Why Muscle Mass Is Important to Successful Aging

Why Muscle Mass Is Important to Successful Aging

Exercise has long been promoted as a necessity for living a long and healthy life. While many of us associate that with aerobic-style fitness programs, building and maintaining muscles is vital, too. Age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, accelerates in your sixties and seventies. Surprisingly, however, it begins when people are in their thirties.

Adults living a sedentary life can experience a decline in muscle loss by as much as 3 to 5 percent each decade after the age of 30. Even people who are physically active may see a decline in muscle mass and strength without specific interventions. Preventing muscle loss is a critical part of the aging process for a variety of reasons.

Most notably, muscle mass is essential for maintaining core strength and preventing falls. That’s critical because falls are a leading cause of injury and disability in people over the age of 65. Research also shows that greater muscle mass can lower the risk for metabolic syndrome, which is linked to heart disease.

If you are an older adult or the adult child of one, here are some senior-friendly steps you can take to keep your muscles strong.

Tips to Maintain and Build Muscle Mass

  • Start walking: While it might not seem like it, walking is good for your muscles. It helps with both muscle strength and muscle endurance. Since it doesn’t require any special equipment beyond a good pair of sneakers, walking is a budget-friendly form of exercise that can be performed anywhere.
  • Try yoga or Pilates: Both yoga and Pilates are gentle forms of exercise that build core strength. If the idea of getting down on the floor to practice either of these isn’t appealing, try doing either one from a seated position. YouTube has free videos you can follow, like this 15-minute seated Pilates workout for seniors or this chair yoga demonstration.
  • Incorporate resistance training: Regular workouts that focus on muscle strength are essential. Many seniors have had success with resistance band exercises. If you don’t belong to a fitness center that offers a class, this total body resistance band workout from SilverSneakers may be useful.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Nutrition also plays an essential role in building and maintaining muscle mass. Try to incorporate lean proteins, such as poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and beans, into your meal planning. Hydration is also important for healthy muscles. Drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day is the easiest way to meet your body’s need for hydration. If you aren’t much of a water drinker, foods with a high water content, like leafy greens, berries, celery, melons, and peppers, are helpful, too.
  • Avoid sitting too much: Research shows a sedentary lifestyle can be nearly as dangerous for an older adult as smoking. It is linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It can also lead to a loss of muscle mass and strength. By getting up and moving around frequently throughout the day, you can help prevent that.

As is true of starting any new exercise, it’s best to discuss it with your primary care physician before getting started.

Wellness Programs Are a Part of Daily Life at Heritage

Because we know how important exercise is to our residents, we offer a variety of daily fitness programs. From stretching classes to walking clubs, we make it easier to live an active lifestyle. Call a Heritage community near you to learn more today!

Assisted Living or Home Care: What Are the Differences?

Assisted Living or Home Care: What Are the Differences?

Dear Donna:

My dad was the primary caregiver for my mom the last few years until she passed away from cancer. Because our attention was so focused on Mom, we didn’t realize how much my dad’s own health had declined. Dad doesn’t have an illness like my mom did. He just seems to be getting frail.

One concern is that he doesn’t eat much. When he does, it’s fast food. I stock his freezer with healthy meals he can reheat, but he doesn’t seem interested. My parents were married over 60 years, and this is the first time in his adult life he’s lived alone. I’m wondering if that’s part of the issue.

Dad has admitted he could use a little help around the house each week when I can’t be there. His solution is a home care aide. We used an agency when my mom was still alive, so he is comfortable with that. My brother and I think assisted living would be a better option for his overall well-being.

Can you help me understand the differences between these two types of senior care? I’m just not sure if we should try to encourage him to move to assisted living or if home care would be better.


Janice in Williamsburg, MI

Assisted Living or Home Care for an Aging Parent

Dear Janice:

This is a question that families often ask as they begin searching for solutions for a senior loved one. It sounds like your dad has been through a lot these past few years, so it makes sense that he could benefit from a helping hand.

While both options have similarities, there are distinct differences between assisted living and home care. And just to make sure you fully understand your options, your dad might also be a good candidate for an independent living community.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these types of care.

What Is Home Care?

