May is clearly my month! Between Older Americans Month and National Women's Health Week, we get to focus on my kind of people: older women. As wise as my friends and I feel, we certainly agree that there are things we wish we had known when we were younger. Here are a just a few of them.
- Don't wait to find out about health problems till it's too late. Focusing on prevention is the key to leading a longer, healthier life. Take advantage of the free preventive screenings offered under the Affordable Care Act. Important cancer screenings, like those for colorectal cancer, are covered without a co-pay, even if you haven't met your yearly deductible. We need preventive care because it helps us catch problems early, when they're easiest to treat. Find out what preventive services are covered for women under the health care law, and then call and schedule an appointment.
- Get some exercise at least three times per week. It doesn't have to be extremely strenuous or unpleasant. Ask a friend to go for a walk with you. Listen to your favorite music during exercise. Get time outside with gardening. Park a little further from the mall entrance and add a few more steps to your routine.
- Be aware that women's symptoms are unique when a heart attack occurs. Did you hear about Rosie O'Donnell's heart attack? She didn't recognize the symptoms, because they are so different in women than men. Know the seven most common symptoms of a heart attack in women, and if you experience them — or see them in a friend — make the call (to 911!) and don't miss a beat.
- It's not fair, but economics has a huge impact on the status of women's health. Researchers suggest several reasons why income, where you live, and how much stress you have affect the state of your health. Better access to medical care and eating healthier foods are major reasons. What can you do to tip the balance back in your favor? Find all the free or low-cost services that best meet your needs, and never let pride get in the way of your health or well-being. I take generic prescription drugs when they are available. Check out your local bargain chain grocery store. (I find some of my favorite items there!)
- Speaking of "It's not fair..." Social Security benefits are lower for women. In 2012, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older was $12,520, compared to $16,398 for men. With longer life expectancies than men, older women tend to live more years in retirement and we have a greater chance of using all of our other sources of income. My advice? Don't put all your assets in a joint account or let your partner handle all the finances single-handedly. Do it together, so you know what's going on. I also like to keep an eye on investments.
My friends and I agree that being older and wiser is pretty great. Knowing how to protect our "health and wealth" so that we can have both of them for many years to come makes it even better.
Barbara J. Easterling is president of the Alliance for Retired Americans. She was previously the secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. For more information, visit www.retiredamericans.org or call 1-800-333-7212.