10 Ways to Achieve a Healthy, Happy New Year From International Council on Active Aging

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For Baby Boomers and their parents, the International Council on Active Aging has a plan.

How to choose an age-friendly personal trainer

Every year International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) searches current research studies to find those most pertinent to an active-aging lifestyle. Use this year's key messages to form your Get Active plan.

When we cry out "Happy new year!" we mean it. As we age, happiness stems less from material possessions and more from health, good relationships and fulfilling activities that keep us engaged in life. In fact, losing their health is the greatest worry of older adults, according to polls conducted by AARP and USAToday/ABC News.

You can take action to have both health and happiness in 2007. Get active. Not just physically active, but intellectually and socially active, too. You'll feel better, improve your health and attitude, and keep your brain working. That'll make you happy!

Plan to be active in 2007

ICAA has taken care of the action items; you need to plan the dates and locations. Get out the calendar and schedule 15 minutes each day for the next 4 days to plan how you'll get started. Plan on trying these activities over the next months; don't do everything at once. But work on all of the 10 ways to get active; each will bring you a year's worth of rewards.

1. Invest in a good pair of shoes and socks. When your feet are happy, so are you. Foot pain is not a normal part of the aging process, points out the American Podiatric Medical Association. If you have pain in your feet, see a podiatrist, a visit that is likely covered in part by health insurance. Comfortable, well-fitting shoes and socks are a must and worth the investment. (Learn about aging feet at http://www.icaa.cc/footcare.htm.)

2. Play games. Games keep your brain working and cognitive skills healthy. Trivia, math, acting--there is a game for most personalities. There are many free games on the Internet. Enter the words "mind games," "puzzles" or "brain teasers" into your computer's search engine for hundreds of options.

3. Take a walk. Walk around the block, walk to the store, walk a mile. Walking improves lower body strength, maintains mobility and helps prevent cognitive decline. Research studies have shown that two short walks a day can be as good as a single, longer stroll. Once you are walking well, increase your speed and distance. (Get started or get motivated by visiting the walking resource center at http://www.icaa.cc/walkinghome.htm.)

4. Stand on one leg. Actually, you will work up to standing on one leg by performing balance exercises. Good balance helps you with everyday activities, like reaching into a cupboard, and avoiding falls. Many exercise classes designed for older adults also incorporate balance training.

5. Visit an eye doctor. A study reported in JAMA (295:2158, 2006) found that almost all the vision impairment in a large group of people over 60 years old could be improved with corrective lenses. Age-related macular degeneration is the most common vision loss as we get older, but studies have shown that people who smoke cigarettes and are obese are the most likely to get it. An optometrist can figure you the best plan for your eyes.

6. Increase your physical activity. Physical activity and exercise do a lot of good things, not only for physical health, but also for maintaining cognitive skills and reducing the risk of dementia.

Remember that physical activity means housework, walking to the store and playing with the neighbor kids. Be sure to make opportunities for activity. Join a community center or a health club that is geared to your interests. (Find a likely place by reading ICAA's "How to select an age-friendly fitness facility" and "How to choose an age-friendly personal trainer" at http://www.icaa.cc/consumer/age-friendlyguides.htm.)

7. Seek out your friends, family and neighbors. Social connections are good for your emotional well-being. Studies have shown that friendships and the social support network not only prevent loneliness, but also provide a ready source of intellectual, physical and volunteer activities. People with a strong social network lowered their risk of Alzheimer's disease, according to data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project.

8. Eat fruits and vegetables. Switch to a Mediterranean diet (emphasizing fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, some fish and alcohol, and limiting dairy and meat) and you can lower your body weight and cholesterol levels. By the way, the Mediterranean diet has been associated with lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

9. Laugh a lot. Laughing increases circulation, immune system defenses and mental functioning while decreasing stress hormones. Watch comedies or read a humor book and the comics. Not finding these funny? Then try an exercise recommended by the World Laugher Tour. Take a deep breath, then exhale with a big sigh ("Haaaaaa…."). Put your hands at your cheekbones and "hee hee hee," move your hands over your heart and "ha ha ha," then place hands on your belly for a "ho ho ho." Now you're warmed up and ready for spontaneous laughter.

10. Get enough sleep. When life gets hectic, adequate sleep seems to fall by the wayside. Don't let it go. Get your seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Insomnia affects almost half of adults 60 years and older, states the National Institute on Aging, making it the most common sleep complaint. Changing your habits is more successful at improving sleep than taking medications (JAMA, 295:2851, 2006).

Did you notice that virtually every activity improves your mental health and reduces the risk of dementia? By increasing your levels of physical activity, social interactions and intellectual engagement, your new year plan of activities that will increase your health and happiness.

About the International Council on Active Aging

The ICAA is the world's largest membership association dedicated to changing the way we age by uniting and working with professionals in the retirement, assisted living, recreation, fitness, rehabilitation and wellness fields.

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