Date: April 1st, 2005
Older Americans know how to maintain their health, but they see obstacles in the path to a healthy lifestyle. That’s the bottom line from a new survey by the American Public Health Association.
The survey was conducted in conjunction with National Public Health Week 2005, April 4-10. It looked at how Americans 55 and older view their own health and their understanding of what they can do to stay healthy as they age, and asked them to identify what they think stands in their way.
Most respondents - nearly eight in 10 - said they believe diet and exercise play more of a role than genetics in deciding how healthy they will be as they age. This is encouraging, said APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, M.D.
“We’re happy that consumers have some perspective that there are things you can do about your health,” Benjamin said. “Your health is not an inevitable consequence of who you are or your genes.”
Older adults already living healthy lifestyles
According to the survey, half of older adults believe they are living a healthy lifestyle, while half think they could improve on their habits. People 75 and older were much more likely than their younger counterparts to say they were living a healthy lifestyle. Two-thirds of the older group said they were already doing things right, compared to only 38 percent of those aged 55 to 64.
Respondents identified a lack of motivation as the primary barrier standing between them and an active lifestyle, followed closely by money and time.
The good news for the American public is that the obstacles identified by survey respondents can be overcome, Benjamin said.
“People may not know there are simple things they can do to exercise,” he said. “For example, there are stretching and range of motion exercises you can do in your home. You don’t have to go to a gym to achieve wellness.”
Forty percent of the seniors surveyed had never had a colonoscopy, possibly indicating that seniors are not taking health screenings seriously enough. Home safety was another possible area for improvement. More than two-thirds said they had not prepared their homes to prevent falls, by either moving furniture or wires, or installing grab bars in their bathrooms.
The survey also examined what older Americans thought about the state of health care in the United States. More than one-fourth of the respondents ranked health care as their top concern for the country, and they were much more concerned about cost (61%) than quality (22%) or access (14%).
“It’s important for seniors to pay a lot of attention to the huge policy debates going on right now,” Benjamin said. In addition to Medicare, he cited Social Security as a government program that can profoundly affect older Americans’ health, because a person who is not comfortable financially may have limited access to proper care.
Recommendations for living stronger, longer
APHA has identified “three P’s to living stronger, longer” in hopes of helping people understand how they can incorporate healthy habits into daily life: prevent problems from happening, protect your health through early detection, and plan to stay healthy for many years to come.
The group recommends that older adults:
- Ask a friend or family member to join them in making changes, and to provide mutual support for protecting and improving their health.
- Strive to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity every day through such everyday activities as gardening, house cleaning, and walking.
“Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of time or money to do these things,” Benjamin said. “All it takes is some planning. It’s about parking your car farther away in the parking lot so you have to walk more.”