It's Never Too Late for Seniors to Begin Their Health Journeys

By Jeffrey McManus, M.D.

Vivian Stancil, a 70-year-old force of nature, was told by her doctor that she wouldn’t live to see her 60th birthday. In her 50s, she was 320 pounds, experiencing a heart murmur and, as she said, “I was going to die.” On top of these challenges (and Vivian would call them opportunities), Stancil is legally blind. So, at the midpoint of life, Stancil was faced with a bad report from her doctor and a pivotal moment that has shaped her life.

As a physician, I’ve been a part of those crucial conversations with patients, like the one Stancil had with her physician. These are literally “do or die” moments where the patient ultimately decides the path forward. Despite my strong will and commitment to make health a priority for patients, in the end, it’s their decision to start living a healthier life.

In Stancil’s case, she mastered this moment and began swimming to lose weight, overcoming 40 years of little to no exercise and a fear of water. To date, she has lost more than 100 pounds. By the way, Stancil honed her swimming skills using memorization of strokes and her hearing to navigate an Olympic-sized pool. Stancil now competes in swimming at the state and national level through the National Senior Games presented by Humana.

She earned the honor of a Humana Game Changer award because she exemplifies healthy aging and provides encouragement, motivation and inspiration for all seniors to start with healthy. I am inspired by Stancil’s actions, and her story has inspired thousands of our nation’s seniors. She is living proof that California’s 5.1 million individuals 65 and up, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, can turn their health status around at any age. This is extremely important as a fourth of the state’s seniors have diabetes, 28 percent live with arthritis and nearly half have hypertension, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.

As an aging adult, how can you achieve your best health? Start with a visit to your doctor. Prepare a list of questions before you go. During this visit, have an authentic conversation about your current health, medications and treatments. Set goals together for your weight, sugar and sodium intake, quitting risky habits like smoking or anything your doctor feels will improve your health.

Talk about the kinds of exercises that are most appropriate for you. You don’t have to swim like Stancil. Start with a walk to your mailbox and then, when you’re ready, take a stroll around the block. Regular physical activity helps prevent risk factors for disease (such as high blood pressure and weight gain) and protects against multiple chronic diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and depression). Start with your doctor, then get moving!

Through Stancil’s example, I challenge you to seize this moment in time. Take time to become more engaged in your health. Build a stronger relationship with your physician and, like Stancil, make health a priority in your life. Maybe you will be one of the more than 500 California athletes competing in the next National Senior Games! You can be the inspiration for yourself, family and friends.

Jeffrey McManus, M.D., is the medical director for Humana in California.


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