Healthy living and healthy aging. We cannot experience one without the other. For the past 28 years, seniors across the country have observed National Senior Health and Fitness Day on the last Wednesday of May. We get two days in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic—May 26, and October 27.

Everyone over the age of 50 should use this time to think about getting involved in individual or group activities that promote health and fitness, such as walking, dancing, or low- to no-impact exercising. Whenever engaging in physical activities with other individuals, always practice safe socializing, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Senior health and fitness also involves staying up-to-date with vaccinations to help prevent contracting and spreading illnesses. As we get older, our bodies cannot fight off sickness like it did when we were younger, which makes us vulnerable to many vaccine-preventable diseases we might have handled better in our youth.

The CDC recommends several vaccines to help keep older folks healthy. The shingles vaccine is one of them, because the risk of developing shingles increases as we get older. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. One out of three people will get shingles at some point in their lives. It causes a painful rash that may resemble a stripe of blisters and can occur anywhere on your body, but most often occurs on the left or right side of your torso. If you are a healthy adult over the age of 50, talk with your healthcare provider about the shingles vaccine.

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine helps protect against pneumococcal disease, which includes meningitis and bloodstream infections that can range from ear and sinus infections to pneumonia. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine also protects against pneumococcal disease and pneumonia. Your healthcare provider can tell you which vaccine is best for you and whether you will need one or two doses.

A decline in the number of reported incidents of influenza, or flu, may be the only upside to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its accompanying restrictions. The Texas Department of State Health Services tells us 5,733 Texans died from pneumonia and influenza (P&I) from September 27, 2020, to April 27, 2021. Of those deaths, 93.3% were individuals age 50 and older. This compares to 11,334 P&I deaths from September 29, 2019, to September 26, 2020. Again, individuals 50 and older accounted for most (92.3%) of those P&I deaths. Everyone, especially our older Texans, should get a yearly flu shot. As always, though, talk with your healthcare provider about what is right for you.

Senior health and fitness is more than just exercising body and mind. Vaccines are critical components for healthy living, and healthy aging. Remember, you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll or follow your doctor’s advice. Do it for yourself, for those you love, and for those who love you.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Dr. John T. Dugan III, MD, a Houston physician and the incoming chair of The Immunization Partnership. The column appears with the permission of the author. Dr. Dugan can be reached by email via: [email protected].

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