Whole Health for Seniors: Staying Physically, Mentally, and Socially Well

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What if making a simple lifestyle change could boost your health in a big way? Would you try it? ChenMed's Jessica Chen, MD, an internal medicine specialist who focuses on seniors, shares some easy and doable things you can do to improve your whole health — body, mind, and spirit.

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Let's get physical

"Start low and go slow," says Dr. Chen. You don't have to run a marathon or even walk a mile to make an impact on your physical health. Walk a block every day or park a little further away from the grocery store entrance than you're used to. Set small goals and slowly increase them over time.

Need a little help getting started? Grab a workout buddy. Research shows that exercising with a pal makes it easier to get up and moving, and feels like less of a task and is more enjoyable.

If you live in a cooler climate or just want to take your exercise indoors, you've got options.

"Many Medicare Advantage plans now offer fitness programs," says Dr. Chen.

These fitness programs may offer access to gyms and exercise classes across the country. It all depends on which plan you choose. Having a fitness benefit as part of your health plan can save you money.

Do you have a chronic condition? Don't sweat it.

"Even just a little bit of exercise can really improve arthritis, diabetes, and blood pressure," says Dr. Chen. You should always talk with your doctor before exercising to see what's right for you.

Play games to take care of your brain

Exercising your mind can help slow down the progress of memory problems. Dr. Chen recommends crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Reading and simple games increase the activity of your brain, which can be effective in keeping your mind sharp. Consider taking a class in something you've always wanted to learn, like painting, photography, or gardening, to challenge your brain. You'll meet new people, which is an added bonus for your social health.

Chat it up with friends and loved ones

Did you know depression and heart disease go hand in hand? That's where your social health comes in. Though often overlooked, your social health thrives when you're around friends and family. Whether it's giving your old high school friend a call to catch up or gardening with your grandchildren, make a point of getting out there and surrounding yourself with positive people.

Dr. Chen recommends engaging in a faith-based organization or volunteering at a community center. "Find something you're passionate about," she says. "If you can connect with a social group or have strong family support that makes a huge difference."

Connecting the whole you

Physical, mental, and social health are all connected. They're critical parts that make up the whole you. It's not easy making lifestyle changes. It can take many tries and fails, but don't give up.

So how do you find that motivation? Find a reason to improve your health, and then go for it.

Whether it's watching your grandkids graduate, losing an extra five pounds, or improving balance to help prevent against falls, Dr. Chen says finding your reason is the key to success.

Tap into your Medicare Advantage plan for support

"With Original Medicare, you don't get the extra benefits around health and wellness that you can get with Medicare Advantage," says Dr. Chen. "You can get extra health and wellness benefits, vision and dental coverage, and much more."

Talk to your doctor and do your research to ensure you're on the right track to the health benefits you need to support your whole health. Here are 5 questions to ask the doctor about finding the right Medicare plan for you.

Amy Capomaccio is a health care writer at Aetna with experience in senior wellness, Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial health care. When she's not practicing new mindfulness techniques, Amy is spending time outdoors and traveling. Amy hails from Wakefield, MA and has a degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Tampa.