Older adults who live in Minnesota are among the healthiest in America, according to a recent report released by the United Health Foundation.
Minnesota set the standard for elder health this past year, according to the non-profit healthcare group’s analysis, which was based on a nationwide analysis of dozens of factors that influence elder health, including: access to appropriate medical care, government policies and regulations, poverty rates among the aging population and individual health behaviors (i.e. smoking, drinking, engaging in physical activity).
Elderly Minnesotans are far more likely to have access to helpful medical resources, such as home health care and prescription drug coverage, and are also more likely to participate in life-enriching behaviors, such as exercising regularly and volunteering.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, older adults living in Mississippi—which fell to the very bottom of the state rankings—were more likely to be living in poverty, be less physically active and forgo important health screenings than most other elderly Americans. The state also had trouble providing its aging population with specialized geriatric care professionals.
Keeping an aging America healthy
It’s no secret that the American population is greying. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, there will be more than 88 million Americans over the age of 65. Approximately 8 out of every 10 of these individuals will suffer from at least one chronic illness, according to the American Geriatrics Society.
These undeniable statistics have everyone, from policymakers to medical professionals, asking the same question: How can we keep our aging population healthy and fit for as long as possible?
Being in good health does not simply mean being free of major disease or disability; it means being in possession of an overall sense of well-being in every aspect of life: mental, physical and social, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
While genetics inevitably have some say in how healthy a person is, there are several external factors that also play a role:
- The medical care they are able to obtain.
- The practices and regulations that govern our public and private health systems.
- A person’s individual choices and behaviors (i.e. what they choose to eat, how often they exercise).
- The environment (both home and community) in which an individual lives.
- All of these elements combine to determine how robust a person feels, and become increasingly influential on their overall health as they age.
Controlling what you can control
A number of these primary health determinants remain, sadly, out of our individual control.
We cannot alter our genetic makeup, and there’s little we can do to exert meaningful influence over policies, or what kind of healthcare we have access to.
However, lifestyle behaviors are the one major area that we can modify. Not smoking, drinking only in moderation, visiting the doctor on a regular basis, eating right and exercising are just a few of the main ways that you can impact your overall well-being.
“Common chronic diseases are largely preventable and multiple chronic conditions are often an outcome of modifiable lifestyle factors and failed prevention strategies,” say the United Health Foundation study authors.
When it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices, apparently we should all take our cue from elderly Hawaiians.
Minnesota may have been deemed the healthiest state for elders overall, but older adults living in Hawaii took top honors for engaging in the most wholesome behaviors. Aging Hawaiians were less likely to smoke or be overweight, and more likely to visit the dentist on a regular basis and be physically active than their counterparts on the mainland.
The good news is that making even small changes in your diet, or adding a little bit more exercise to your routine doesn’t have to be hard. Here are a few resources to help you channel your inner healthy Hawaiian:
10 Things That Make You Feel Old: And What to do About Them
6 Fun Activities That Count as Exercise
Get More Energy By Eating Smart
14 Antioxidant-Rich Super Foods for Health
In Pain? Blame Your Brain
Top 3 Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet Foods
By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor