Don't let money troubles bury your health in the golden years.
Health care costs can snowball as a person ages, and the added stress of those big bills can further tax one's health. To age well, experts say, it's often helpful to consider money matters along with making healthy choices. "What you want to do as you get older is both be healthy and have a healthy bank account," says Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, who co-authored the forthcoming book "AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip." In addition to saving for retirement and choosing the right insurance plan, here are ways you can simultaneously work toward both those goals.
Manage your stress -- including that related to money.
Chronic stress can accelerate the aging process and worsen health problems. But there's no one-size-fits-all cure for this ubiquitous health concern. Instead, Roizen notes it's important to distinguish stress from different sources, and address it accordingly. For example, for some of the day-to-day stresses that you encounter at work or home, meditation may help. But for financial stress -- for which, he notes, medical care costs are the leading cause -- it's important to approach the problem with a concrete plan. Money woes can loom particularly large for those entering retirement, so develop a budget to address which debts you need to pay off first and ways to increase savings.
Exercise in place.
Staying physically active can help prevent and manage chronic diseases, like diabetes, which become more prevalent with age. While some may spring for a gym membership or require rehab for a medical issue, it's generally possible to be active right where you are, which can save you time and money. It could be doing leg extensions sitting on a kitchen chair or squats without added weight. Or just walk around your neighborhood, says Marcia Ory, associate dean of research at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Aim for least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise -- like brisk walking -- weekly, and talk to your doctor regarding any concerns about physical limitations.
Practice portion control.
Pass on the heaping helping. "Americans eat way more food than they ever need to eat," says Ory, who directs Texas A&M's Center for Population Health and Aging. You don't have to drastically cut calories to see health benefits, either. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend active men over 65 need 2,600 calories daily, while sedentary men require just 2,000; for women it's 2,000, if active, and 1,600 if sedentary. "Portion control is really a way of maintaining a more healthy weight," she says, which can improve health and longevity and reduce chronic disease -- saving you money in the short- and long-term.
Join a community garden.
Growing your own food can be a great way to save cabbage while eating more veggies. In addition to that and the opportunity to be physical digging in the dirt, Ory recommends joining a community garden for the added benefit of social engagement. On top of eating better and moving more, social engagement provides protective benefits that will enable you to be healthier and improve your quality of life, she says. Growing your social network can help prevent isolation, an issue for many older adults that is a significant risk factor for everything from depression to high blood pressure.
Falls can cause a range of serious injuries, from fractures to head trauma, and result in health decline and even death. Besides exercises to help improve balance, like tai chi, experts also suggest making repairs and home modifications to prevent a catastrophic spill. "You can get better lighting, you can fix uneven floor boards, you can get rid of throw rugs," says Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of East Tennessee State University's College of Public Health. Ory adds that small investments in modifications like adding a grab bar in the shower can save a person major medical bills later -- and the more serious potential human cost of falling.
Kick the habit.
Some older adults who smoke and haven't developed lung cancer may be inclined to think there's no reason to quit now. But public health experts say apart from the obvious -- you're lighting up money every day -- risks don't decline and the benefits of quitting don't go away with age. "It's never too late to quit," says Uma Nair, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona's College of Public Health, and assistant director of the Arizona Smokers Helpline, which helps people in the state quit. The same goes for breaking myriad other unhealthy habits from eating too much sugar to heavy drinking -- that ultimately tax our wallets and well-being.
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