“There’s plenty of living left to do as you grow older and eventually retire,” said Dr. Benjamin Liptzin, chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Health.
September is Healthy Aging Month focusing attention on the many positive aspects of growing older, especially in the areas of physical, social, mental and financial fitness. Drawing on the “back to school” urge embedded in everyone from childhood, the observance month is designed to encourage people to rejuvenate and get going on positive health measures.
“First and foremost, it’s important to stay healthy,” said Dr. Liptzin.
If you smoke, call your physician now and ask for help to quit. Smoking is associated with cancer, emphysema and other debilitating diseases. Eating properly and maintaining a desirable weight is also helpful.
“Although there is no perfect diet for everyone, individuals should eat a range of foods and avoid too many calories,” said Dr. Liptzin.
Regular physical exercise is helpful at any age and at any weight. Alcohol in excess is clearly harmful for most people, but alcohol in moderation seems not to be harmful and may even be helpful, noted Dr. Liptzin. And, most importantly, regular medical care and early treatment of illnesses clearly make a difference, he said.
The Baystate psychiatrist noted it is also important as you get older to stay involved.
“That means social involvement with other people and diverse activities that provide mental stimulation, as well as physical activities,” said Dr. Liptzin, noting studies suggest that people who do crossword puzzles or participate in ballroom dancing are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.
Planning ahead is also “a must” if your goal is to age successfully. Make sure you have enough money to pay for food, shelter and, if needed, medications. Having secure finances also reduces stress and makes it possible to enjoy a wider range of activities.
“Some retirees may choose to continue working at least part-time to keep active and earn extra money,” said Dr. Lipztin.
In addition to financial security, it helps to plan ahead for psychological and social well-being.
Dr. Liptzin suggested asking yourself: Where do I want to live? Who do I want to live near? What activities do I want to engage in?
“Some anticipation of what life will be like after you are no longer working or filling other caretaking roles is helpful,” said Dr. Liptzin.
Religion also plays a role in aging. For many people, getting older brings them a new spiritual awareness of what their life has meant and connects them to a religious community that helps deal with losses of family and friends and anticipation of their own future death, noted Dr. Liptzin. And, as a general rule, it is helpful for people as they age to be as independent as possible but, when needed, to ask for and accept assistance.
“We can all benefit from the wisdom of Grandma Moses, a woman who took up painting late in life and became a recognized artist. At age 101, she was quoted as saying, ‘I look back on my life like a good day’s work. It was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented. I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been and always will be,’” said Dr. Liptzin.