May is Older Americans Month, a tribute to our nation’s 37.9 million 65-plus population. Older Americans Month is a great time for seniors to establish or renew their commitment to protecting their health. Many illnesses — often thought of as being age-related — can be prevented by making some simple lifestyle changes. It’s the small things that can make healthy aging possible.

As first steps, seniors should stop smoking, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. It is especially important for older Americans to eat nutritious foods. Older adults require the same nutrients as younger people, but should generally eat smaller portions, except for fruits and vegetables. Staying social by attending community events, keeping active by learning something new, and challenging the brain by playing mind games are ways seniors can adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Secondly, Older Americans Month should be a reminder to schedule any doctor appointments seniors have been putting off. Routine doctor visits and preventive screenings are some of the best ways seniors can protect their health and avoid serious health problems.

Seniors should bring all their medications to their appointments and closely review them with their doctor to make sure they’re using them appropriately and avoiding potential drug reactions. It is also a good idea to bring a friend or relative along to doctor appointments so they can take notes on the doctor’s recommendations as well as important test results such as blood pressure and cholesterol readings.

Finally, seniors should evaluate their Medicare plan to ensure it meets their health needs and fits their budget.

Seniors should check to see if the doctors whom they regularly visit are included in their Medicare plan’s network and if the plan will cover preventive screenings. Taking a close look at their current plan and reviewing the other options available to them will allow seniors to be fully prepared to make any changes that are necessary during Medicare’s Annual Election Period in the fall.

In addition to Medicare, many private companies, including subsidiaries of UnitedHealth Group, offer a variety of Medicare plans that offer benefits to help older adults live healthier, more secure lives. Seniors can visit www.Medicare.gov to review their Medicare options and make sure they’ve chosen a plan that’s right for them.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle should not be an “all-or-nothing” attempt. Small, steady changes are easiest to achieve and maintain, and Older Americans Month is the perfect time for seniors to get started on their path to a healthier life. The most important thing seniors can do to enhance their overall well-being is to get started today.

Here are eight things seniors can do now to make a significant difference later in the life.

1) Quit smoking: Smoking is one of the top root causes of death, leading to heart disease, cancer and stroke.

2) Exercise regularly: There are easy ways older adults can get exercise without having a gym membership, such as taking a walk around the block or parking a little farther away from your destination.

3) Maintain a healthy weight: Being underweight, overweight or obese increases risks for certain health problems.

4) Eat nutritious foods: Older adults require the same nutrients as younger people, but should generally eat smaller portions, except for fruits and vegetables.

5) Stay social and active: Get involved in your community and attend local events. Volunteering is a good way to keep busy and meet new people.

6) Challenge your mind: Take a class at your local community college and learn something new. Tackle a crossword puzzle or try Sudoku.

7) Manage your medications: Older adults must be careful to prevent drug interactions from their medicines. Tell your doctor about all the drugs, vitamins and herbs you take.

8) See your doctor: Routine doctor visits and preventive screenings are some of the best ways seniors can protect their health and avoid serious health problems.

Dr. Mark Leenay is senior medical director and vice president of clinical affairs for Ovations, UnitedHealth Group’s senior health and well-being unit, and is board certified in geriatric, palliative and family medicine. He is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and holds an appointment at its Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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