The Center for Disease Control puts out a report every few years called "The State of Health and Aging in America". It offers a picture of the country's progress in "improving the health and well-being of older adults, promoting prevention... and reducing behaviors that contribute to premature death and disability."
The CDC published a report in 2004, another in 2007 and the latest one in 2013. It should come as no surprise to any of us that the leading causes of death for older Americans are heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer's and diabetes.
As an outgrowth of the report, the CDC further provides a guide for older Americans to help us prevent disease and improve our overall health. Here are the six steps the CDC recommends for living a long and healthy life:
1. Get screened. "Mammography is the best available method to detect breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage," according to the CDC. Women ages 50 to 74 should undergo mammograms once every two years. Similarly, colorectal cancer screening tests can find polyps in your colon before they turn into cancer, and while they can be safely removed. Older adults should get a fecal occult blood test on a regular basis. You should also get a colonoscopy at least once every ten years, beginning at age 50, on the recommendation of your doctor.
2. Get vaccinated. Flu and pneumonia comprise the seventh leading cause of death among older Americans. We should all get the pneumonia vaccine at least once, and the flu vaccine every year in the fall.
3. Be physically active. Everyone – not just seniors – should participate in both moderate-intensity aerobic activities as well as muscle strengthening exercise on a regular basis. Aerobic activities are those that increase your heart rate, and include recreation like brisk walking, light jogging, bicycle riding, swimming or playing softball or tennis. The CDC recommends sweating our way through aerobics for at least 2 1/2 hours a week. We also should be engaged in at least some moderate strength training, such as lifting weights, resistance exercises, sit-ups, push-ups, digging in the garden or practicing yoga. The important thing is to pick an activity you like and one that fits into your lifestyle.
4. Eat fruits and vegetables daily. According to the CDC, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The recommended "dose" for people over age 65? Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
5. Quit smoking. Even after all the stop-smoking efforts of the last 50 years, tobacco is still the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. The CDC offers a stop-smoking toolkit on its smoking and tobacco use page.
6. Take medication for high blood pressure. The CDC points out that over 60 million Americans have high blood pressure, yet fewer than half of them have it under control. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of illness and death among older adults. We all need to take the initiative to get our blood pressure checked by our health care provider, take our medications as prescribed and make the necessary lifestyle changes such as eating a low-sodium diet, quitting smoking and getting proper exercise.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.