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Senior ladies

Age may be just a number, but whether that number is a joy or a challenge depends on making healthy choices as the years tick by. September is Healthy Aging Month so now is a good time to consider the many ways to make those senior years more rewarding.

Interestingly, studies have found that many people feel younger than their chronological age, giving some credence to the idea that 80 is the new 65. That youthful attitude is correlated with positive outcomes, including a lower likelihood of developing dementia.

What other positive steps can you take to age healthfully and happily? Check out these suggestions.

Choose a fiber-rich diet of whole foods. That means loading up on vegetables, nuts, fruits, lean meats and whole grains, and going easy on packaged foods, fatty meats, butter and sugar. This Mediterranean-style diet can also be protective against heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related illnesses.

Consider supplements. While it’s best to get nutrition from food, not vitamin pills, seniors may need to supplement with additional calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B6. The scientific evidence is divided on supplements, however, so this a call you should make with your physician.

Get regular exercise. Walking is an excellent activity for senior citizens, with lots of positive outcomes including brain health, weight control, strong bones and muscles, improved mood and better sleep. Tai chi—a gentle Chinese exercise that involves deep breathing and slow movements—is another great option for older adults. It improves balance and flexibility while strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility.

Sleep well. Getting good sleep can be particularly challenging for older adults, who may have a hard time falling and staying asleep. Avoiding daytime naps longer than 20 minutes, checking with your doctor to see if your medications are causing wakefulness and avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evening may help.

Stay connected. It’s estimated that 40 percent of Americans older than 65 are chronically lonely, yet studies indicate that relationships are essential to healthy aging. Replenishing your friendships, cultivating younger friends, and participating in volunteer activities are good ways to renew our connections to others as we age.

Those strong social ties also are powerful medicine. People with strong relationships tend to live longer, even if they have bad health habits. And a study of 2,320 male heart-attack survivors found the ones with strong personal relationships were most likely to stay alive during the following three years.

Maintain a Sense of Purpose. Seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to experience heart attacks, strokes, disabilities, mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease, according to dozens of studies. This can be accomplished by volunteering, caring for grandchildren or getting involved in a community—anything the allows older people to feel like they play a valuable part in the lives of others.

One excellent way to check off all the boxes for healthy aging is to choose a senior living community when life alone or as a couple becomes too challenging. While there are services available to those who live independently thanks to the Naperville Senior Center, the Naperville Park District and other senior-focused offerings, a senior living community such as Monarch Landing can provide support in every area of healthy aging, from delicious food to medical care to exercise and dozens of activities that ensure continuous opportunities for connection, friendship and fun.

After all, if age is just a number, why not make the most of it?