In recognition of American Heart Month, Amada Senior Care would like to offer a few tips for keeping your heart healthy so that you can reap the benefits healthy aging. “The more you do in middle age to prepare yourself for successful aging, the better,” said Sharon Brangman, a geriatrician at SUNY Upstate Medical University and former president of the American Geriatrics Society. “Whether it be physically, mentally, or socially, seniors have the power to take responsibility for their health and change it for the better.”

Ditch Unhealthy Habits

It’s never too late to kick a bad habit to the curb ­– especially if it’s a dangerous one like smoking. Studies show that even in seniors who have been smoking for decades, health improvements begin within hours of quitting. Replacing cigarettes with a healthy snack or a new activity will help you avoid temptation and quit for good.

Follow a Nutritious Diet

A healthy diet is one of the best tools for preventing or managing the symptoms of chronic diseases like stroke, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s/dementia. Since metabolism slows with each year after age 40, monitoring the types and amount of food you eat is key to maintaining weight and avoiding obesity, especially for those seniors who aren’t able to exercise as much. A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains and fiber is a basic template for any senior. Certain nutrient-rich foods – including salmon, blueberries, avocados, green tea, and more – have been shown to boost brain function.

Exercise Regularly

You may think that as you get older, it is better to take it easy rather than continue an exercise routine. However, regular exercise will help prevent chronic conditions – such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure – that are common in seniors. According to the CDC, older adults should get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. To get the most of your exercise routine, be sure to include a combination of not only strength and endurance exercises, but also flexibility and balance exercises, which help protect seniors from dangerous falls. Low-impact endurance exercises like walking on a treadmill or cycling can be a good way for seniors to meet the recommended 150 minutes per week.

Get Enough Sleep

Seniors may notice their sleeping patterns changing as they age. Some changes include sleeping for less time, taking longer to get to sleep, waking up more often during the night, waking up earlier, feeling sleepier earlier, and increased napping during the day. Limiting naps during the day and avoiding stimulants like caffeine can help seniors stay on schedule and get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night, which is essential to physical and mental health.

Stimulate Your Brain

Significant memory loss isn’t a normal part of aging; in fact, the brain can generate new cells at any age. Mental exercise and stimulation such as memory exercises, crossword and jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, or learning new skills will help seniors remain mentally young. Finding time to relax and eliminate stress will also improve mental health. Stress will “disturb cognitive processes such as learning and memory, and consequently limit the quality of human life,” Jeansok Kim of the University of Washington said.

Keep Up with Preventive Care

Why wait until you’re sick to see your doctor? Preventive care (regular exams, check-ups, vaccines, and screenings) not only protects a senior’s health, but also saves them worry, money, and time in the future. Since the elderly are more susceptible to illness and certain medical conditions, seniors should be sure to stay up-to-date on things like seasonal flu vaccines, Shingles vaccines, heart and lung screenings, and cancer screenings.

Stay Socially Engaged

Social engagement is as crucial to a senior’s health as diet or exercise. Isolation leads to a greater risk of depression, lethargy, heart problems, and death. The Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center reported that seniors who are highly social lowered their rate of cognitive decline by 70 percent. There are endless ways to engage socially, but it’s important to be proactive. Sign up for a class at a senior center, join your local walking group, find a part-time job, volunteer, and connect with friends on Facebook to build relationships and ward of isolation.

Be Financially and Legally Prepared

Are you prepared for the likelihood of needing long-term care? A long-term care insurance policy is one of the best tools for avoiding financial crisis due to costs of care. It’s also smart to have an Advance Directive for healthcare, which is your written wishes for accepting or refusing life-saving treatments in the event of an emergency (it also allows you to name an agent to speak on your behalf). Being prepared for the unknown will give you and your family peace of mind.

“Heartfelt Habits for Healthy Aging” by Taylor French, Amada blog contributor.