyle rather than putting if off until tomorrow.”
It’s important to maintain a relationship with your primary care provider to stay healthy for life.