Home care is also referred to by a variety of names, including private duty care or in-home care services. Depending on the situation, home care aides can help with light housekeeping, laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation, transportation to appointments and errands, and personal care.

Be aware that home care is for people who:

  • Require minimal to moderate assistance at fairly regular intervals. Because appointments are typically required, it’s not usually a good option for people who need assistance at random times, such as late night bathroom trips or last-minute errands.
  • Have nonmedical needs that can be met with a few hours of support each day. Because laws vary by state, it’s important to know what services an agency can and can’t provide. Medication management is often closely regulated by states.
  • Reside in a safe, senior-friendly home that is easy to navigate. Home care can’t compensate for a house that has too many stairs or a bathroom that isn’t senior-friendly.

Adult children often find home care useful in the short-term when they are exploring local independent and assisted living communities. It helps to keep the older adult safe and give the family the time needed to make an informed choice about senior living.

The Benefits of Independent Living

Independent living communities are a senior housing option designed with the active adult in mind. Older adults who make this move want a lifestyle free from the worries of home maintenance and repairs so they can focus on their social lives.

Here are some of the benefits of independent living communities that seniors and families appreciate most:

  • Maintenance-free living: No more worries about shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, or fixing the dishwasher! A move to independent living comes with a maintenance-free lifestyle.
  • Healthy meals: Because seniors who live alone often find preparing meals for one to be too much work, they develop bad eating habits. Many independent living communities offer meal options that make it easier to eat well.
  • Amenities and conveniences: Depending on the community, residents will have a host of amenities and conveniences. Housekeeping, laundry, lawn care, snow removal, transportation, trash removal, and an on-site beauty/barber shop are a few standard services.
  • Social opportunities: These communities provide meaningful ways to connect with others every day. From a morning cup of coffee in the dining room to a group outing to a popular local restaurant for lunch, the lifestyle is a primary reason people move to independent living.
  • Safety and security: The safe, secure environment these communities offer to older adults is another benefit. From having staff on-site 24/7 to emergency call systems, residents feel safe living alone.

Understanding Assisted Living

Assisted living is sometimes described as the best of two worlds. Residents have the privacy and independence they value while also knowing help is nearby when needed. Residents usually have their own apartment or suite with on-site caregivers available around the clock to offer support.

The benefits of assisted living include:

  • A senior-friendly environment with features in place to decrease the likelihood of falling
  • Preventing or delaying health issues linked to isolation, such as depression, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease
  • Reliable, affordable transportation for outings and errands, which is especially helpful if a senior wants to limit or give up driving
  • Assistance with medication management so residents stay on schedule with their prescription and over-the-counter medicines

I hope this quick overview gives you some direction. Please call a Heritage community near you with any questions or to arrange a personal tour for your dad and your family.

Kind regards,


Managing Stress When You Have a Chronic Health Condition

Managing Stress When You Have a Chronic Health Condition

The number of people living with a chronic health condition is on the rise in this country. While much of it can be attributed to baby boomers growing older, it’s more widespread than that. Experts believe poor nutrition and a lack of exercise in younger people is causing rates of chronic illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes, to climb.

Medical professionals are also becoming more adept at identifying autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. Each of these is also considered a chronic illness. It all adds up to a startling number of people left trying to navigate daily life with a protracted disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in ten adults in this country live with a chronic health condition. Four in ten of them have two or more.

So, what does it take for a medical issue to be considered chronic and what are the common symptoms? We’ll explore both along with how to manage the stress that frequently results from trying to juggle daily life with a serious, ongoing health issue.

What Is Considered a Chronic Health Condition?

A medical problem is considered chronic if it lasts more than one year and causes functional or lifestyle restrictions or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment. As a category, they are among the most prevalent and costly health conditions in the United States. They are also the leading cause of death and disability.

Symptoms commonly associated with a long-term illness include:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Fear
  • Stress

It’s important to know that the last one, stress, can exacerbate the others. While anxiety and nervousness are recognizable signs of stress, people aren’t aware of other symptoms linked to it. Those can include irritability, stomachaches, sleep problems, and a loss of interest in friends and favorite hobbies.

By learning how to manage stress within the context of a chronic disease, people might be able to reduce their symptoms and suffering.

