By Gray Jessiman, First Mile Care DPP Coach

September is designated National Healthy Aging Month in the U.S. to encourage healthy lifestyle behaviors among older adults. It’s also about raising awareness of the prevention and management of chronic health conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity, which are often linked to the development of prediabetes and heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one in three American adults have prediabetes, but 80 percent are unaware of the condition and the risk it poses for developing into type 2 diabetes. Compared to 2025, by the year 2060, U.S. rates of type 2 diabetes are expected to jump by nearly 40%, per a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in August. 

Luckily, prediabetes is reversible, so you have the chance to take control of your health by improving your eating habits, becoming more physically active, and lowering your blood sugar levels to avoid becoming a statistic.

The best time to prevent type 2 diabetes is NOW. If your doctor says that your blood sugar is in the range for prediabetes, or that you have other risk factors based on family history, consider the diagnosis as an early warning sign — like an indicator light on your car dashboard. The First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) teaches participants with prediabetes to make small adjustments in habits that add up to sustainable, healthy lifestyle change in eating, activity, sleep, and stress management. You have time to fix this! 

The glass is half-full

The idea of Healthy Aging Month gained traction in the early 1990s when the first members of the Boomer Generation began turning 50. It spread the message that it is possible to celebrate life and the positive aspects of growing older by adopting a healthier lifestyle at any age. It encourages people to focus on their physical and mental health and take precautions to help them mature gracefully. 

It’s often been a challenge the last few years to look on the brighter side of life events. The world has sometimes seemed to be spinning out of control. And as you age, your physical and mental health as well as dietary and social needs, may change over time. But your life is still within your control. You can take charge of your physical and mental well-being by incorporating habits around exercise, healthy food, and adequate sleep. You’ll find it’s possible to age healthfully and gracefully and see the glass as half-full instead of empty.

Here are 10 habits you can start today to reduce your risk for diabetes and related chronic illnesses and to improve your ability to stay healthy into old age. 

  1. Be proactive about prevention. It’s important to have annual physical exams and regular checkups by your physician —  and don’t skip your eyes and teeth. Your health insurance may entitle you to proactive healthcare screenings, tests, and immunizations based on your age and gender. Your doctor may recommend tracking important health indicators at home with tools and smartphone apps, such as a continuous blood glucose monitor for learning how food affects the body, or an arm or wrist band for checking blood pressure range.
  2. Manage stress levels. Chronic stress can be associated with fatigue and depression, which can cause people to become less active and lead more sedentary lives. Stress can also interfere with sleep and increase your appetite, so it’s critical that you find ways to de-stress regularly. Stress-relieving activities should be calming and leave you feeling more grounded afterwards. Finding what works best for you to reduce and manage stress can play a crucial role in healthy aging.
  3. Practice good sleep hygiene. Your body restores many functions during sleep that play a role in how much energy you have. Sleep enhances mood, reasoning, problem-solving abilities, coping mechanisms, attention to detail, and memory. It also affects two hormones that tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re full, so it has a strong effect on weight loss (and gain). You want both the right quantity of sleep — at least seven hours — as well as good-quality sleep, so practice a healthy bedtime routine. Regular physical activity is a foundational element of sleep hygiene, as research shows that exercising can help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.
  4. Eat in moderation. Using food as “medicine” is key for promoting a healthy and vibrant lifestyle. First Mile Care recommends a diet high in fruits and vegetables, with the ideal meal about 50% produce, 25% starches and fibers, and 25% protein, along with some fats essential to brain health and satiety (e.g., nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut or olive oil, etc.). It’s important to balance the recommended amount of each food group with daily recommended calories, which varies with age, sex, and physical activity level. As you age, you may need fewer calories, and can learn to eat mindfully and manage calorie intake through portion control, meal timing, and healthy food swaps. The National Institute on Aging offers dietary guidelines for older adults on its site, Healthy Eating As You Age
  5. Choose liquid refreshment wisely. Hydration becomes even more important as you age. Instead of sugar-sweetened drinks, consume water, sparkling water, tea, or coffee. Fruit and herbs add flavor that turns plain water into something special. Alcohol should be taken in moderation; ideally, no more than one drink per day. You can also make your own delicious smoothies at home with healthy ingredients.
  6. Get on your feet. Exercise actually slows down the process of aging. It is not only good for physical fitness, it also stimulates the growth of new brain cells, releases endorphins that boost your confidence, and improves sleep quality. The First Mile Care DPP says adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week to help maintain a healthy weight and lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. Make your physical activity something you truly enjoy doing, alone or with a friend — swimming, cycling, dancing, running, yoga, walking, dancing, etc. Every step counts when it comes to reducing diabetes risk and maintaining a healthy heart. Recent research shows that walking for even two minutes after a meal can make a world of difference.
  7. Practice strength and resistance training. Muscles atrophy or shrink as part of the aging process, resulting in poor leg strength and balance that are a common cause of falls in older adults. Strength training is about maintaining muscle mass by building strength progressively through movement repetition and increased resistance through weight lifting. It can change your body composition by decreasing body fat and increasing coordination, power, and metabolism. Practicing strength training two times a week with either resistance bands or weights helps build strong bones and muscle, and improves balance and coordination, which is especially critical as you age.
  8. Stimulate your brain. As you age, your brain shrinks in size, slows down, and becomes less adaptable to change. Therefore, you need to exercise your brain regularly just as you stretch other muscles. This can include reading, writing, art, music, skills, crafts, languages, and all types of brain teasers, puzzles, and games — whatever involves concentration, analysis, problem solving, and memory.
  9. Maintain social connections. Remaining active and engaged with others is a gift to yourself. The emotional support you receive from being part of a network — friends, family, church, alumni groups, volunteer organizations — is part of the bigger picture in helping to keep your mind and body well. Human support eases stress when times get tough, as was reinforced during the last few years of COVID-enforced isolation and separation.
  10. Keeping a positive outlook.  The power of positive thinking shouldn’t be underestimated. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B published research that being pessimistic about growing old can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to a faster deterioration in both overall health and wellbeing. The reverse can also be true. Technology puts pressure today on emotional well-being; increased screen time can affect sleep quality as well as mental health. Setting limits for your tech devices can reduce your exposure to negative news and influences, and therefore the risk of creating anxiety, stress, and depression.

You’re as old as you feel, the saying goes. By developing the right lifestyle habits, you’re going to look and feel younger, no matter your age.

“I am so thankful for the health that I have,” said Jeannie Lawson, a Houston-area septuagenarian who completed the First Mile Care DPP in 2021. “A lot of my friends have had surgeries and other kinds of health problems. First Mile Care has played a big role in my journey to good health and my ability to stay healthy. It is helping me to lead an active, vital life that makes me happy.”

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!