From healthy diets to health screenings - a list of options to help keep parents healthy
Published: October 30, 2023
By: Paige Townley
Parents can’t do all they can to keep their children healthy if they aren’t healthy themselves. Guidelines and testing schedules for adults are seemingly always changing—not to mention that as adults age, their risk of various chronic diseases continues to increase. While there’s a lot outside of our control when it comes to health again, there are many things adults can do to give themselves the best chance to avoid serious health problems. Here are some top considerations adults should keep in mind.
Improve Your Diet
Eating healthy at any age is important, but it’s crucial as you age. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), fruits and vegetables should take up half of the plate, and adults should aim for five to nine servings of those each day. When possible, adds the ADPH, fill the plate with colorful foods, which will help ensure a diet rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. To reduce the risk of osteoporosis, incorporate calcium-rich foods, such as nonfat milk, broccoli, and cottage cheese, into your diet.
Maintaining a healthy diet also increases the likelihood of keeping a healthy weight. A healthy weight can also decrease the chances of developing cancer, notes the ADPH. “Being overweight or having obesity is linked with a higher risk of getting 13 types of cancer. These cancers make up 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year.”
Get Your Vaccines
Unlike children, there is no immunization schedule required for adults. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important vaccines that adults should at least consider getting, notes Dr. Carlie Stein Somerville, who works in the Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
Generally, it’s highly recommended that adults of any age get a flu shot once a year. In addition, it’s also recommended that adults of any age get the Tdap vaccine every 10 years. The Tdap vaccine can prevent tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
Beyond those specific immunizations, other vaccine options vary by age. For example, the pneumonia vaccine, PREVNAR 20, is recommended for healthy adults who are 65 years of age or older. “Or for an adult of any age if they have an underlying health issue, such as heart disease or kidney disease, if they are immunocompromised or if they smoke,” adds Somerville. “If it’s an adult with no underlying health issue, they should start thinking about it once they are 60.”
When an adult reaches the age of 50, they become eligible for another recommended vaccine: the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine is a two-part vaccine, and it’s recommended for adults once they become eligible. “Even if you’ve had shingles before, it’s recommended they get vaccinated because you can get shingles again,” Somerville adds. “It is recurrent in some patients, so it’s best to get the vaccine once eligible to prevent them from getting it again.”
It can’t go without saying that adults should strongly consider having a primary care provider for these annual checkups, adds Wes Stubblefield, MD, MPH, FAAP, medical officer for the ADPH. “Things change as you age, and having a personal physician that you can talk to is very important,” he says. “Having someone who knows your medical background, family history and medications is important. They have a baseline and can advise you on your best course forward as you age.”
Get Preventative Screenings
A significant part of preventative health care is health screenings. Dr. Somerville notes that adults should be sure to stay up to date on age-appropriate screenings, particularly cancer screenings. “Many guidelines for cancer screenings have changed in the last several years,” she says. “They have lowered the age recommendations for certain cancers.”
For example, colonoscopies used to be recommended to start for adults at 50, but it has now changed to start at 45. “A lot of 45-year-old patients are shocked when I tell them they are due for a colonoscopy,” Dr. Somerville adds. “Adults need to pay attention to cancer screening guidelines changing.”
Preventative screenings also include the typical labs and screenings that often happen at annual checkups, such as cholesterol checks, diabetes screenings, and blood pressure checks. “Those are important tests when it comes to preventing heart and lung disease,” explains Dr. Somerville. “Those are things adults should be talking to their doctor about every year. They may not need labs every year, depending on their risk, but they should be screened at regular intervals.”
Get Annual Checkups
A sometimes overlooked preventative care measure for adults is simply making and going to an annual checkup. All adults should at least go to the doctor for a checkup once a year. “This is a time for your doctor to check your blood pressure, and weight, discuss new family history risks, and talk about new complaints,” Dr. Somerville says. “Going once a year helps ensure that nothing is missed.”
With guidelines changes and risk factors for various diseases increasing as adults age, it’s important for adults to periodically check in with their doctor, especially adults dealing with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses, even if it’s simply asking questions about recent guideline changes or about other vaccines they may benefit from or other tests that may be available. An annual checkup is a great time to do so, Dr. Somerville adds. “Your doctor is there to help you and talk to you about any concerns you may have,” she says. “Adults should be talking to their doctor at least once a year.”
Physical activity is important to anyone of any age, and it’s especially true as adults age or for adults who are already dealing with chronic diseases. According to the ADPH, a goal for adults is getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense physical activity. This could be broken down into 20 to 25 minutes of physical activity every day or 30 minutes of activity five days per week. Exercise doesn’t have to be particularly strenuous or even done in a gym—it could be as simple as taking a walk, doing household chores, mowing the lawn, swimming, cycling, or running. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added, adults age 65 or older should be sure to do a mix of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and balance activities.
Paige Townley is a Birmingham Parent staff writer and freelance writer.