Overcoming Stress Associated with Chronic Disease

The type of illness a person is living with can inhibit their ability to try some of the following suggestions. However, most people will find a few to be useful:

  • Join an in-person or online support group: Connecting with peers who can understand and sympathize is one of the best ways to manage stress. If you are able, meeting others in person offers the added benefits of socializing and getting out of the house. For those whose illness prevents that, there are a variety of virtual options. You might want to first explore those offered by organizations dedicated to your specific illness. If that’s not possible, you might find the Center for Chronic Illness support groups to be a good resource.
  • Avoid alcohol and other unhealthy behaviors: When you are in pain or feeling down, it’s easy to develop unhealthy behaviors that seem like they help. It might be a few glasses of wine a day or overindulging in sugary treats. Sometimes it’s starting to smoke or increasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke in a day. While these might offer temporary relief, in the long run it will only make things worse. Be mindful of any habits you’ve picked up that might work against you.
  • Try to eat as healthily as possible: This suggestion usually helps you gain more energy and even sleep better. Instead of considering healthy eating a diet, think of it as a lifestyle modification. A Mediterranean meal plan, for example, is linked to lower rates of disease. It focuses on fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein. If your health condition makes it tough to prepare these types of meals and snacks for yourself, consider subscribing to a home delivery service that offers these kinds of prepared meals. Purple Carrot and Green Chef are two popular examples.
  • Learn to practice meditation: Though people often associate meditation with sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, the reality is much more accommodating. You can even practice it from your favorite spot on the sofa. An added benefit is that growing evidence shows meditation might help protect cognitive health. Watch “Mindfulness Meditation for People with Disabilities” to learn more.
  • Find physical exercises you can engage in: Depending upon what your chronic health condition allows, mild to moderate forms of exercise might also reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety. Whether it is a simple walk, a swim, chair yoga, or seated aerobics, talk to your physician for input and advice.

Art and Music Activities at Heritage Senior Communities

Our final suggestion is a popular part of daily life in our communities. Explore different types of art projects and music. Research shows that both offer therapeutic benefits including reducing stress and boosting mood. Click on the Events tab in the link for the community nearest you to view a copy of the monthly activities calendar!

What Is Melanoma and How Can You Avoid It?

What Is Melanoma and How Can You Avoid It?

Would you be surprised to hear that the most common type of cancer in this country is skin cancer? Research shows that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the age of 70. While the disease develops in people of all ages, seniors are the demographic diagnosed with it most often. The good news is that with early intervention, most forms of skin cancer are treatable.

One type, however, can be especially dangerous: melanoma. Deaths from melanoma are highest among people between the ages of 65 and 84. These age groups account for 50% of deaths caused by melanoma.

To raise awareness about this deadly form of skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology designates the first Monday in May as National Melanoma Monday.

8 Common Melanoma Risk Factors

While researchers can’t say for certain why some people develop melanoma and others don’t, there are some factors they believe might play a role:

  • Age and gender: Your age and sex can both impact your likelihood of developing melanoma. Before the age of 50, women are at higher risk. After 50, however, men face the greatest risk for melanoma.
  • Skin tone: Skin tone can increase a person’s odds for melanoma. People who are fair skinned usually sunburn more easily, putting them in a high-risk category. Caucasians with blond or red hair and blue or green eyes are at greatest risk.
  • Personal sunburns: Researchers say having one or more blistering sunburns at any age can increase your odds of developing melanoma. Most skin damage happens during childhood.
  • Family medical history: Ten percent of people who are diagnosed with melanoma have a first-degree relative—a parent, child, or sibling—who has also been diagnosed with the disease. Be sure to tell your physician if your family has a history of melanoma.
  • Moles: While most moles don’t lead to melanoma, some will. The more moles you have, the higher your risk of developing this serious form of skin cancer. Ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a dermatologist who can conduct a head-to-toe skin exam to identify any concerning moles.
  • UV radiation exposure: Tanning beds and sun lamps put off UV radiation. If you have used them, you are at higher risk for melanoma. Be especially vigilant in conducting self-exams and seeing the dermatologist for a check-up.
  • Location: Where you live also impacts your chance of developing melanoma. Those living close to the equator or in a higher elevation are at increased risk. Researchers believe it is because they are exposed to higher doses of the sun’s UV rays.
  • Weakened immune system: Some chronic health conditions, as well as cancer treatments, can weaken a person’s immune system. Research seems to indicate a person’s risk for melanoma rises when their immune system is compromised.

