Heartland Human Services

Healthy Aging

By: Linda Warner, EdM. Director of Case Management & Geriatrics

As society is living longer, we turn our thoughts from aging gracefully to aging successfully.  How do we strive to age in good health?  Good health includes both physical and mental well-being.  The two go hand-in-hand.  A healthy mind contributes to a healthy body.  The mind, like the body, benefits from low blood pressure, low cholesterol, nourishing food, a healthy weight, and physical activity.
There are many healthy lifestyle choices we can make to keep our bodies healthy and avoid illness and disability.  As well, choices avail to help preserve healthy minds!  
What can I do to keep my mind healthy?

  • Be physically active.  Regular physical activity helps to:
    • Maintain and improve memory
    • Maintain and improve mental ability
    • Prevent dementia (impaired intellectual functioning) including Alzheimer’s disease
    • Make us happy and prevent and alleviate depression
    • Improve energy levels.
  • Keep Blood pressure down.  Blood pressure below 120/80 is considered healthy and helps reduce the risk of stroke, which is tied to dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Keep Cholesterol levels low.  High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease as well as dementia. 
  • Eat vegetables. . . the same diet that can help us stay strong and healthy provides the nutrition necessary for a healthy brain.  Dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are especially good for us.  Greens are thought to help boost mental ability and possibly prevent dementia.
  • Monitor medication use.  Read labels and carefully follow your physician’s instructions.  Some memory loss and other problems of the brain can be traced back to harmful drug combinations or inappropriate drug use.
  • Drink moderately.  If you don’t drink alcoholic beverages, don’t start.  If you do drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day if you are over the age of 65.  One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, or 5 ounces of wine.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.  The health risks of being overweight include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke.  The risk factors for being underweight are poor memory and decrease immunity. 
  • Take care of your teeth by brushing and flossing and seeing your dentist regularly.  Some studies have linked chronic inflammation caused by gum disease to a number of health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease. 
  • Keep mentally fit.  Exercising the mind is as important as exercising the body.  By engaging in mentally stimulating activities, we can maintain our brain functions as we age.  We can continue to grow new connections among the billions of brain cells we possess by learning new things.  Solve a puzzle, learn a new musical instrument, read a challenging book, play a board or card game, attend a lecture or play, or write a short story.
  • Reduce stress.  Stress can wear down our bodies and minds as well as cause or contribute to depression and anxiety.
  • Protect your brain.  Stay strong to maintain balance and prevent falls.  Wear a helmet when bicycling.
  • Stay socially connected.  Studies have shown that people who are engaged with family and community groups take longer to show the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease than those who are socially isolated.
  • Be positive.  Focus on the good.
Stay connected spiritually.  If nurturing your spiritual side has had meaning for you, keep up that aspect of your life.  Those with a strong faith often find support and comfort from their beliefs and their community.  So whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs, stay connected.  This connection can help prevent and relieve depression and may guard against dementia.