In observation of Healthy Aging Month, we spoke with four providers to see what advice they would give to their patients, young and old, to maintain and bolster their health as they grow older. From fitness goals to fast food, here were their responses:
What are your tips for older patients to preserve their health?
Dr. Keith Fernandez: The best advice for maintaining good health is exercise and eat a healthy — but not “fad” — diet. Exercise regularly; walking briskly is easiest and probably safest. Engage with others: be a friend, parent, sibling, and child and a part of your community.
Dr. Scott Bohlke: I have always believed in staying active. This would be both physically and mentally. The old adage “use it or lose it” applies. I have seen too many individuals decline rapidly when they become inactive for whatever reason
Dr. Joel Meshulam: I generally tell all of my patients (not just the old ones) to focus on activity and exercise as close to daily as possible. I tell them to treat it like their job: no excuses, schedule exercise rather than “try” to exercise, and journal what you’re doing in order to set up healthy self-competition that encourages continued progress with strengthening, balance, and endurance.
Dr. Joseph Deveau: The diverse healthcare needs of the American elderly population are changing swiftly, nearly as rapidly as their growth. The elderly population, defined as those individuals 65 years old and older, will comprise one out of every five Americans by the year 2050. Although the elderly are normally grouped into one cohort, they are an exceptionally diverse population with distinctive healthcare needs, ranging from wellness support for the spry and youthful to long-term care needs for the medically complex and frail. For my older patients, I recommend daily exercise for their mind, body, and spirit in whatever ways that will help them reach their health goals. By supporting an intellectual curiosity, fostering social relationships, and maintaining an active lifestyle, our older patient population will be able to achieve their goals during their golden years.
What can younger patients do now to ensure their health down the road?
Dr. Fernandez: Enjoy fast food sparingly. When you buy a fast-food hamburger meal, throw away the bread and the fries, eat the burger, take one sip of the milkshake and then toss it, too. Eventually you will tire of spending the money on an icky-looking piece of meat. You will feel better, too! Follow the same advice for your children, except keep the toy and toss the whole meal.
But seriously, maintain your weight in a normal range and exercise doing something you really like. For instance, I love hiking in the woods, and there are hundreds of places to hike in and around Houston. Don’t smoke, and be mindful of your alcohol consumption.
Dr. Bohlke: Maintain a healthy lifestyle and don’t overindulge in any behavior that has long-term consequences. Recent studies reveal that diet and activity in your 20s will have a profound impact on your health in your 50s, further confirming the notion that your body never forgets. In today’s world of “here today and gone tomorrow,” this is one of the toughest things to sell to younger patients.
Dr. Joel Meshulam: Younger patients should start now. Good habits are very hard to form and very easy to break, whereas bad habits are the exact opposite.
Dr. Joseph Deveau: For our younger patients, it is natural and quite easy to take our health for granted. However, many of our habits that we create during our younger years strongly influence our health as we age. To ensure we all are able to live our best life as an older adult, it is imperative we develop good health habits in our younger days and consider that an important long-term investment. By maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a sensible diet, we can lessen our chances of developing many health conditions, including osteoarthritis, hypertension, and diabetes. Those conditions can negatively impact our longevity and well-being as older adults.
What has caring for older patients taught you about being a doctor (or life in general)?
Dr. Fernandez: I have learned a lot throughout my career from patients that are older, younger, and in my own age group. I felt the greatest value from my colleagues who were in their 70s and 80s. It was comforting to me to have their experience, encouragement, and advice, and that frequently saved me and my patients from serious trouble.
Dr. Bohlke: The most revealing thing to me is having a positive attitude and enjoying what you do. Life is too short. Enjoy what you do, laugh along the way, and keep moving forward.
Dr. Joel Meshulam: Caring for older patients, as well as younger ones, has helped me to understand that being a physician has to be collaborative, not dictatorial. I am much more understanding of patients who don’t necessarily follow every word of advice that I give them as long as they understand the potential ramifications of doing things their own way. A physician has to have the time and patience to take care of the segments of our patient population that are most in need.
Dr. Joseph Deveau: Caring for older patients is as adventurous as it is rewarding. I’ve learned the important roles that maintaining humility, having understanding, and showing compassion play when given the privilege of serving as older patients’ primary care doctor. Furthermore, I’ve learned the importance of both laughing and crying alongside older patients as they navigate their older years. As my grandmother used to say, “Getting old is not for wimps.” I have also learned the importance of asking older patients, “What matters most to you?” Every individual has different goals and desires. Most importantly, listening to every patient, especially older patients, is vital not only to their health, but to my growth as a physician and person. Older patients have so much wisdom and many amazing stories to share. With our hectic day-to-day as physicians, listening to and learning from our older patients can help to remind us doctors why we do what we do.