A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Play, eat, think and socialize your way to unlocking healthy aging


Play Wordle and take a walk in the morning, then eat an apple and socialize with friends in the afternoon. Congratulations—you have successfully taken essential steps toward the goal of healthy aging.

Older adults concerned about mental and physical deterioration can slow down that decline by making simple lifestyle changes. To get started, it’s helpful to understand the four pillars of healthy aging. They consist of: 

• Physical health, exercise and proper sleep

• Diet and nutrition

• Cognitive activity

• Social engagement 

The pillars provide a framework to develop better health and well-being, which can positively impact longevity.

There is a clear interconnection among the pillars. Consider the correlation between heart and brain health. An individual with heart disease or diabetes may be at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. That’s why proper nutrition is especially important as we age, as is the selection of food, according to Golda Cohen, senior care consultant at AW Health Care.

“Older people tend to eat smaller amounts of food,” Cohen said. “That means the food that is eaten should be more nutrient dense, less processed, and less sugary. It should be good food with nutritional value.”

Regular exercise has a variety of benefits beyond brain health. It can lower the risk of high blood pressure, colon cancer and breast cancer. Cognitive activities are also important, whether they be assembling a jigsaw puzzle or learning to play a musical instrument. The act of engaging in challenging mental activities helps the brain by improving cognitive reserve.

“It helps to have regular activities,” Cohen said. “That improves your brain health, and it helps manage your weight, and reduce the risk of disease, along with strengthening bones and muscles. If you are moving, and not sedentary, you’re going to be able to perform the activities of daily living more easily.”

The idea of healthy aging is not new. A version of the concept, known as “successful aging” was the subject of a landmark 1997 study by the researchers John Rowe and Robert Kahn. They pointed to specific steps to age successfully. One was avoiding disease and disability. For example, stop smoking and consuming high fat in your diet.

Besides eating well, a good way to avoid disability is to perform a safety assessment of your living space. A caregiver for an adult who is a fall risk should look out for furniture and counters with sharp edges and make necessary modifications. Other potential safety hazards can be present in the bathroom. Grab bars in the shower can prevent falls. The National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org) offers a comprehensive safety guide for older adults and a room-by-room checklist. 

Prevention is a key and a definite step toward remaining disability-free, said Golda Cohen.

“Once you’ve started down the path to being injured, then you’re more susceptible to other things happening to you,” she said. “If someone lives in a small environment and is sedentary, going to the bathroom may be their only movement. A wet floor or loose rug can cause a fall and broken bones.”

In their healthy aging model, Rowen and Kahn also recommended engaging in an active life and maximizing physical and mental abilities. Following their guidelines was a significant contributing factor to remaining healthy and active, according to Paul Weiss, president of Oasis, which works to enrich the lives of older adults through its various programs.

“People that age successfully and have the most self-reported happiness and better health outcomes are people that have ongoing cognitive stimulation,” Weiss said. “They live active lifestyles which includes exercise and making healthy food choices and doing things that will promote functional movement.

“They are purposely engaged, they feel relevant. Lifelong learning is part of their lives and what they seek out every day. At Oasis, we offer lifelong learning and a very broad range of health programs.”

Oasis is now in 42nd year providing opportunities for older adults to learn and participate in meaningful activities. 

St. Louis NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community), a nonsectarian neighborhood program administered by Jewish Family Services in the Creve Coeur area, is celebrating its 20th year in 2024, offering community connections and involvement opportunities for older adults.  

Both organizations offer opportunities to socialize and maintain cognitive strength, said Golda Cohen. “You can keep yourself sharp, learn new skills, and along the way, meet new people,” she said.

Paul Weiss said Oasis also provides a range of volunteering options and that “These programs are all cohort based—there is a social connection.”

Social connection and interaction is an important factor in alleviating loneliness and depression. Think back to 2020 when COVID interrupted those connections. Older adults were especially vulnerable to feelings of isolation and sadness. As humans, we thrive on staying in contact with friends and relatives. The act of meeting someone for coffee or lunch is a welcome break and opportunity to share good news and catch up.

Tips for Healthy Aging

You can start your journey to healthy aging right now. Try these simple steps and begin a routine so you maintain or increase your activity. Keeping an activity log can also help.

Exercise – Start slowly and set management goals. Walk a few blocks, then work your way up to a half-mile and beyond. Doing something you enjoy, so it doesn’t seem like a chore. Making exercise a social event helps, too. Consider a beginning pickleball class with friends. It’s a good entry-level, low-impact competitive sport.

Nutrition – Calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health, and you’ll get plenty from green vegetables like Chinese cabbage and broccoli. Combine those with seafood like salmon or tuna and you’ll satisfy your omega-3 fatty acid intake, which is important for cognitive function.

Cognitive activity – Make a reading list of books or articles that you’ll find challenging or inspiring. Play a word game like Scrabble. Enroll in a continuing education class or get involved with a new hobby.

Social engagement – Many of the options for exercise and cognitive activity can be combined with getting together with friends and relatives. Maintaining contact with others will minimize feelings of loneliness, isolation.

| Related: In slaying her own mental health dragons, Helene Meyer found a way to help others too

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About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.