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Geriatrician Dr. Emily Finkelstein on planning for aging, physical activity, and prevention

At Bold we believe in having conversations about healthy aging as early as possible. It’s never too late for physical activity and to make improvements to your health! But these conversations are sometimes difficult to have. 

Bold CEO Amanda Rees spoke with Dr. Emily Finkelstein, a physician at Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in geriatric medicine to talk about ageism, and why aging is something we need to plan for much earlier in life. 

As the number of people over age 65 increases every day, there is growing demand for services that help people age better. Yet, many businesses aren’t serving the needs of older adults. What are your thoughts on why aging issues are so widely ignored?

Dr. Finkelstein: Simply put, most people would rather not think about aging until it happens to them. There is no glory in this field. People only think about seeing a geriatrician when a debilitating issue in their older years motivates them to find different solutions. But with more proactive care, we can start to think about ways that people can maximize their health, avoid developing chronic conditions and achieve their quality of life goals. 

I do see some interesting trends. About 10 years ago, most people I would see in my practice were well above their 80s. Now, I am seeing people in their 60s who are overall healthier and very motivated to proactively lead healthier lives. People are starting to think ahead about how to prepare for a life where they may live well into their 90s. 

The great thing about geriatricians is that we treat patients as a whole person. That means we think about issues holistically, and I enjoy the opportunity to help patients think ahead. 

What advice do you give to patients who want to plan ahead?

Dr. Finkelstein: Our current medical system lacks an emphasis on preventive care, and it’s helpful to start thinking toward the future about how you can reduce risk factors that can lead to chronic conditions.

It’s also never too late to start. I talk about physical activity with every patient, whether they are wheelchair-bound or still running races. Some patients ask if it truly would be beneficial to start physical activity at age 75. I like to let them know that in terms of health improvement, the answer is yes — it’s low-hanging fruit! 

Even incorporating just a modest amount of movement into your daily life improves bone health, brain health and mood. It’s unfathomable to think about being a doctor and not promoting physical activity. It’s a proactive solution that is better than any medication out there. 

Staying active is such an important component of good health, and people can start small with something as simple as taking a walk. Online services like Bold make it easy for people to incorporate movement into their lives in the comfort of their homes, and the pandemic has pushed people toward online solutions. 

You’ve said investments made now can pay off later. We like to talk about helping people not just live longer but live better. Are you hopeful that people are starting to make those investments in their health?

Dr. Finkelstein: Ultimately, it’s about taking that future-looking approach to live the healthier lives that we all want to lead as we age. For many of my patients, fear of a fall can keep them from doing the kind of things they would otherwise want to do. 

The aging process can limit people physically and functionally, and restrict the kinds of activities older adults can comfortably do. A physical activity program can be a game changer, though. By helping people build strength and flexibility, they can prevent those limitations from holding them back. 

Emily S. Finkelstein M.D., is a graduate of the Yale University School of Medicine. She completed both a residency and a chief residency in Internal Medicine at Stanford Medical Center. After completing her fellowship in geriatric medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, she joined the medical faculty in the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine. She is passionate about preventive medicine in older adults and research on adult child caregivers.