Learn to Recognize the Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

The American Academy of Dermatology encourages people to conduct self-exams regularly. You might do it on the same day each month so you don’t forget. As you are examining your skin, follow the ABCDEs of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetrical: If one half of a mole is unlike the other, it should be evaluated by a physician.
  • Border: An irregularly shaped border on a mole can also indicate melanoma.
  • Color: A mole or moles that vary in color might be nothing to worry about but could also be an early symptom of melanoma. Check with your doctor to be sure.
  • Diameter: Size matters when it comes to moles. Larger skin growths, which dermatologists say are anything larger than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser), need to be looked at.
  • Evolving: Finally, keep an eye out for spots or moles that change in size or shape or are different from others. This is another potential sign of early melanoma.

As is true of many types of medical conditions, taking steps to protect yourself from disease is essential. Read 7 Skin Cancer Prevention Tips for Older Adults to learn what else you can do to decrease your risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

The Health Benefits of Spring Cleaning a Senior’s Home

The Health Benefits of Spring Cleaning a Senior’s Home

April is a perfect month to attack spring cleaning projects at your home or a senior loved one’s. Cleaning the cobwebs from ceiling fans, getting rid of expired foods, and deep cleaning the stove are some tasks it might be time to tackle. A boost in spirit isn’t the only benefit of having a sparkling, tidy house.

We’ll look at rewards that come from helping your family member spring clean and share a list of chores not to overlook.

Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning does more than make your house look nice. Here are a few health benefits that come from an intensive cleanup:

  • Decluttering is essential: Purging the clutter that builds up over the winter lightens your mental load and provides clarity. It can also reduce the risk for falls, a leading cause of injury in older adults.
  • Getting rid of allergens: Cleaning the house of dust and particles can help prevent allergies, asthma, and respiratory illnesses from flaring up.
  • Finding peace: Getting your house in order can reduce stress and help you find peace. Chronic stress is linked to a variety of medical conditions ranging from high blood pressure to depression and digestive issues.

If you aren’t sure how and where to start, this checklist will be of interest.

Room-by-Room Spring Cleaning Tips for Seniors and Caregivers


The kitchen is one of the most heavily utilized rooms in a home. The constant use can make it harder to keep clean. Take time this spring to do the following chores:

  • Wipe the cabinets down inside and out. Change shelf paper, if necessary.
  • Take everything out of the refrigerator and freezer and wipe them down. Check expiration dates on condiments, dressings, and other items.
  • Inspect and clean the oven with a fume-free oven cleaner that won’t aggravate allergies or respiratory problems.
  • Check the exhaust system on the range to see if it needs cleaning. It’s an important step for reducing the risk of fire.
  • Empty the pantry and wipe down the shelves and floor. Dispose of items that are expired and donate foods that are good but likely won’t be used.


While most of us clean the bathroom regularly, it also needs a little extra attention a few times each year.

  • Change the shower liner and wash the curtain. Do the same with decorative towels.
  • Scrub the bathtub and shower and replace the bath mat, if necessary.
  • Sort through the medicine cabinet and safely dispose of no-longer-used or expired medications. Check with your pharmacy for advice on where and how to dispose of prescription medications.
  • Clean out the linen closet and donate older linens (especially towels) to a local animal shelter or veterinarian’s office.
  • Deep clean the toilet and the floor surrounding it. Replace or tighten the bolts on the toilet seat if it doesn’t seem secure.

Primary Bedroom

Give the senior’s bedroom extra attention this spring by doing the following:

  • Wash the curtains, bedding, blankets, mattress cover, and rugs.
  • Find a strong helper to help you flip or turn the mattress and box spring. Wipe both down along with the bed frame.
  • Use products specifically designed for cleaning miniblinds to remove dust and grime.
  • Use spring cleaning as an excuse to encourage your senior loved one to sort through their clothes and to donate items they no longer wear.

