Talking with Your Doctor

Frequently Asked Questions

12. As I age, are there things I can do to improve my health and prevent disease?

Think About Prevention. Until recently, preventing disease in older people received little attention. But things are changing. We now know that it’s never too late to stop smoking, improve your diet, or start exercising. Getting regular checkups and seeing other health professionals such as dentists and eye specialists helps promote good health. Even people who have chronic diseases, like arthritis or diabetes, can prevent further disability and, in some cases, control the progress of the disease.

(Watch this video to learn more about eating for health as you age. To enlarge the videos on this page, click the brackets in the lower right-hand corner of the video screen. To reduce the videos, press the Escape (Esc) button on your keyboard.)

Discuss Prevention With Your Doctor. If a certain disease or health condition runs in your family, ask your doctor if there are steps you can take to help prevent it. If you have a chronic condition, ask how you can manage it and if there are things you can do to prevent it from getting worse. If you want to discuss health and disease prevention with your doctor, say so when you make your next appointment. This lets the doctor plan to spend more time with you.

Learn more about family health history and disease risk.

Talk About Lifestyle Changes. It is just as important to talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes as it is to talk about treatment. For example: “I know that you’ve told me to eat more dairy products, but they really disagree with me. Is there something else I could eat instead?” or “Maybe an exercise class would help, but I have no way to get to the senior center. Is there something else you could suggest?”

As with treatments, consider all the alternatives, look at pros and cons, and remember to take into account your own point of view. Tell your doctor if you feel his or her suggestions won’t work for you and explain why. Keep talking with your doctor to come up with a plan that works.

Talk About Exercise. Exercise is often “just what the doctor ordered!” Exercise can

  • Help you have more energy to do the things you want to do.
  • Help maintain and improve your physical strength and fitness.
  • Help improve mood and relieve depression.
  • Help manage and prevent diseases like heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, osteoporosis, and disabilities as people grow older.
  • Help improve your balance.

(Watch the video to learn why it's important for older adults to exercise.)

Many doctors now recommend that older people try to make physical activity a part of everyday life. When you are making your list of things to talk about with your doctor, add exercise. Ask how exercise would benefit you, if there are any activities you should avoid, and whether your doctor can recommend any specific kinds of exercise.

To see examples of exercises that are appropriate for older adults, see Exercises to Try. Also, visit Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging(NIA).