As people get older, it is important to maintain all aspects of their physical, mental and emotional health. Education and research have helped identify steps individuals can take to stay healthy with aging.
Jeanne Wei, MD, PhD, serves as the chair of the department of geriatrics and executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). She also sees patients as a geriatrician and cardiologist at the Thomas & Lyon Longevity Clinic within the institute.
“It is the largest stand-alone academic geriatrics clinic, that sees approximately 25,000 patient visits a year,” Wei says. “The median age is about 86 which is a reflection of our seniors who come to us for a long time. In fact, Pulaski County is the most rapidly growing area with older individuals and we’ve anticipated [more individuals] over 85 compared to most other counties.”
Wei takes pride in the mandatory, four-week clerkship for all medical students through the geriatrics education program, which helps teach the future generation of health care professionals how to care for the aging population.
Furthermore, there is the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatric Fellowship Program that provides comprehensive training in clinical geriatrics as well as preparation for educational or independent research roles in the field.
“What this means for the state of Arkansas is fantastic,” she says.” Because graduates from UAMS tend to stay in Arkansas.”
According to Wei, Arkansas has excellent quality of health care for seniors with the comprehensive teaching, training and care offered.
Through the Institute on Aging at UAMS, there have been eight satellite centers established across the state to meet the needs of older adults. The mission is to improve the health of the aging population in Arkansas and the access to excellent quality health care with a speciality in geriatrics.
For the past several decades, Wei has been dedicated to the fields of gerontology and geriatrics.
Gerontology is the study of aging in adults, whereas geriatrics is the special medical health care and treatment for the aging population. “The two are often used interchangeably,” says Wei, later adding that the general focus is how to enable adults to maintain their physical, mental and emotional health to continue to contribute to society as long as possible.
Arkansas ranks among the top states for chronic diseases including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and obesity. Wei emphasizes the importance of not smoking, drinking in moderation, eating right and exercising to maintain one’s health, especially for those in their 40s and 50s.
For one instance, studies have shown that maintaining one’s blood pressure can likely delay memory loss and cognitive repair.
As one gets older, it also becomes more important to pay attention to one’s health in regards to eating and exercise habits.
“If you eat right and exercise, then you have an excellent chance of staying healthy into your retirement years,” Wei says. “You don’t have to exercise a whole lot after [age] 75 but even if you just walk around for a few minutes then you’re in great shape.”
Wei also points out that “there’s nothing wrong about wanting to keep your youth.”
“Paying attention to one’s appearance can be a real marker in terms of vanity, but it can be predictive to longevity,” she says.
Wei says that helping other people without expecting anything in return and having a positive outlook can lead to longevity based on peer-reviewed scientific research. She explains that longevity depends on individuals taking care of themselves, their genes and their environment.
Check out some of the recreational activities in the next section for older Arkansans who want to enjoy what all the state has to offer during their later years.
More than half of the state of Arkansas is covered by forestland along with miles of rivers, streams, lakes and mountain ranges.
“Our state has four seasons and abundant opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors,” Secretary Hurst says. “We have many fabulous golf courses and robust access to trails for hiking. With many publicly-owned conservation areas, bird and wildlife watching opportunities are abundant.”
Below are some popular activities among retirees in Arkansas to enjoy while being surrounded by nature.
The scenic beauty of Arkansas makes it a great place to play golf. Although there are numerous golf courses across the state, the Arkansas Golf Trail consists of 14 elite golf courses at 13 various locations to showcase the natural wonders.
Furthermore, there are golf championship events through the Arkansas State Golf Association which have divisions depending on age. They have a senior, super-senior and masters division for older individuals.
Northwest Arkansas could be considered a golfer’s paradise with more than 30 courses in the region. Some of the most beautiful and challenging courses are located in Bella Vista. Last year, Forbes even recognized Bella Vista as one of the best places to retire in the country.
Southern Arkansas also has some spectacular golf courses. Hot Springs Village offers nine challenging golf courses with 171 holes. Play a different golf course every day of the week if you want!
Hiking and Biking
Nearly three million acres of land have been designated as three national forests to explore the breathtaking scenery, waterfalls, hiking trails and biking trails in Arkansas. It also offers visitors the chance to see the unique habitats for plants and animals in the state.
The oldest and largest national forest in the southern region of the United States is in Arkansas with the Ouachita National Forest which covers nearly 1.8 million acres. Lake Ouachita is the state’s largest lake which offers nearly 40,000 acres of clear water in the national forest.
The Ozark National Forest covers 1.2 million acres in the northern region of the state. Flowing between the scenic landscape of the Ozark Mountains is the 135-mile Buffalo National River. Mount Magazine is also located there which is the tallest mountain in the state.
The St. Francis National Forest is one of the smallest and most diverse forests that covers 22,600 acres. The forest has a diversity of trees, plants and animals. Bear Creek Lake Nature Trail is a one-mile loop within the forest that has beautiful views of the lake and informational posts about the local ecology.
There has also been a significant amount of investment in the walking and biking trails. Northwest Arkansas especially has some of the most scenic and entertaining mountain bike trails with more than 250 miles.
There’s nothing better than fresh air, beautiful views and a campfire when camping in the Natural State. With various camping and RV sites throughout the state, you can set up a tent, bring the RV or rent a cabin.
Arkansas has 52 state parks with 32 of them featuring campsites. Most are located on or close to the water for fun activities like swimming, boating and fishing.
Arkansas offers some of the best fishing spots in the country where visitors can find bass, trout, catfish, pickerel, carp, walleye and more. There are more than 600,000 acres of lakes and more than 90,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks.
Cast off the worries of the world and look for the abundance of fishing opportunities. The White River, Little Red River and Spring River in the Ozarks are filled with trout, bass and panfish. The White River is perhaps one of the most popular trout fishing spots in the state. View the trout swimming right next to you in the clear, shallow waters.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ensures that Arkansas stays true to being the Natural State by working to preserve, protect and conserve the fish and wildlife for everyone to enjoy.
The state has a growing art scene with various galleries, museums and public art sites. Want the best of both nature and art? Visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville which offers an inspiring world-class collection of art inside and miles of trails outside.
Downtown Little Rock will soon have the renovated and expanded Arkansas Arts Center in MacArthur Park open to the community in 2022. Plans for the center were revealed earlier this year and include many local companies and suppliers to help with construction. There will be areas for exhibitions, classes, performances, lectures, programs and so much more.