Thanks to modern medicine, more people are living longer, but a longer life isn’t always a healthier one. According to the American Cancer Society, about 77 percent of people diagnosed with cancer are 55 or older.
Living a healthy lifestyle is important to reducing cancer risks. But as we age, it’s sometimes easy to forget the importance of exercise, proper nutrition and stress management, which is why I like to solicit family members’ help in encouraging aging relatives to make healthy choices.
Here are a few lifestyle tips that can benefit the health of senior family members:
1. Encourage exercise
Daily exercise plays a major role in preserving a person’s health. Retired seniors often lead sedentary lives. Try these tips to get them moving.
* Educate seniors about the benefits of exercise. Increasing physical activity can lower a person’s chances for many cancers, including breast, endometrial, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers.
The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, every day. To jumpstart an increase in activity, go for a brisk walk together during your next visit.
* Encourage seniors to do activities they enjoy and that will keep them active. Gardening, golfing, playing tennis and swimming are all great choices. But first, encourage aging relatives talk to their doctor about what types of activity they should do.
2. Encourage healthy food choices
Many seniors, especially those living alone, don’t cook much. A poor diet may keep seniors from getting the nutrients they need to maintain a healthy body and lower their risk of lung, mouth, esophageal, stomach and colon cancers.
Here are some ways to help aging relatives eat nutritious meals daily.
* Learn about healthy diets for adults older than age 50. Share information on how many calories they should be getting daily and the types of foods they should be eating.
* Share leftovers. Make enough healthy food at home so that you have extra to package and freeze. Then, when you visit, take those leftovers with you.
3. Discourage smoking and secondhand smoke
Quitting smoking is the most important thing anyone can do to improve their health. Quitting at any age reduces the risks for cancer and other diseases, such as heart and lung disease. Avoiding secondhand smoke can greatly improve one’s health, too. If an aging member of your family smokes, encourage them get help by calling one of these quit smoking lines:
* American Cancer Society: 1-800-QUIT-NOW
* National Cancer Institute: 1-877-44U-QUIT
4. Reduce financial stress
Many seniors experience financial stress due to money management issues. Psychological stress can affect the immune system, which is the body’s defense against infection and disease, including cancer.
Here’s how to help aging relatives cope with financial stress:
* Offer advice. Work with them to set a budget and payment system for bills. Suggest working with the bank to set up automatic bill payment to relieve some of the financial responsibility.
* Look into the “representative payee” alternative. If your relative receives income from Social Security, the Social Security Administration can appoint a representative payee to receive monthly checks and use the money to pay for living expenses.
5. Encourage regular check-ups and screening exams
Cancer screening exams help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for curing the disease are greatest. Learn what screening exams aging relatives should be getting and make sure they schedule their appointments on time.
It’s important to take an active role in keeping senior family members healthy.
Therese B. Bevers is Medical Director, Cancer Prevention Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.
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