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Top 10 Health Tips for Women Over 65

by Helen L. Sloan, RN, CS, DNS, and Anne White Robinson, RN, DNS

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “One disease, long life; no disease, short life.” For many women, diabetes is that one disease that, perhaps ironically, leads to a longer, healthier life. That’s because a big part of the treatment for diabetes is adopting a healthy lifestyle: following a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, not smoking, drinking only in moderation, finding ways to cope with stress, and simply paying attention to one’s body. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle gets no less important with age. In fact, it may get more important, since diabetes is a progressive disease. Here are our top 10 tips for women over 65 who want to take charge of their health and stay healthy, strong, and independent in the years to come.

Eat right
If you don’t already follow a meal plan, work with a dietitian to design one that helps you achieve your blood glucose goals, lowers your risk of complications, and includes foods that you like to eat. If you have Medicare Part B, some sessions with a dietitian are covered with a physician’s referral. You may receive up to three hours with a dietitian in your first year of nutrition therapy and two hours each subsequent year.

The American Diabetes Association recommends eating a variety of high-fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to get the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need to maintain your overall health. A diet that’s low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium will help you keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels in a healthy range and thus lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other complications.

A particular concern for women is preventing osteoporosis. As we get older, we gradually begin to lose bone mass. Estrogen helps to maintain bone mass, so after menopause, women can begin to lose bone very rapidly, and this bone loss can lead to osteoporosis. To slow bone loss, women must get an adequate amount of calcium, a mineral the body uses to build bone. The National Institutes of Health recommend that women get between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day, depending on their age and whether they are pregnant or lactating. Some calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, collard greens, fortified orange juice, and fortified soy products. If you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, you may consider taking supplements.

For your body to be able to absorb calcium properly, you also need to get an adequate amount of vitamin D. For many women, the easiest way to get vitamin D is to get some sun — the body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, for people in northern climates, the sun may not be strong enough, and there’s evidence that our bodies don’t produce vitamin D from sunlight as easily when we get older. It’s a good idea to try to get your vitamin D from food sources such as fortified milk. But if you don’t drink milk, vitamin D supplements are available; aim for 400–800 international units (IU) a day. Some calcium supplements have vitamin D in them, but you don’t need to take calcium and vitamin D at the same time to get the benefits.

Be the captain of your team
If your health care is the ship, you are the skipper; your primary-care physician and the rest of your health-care team are there to help out and make recommendations, but ultimately it’s you who decides what course to steer. Take charge of your medical care in the following ways:

  • Remember that you provide most of your care. You’re the one who’s responsible for taking your insulin or oral diabetes medicine, monitoring your blood glucose, carrying out your physical activity plan, and deciding what foods to eat. But you can only do it if you know how, so make education a priority. Ask your health-care providers questions, take diabetes education classes, participate in a support group that brings in expert speakers — do whatever it takes to keep yourself informed and knowledgeable about your diabetes care.
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