Living Areas

Books, magazines, newspapers, junk mail, and other clutter can quickly build up in living rooms. Make sure to declutter the room before you start deep cleaning. Box up items you need to drop off at your local recycling center.

Then tackle the following tasks:

  • Dust the woodwork and wipe down the window frames.
  • Use a long-handled duster to clean ceiling fans and lighting fixtures.
  • Use a static-free cloth to lightly swipe over the television and other electronics.
  • Vacuum under the sofa, as well as over and under sofa cushions.

Should time permit, you might also want to clean out the garage, attic, or shed. It will make downsizing easier should your loved one decide to move to a smaller home or a senior living community.

Is It Time for Senior Living?

As you and your loved one work your way through their house, use the time to discuss how happy they are with their current living environment. Is it getting to be too much for them? Do they feel isolated and lonely? Your family member might be struggling more than you realize. Encourage them to be honest and let them know you can work together to find a solution, such as home care services or a local senior living community.

For older adults in Michigan and Indiana, exploring one of the local Heritage Senior Living communities might be helpful. Call the nearest location with any questions you have or to schedule a tour and lunch at your convenience!

Lifelong Learning and Healthy Aging

Lifelong Learning and Healthy Aging

Most people associate fitness with physical activity. We visualize people walking, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, or performing aerobics. While that’s a vital part of healthy aging, another type of fitness is important, too. That is giving your brain a daily workout.

One way to do that is by becoming a lifelong learner. Here’s what we know about continuing to challenge your brain with new information and hobbies as you grow older.

Brain Health and Continuous Learning

After you retire, it’s easy for bad habits to sneak up on you, like spending too many hours sitting in front of the television. Not only is a sedentary lifestyle bad for your physical health, it’s bad for your cognitive health, too.

Just like with muscle mass, the phrase “use it or lose it” applies to cognitive health. When you settle into a routine and your brain isn’t stimulated by new things, cognitive well-being can decline. But when you make a point of learning something new every day, your brain responds by staying alert and active.

A few ideas to make brain health a part of your daily fitness routine could include:

  1. Learning a new language: Learning another language is a great way to test and expand your mind. While it might be fun to take a class at a local community college or learning annex, online platforms may be more convenient and cost-effective. Duolingo and Babbel earn high praise from users. By spending two hours a week on either one, you’ll be able master a basic understanding of a new language in four to five months.
  2. Taking a class: Many universities and colleges offer seniors the option to audit classes or take a course at a deeply discounted rate. You could learn more about marine biology, art history, or literature with students of all ages. Another choice might be to take advantage of programs top tier colleges offer online. For example, you could choose Marketing Analytics through the University of Virginia or Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies at Harvard University. No matter what your educational background, you can sign up for a class of your choice. Most are free.
  3. Creating music: The benefits of music are well documented. It has the power to soothe, uplift, or calm the spirit. That’s why it’s used as therapy in settings like hospitals and hospice care centers. Learning how to play a musical instrument stimulates the brain. Explore sites like Music Go Round and Reverb to find and purchase used musical instruments from guitars to drum sets. If classes aren’t offered by any music stores near you, try Simply Piano or Simply Guitar by JoyTunes. It’s a great option whether you need a refresher or are new to learning an instrument.
  4. Dabbling in art: The process of creating, even if you don’t think you have any artistic skills, challenges the mind and boosts the spirit. If you don’t have a nearby art museum or school that offers classes, you can find one online. Sites like Creative Live and Skillshare host virtual art classes on topics ranging from photography to drawing. And don’t forget about YouTube. You can find a variety of free educational videos to watch and learn from there.
  5. Reading a book: Another activity that stimulates the brain is reading. Whether it’s the latest thriller or a new science fiction release, a good book can be brain food. If you don’t have the space to add more books to your collection or are trying to stick to a budget, ask your local library about e-lending programs and apps like Libby that allow you to read online.

Opportunities for Learning Abound at Heritage Senior Communities

We understand that staying mentally and physically active is an essential part of healthy aging. Therefore, our residents have a variety of programs and events to participate in every day. From stretching and walking groups to religious services and art workshops, Heritage communities are a thriving place to call home. Call the location nearest you to ask for a copy of our monthly activities calendar, and join us for a program of your choice!