The options are there; it's up to us to make the right choices

Each week in this column I speak to actions that affect "healthy aging," mostly eating behaviors and physical activity. But today I really don't care how many fudge brownies you're going to consume or how many miles you intend to walk. I have other priorities.

My goal: you will (ever after) refer to this column as a "shot in the arm."

It all started a few weeks ago, when I went to my health provider for a shingles (herpes zoster) vaccination. At age 60, that vaccination is an option and I opted "Yes." I made the decision even though my health insurance might not cover the cost.

I made the decision because I'd like to avoid having parts of my body covered with the migrating virus sometimes called "St. Anthony's fire" and its uniquely painful, blistering, itching rash. For those intimately familiar with the shingles diagnosis, I am in awe of what you've been through.

I'm told the pain can be so severe it's sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.

There are things I cannot control (I could use the brownie reference once again) and some I can. Aging is difficult enough without acquiring conditions that could be avoided.

For me, it took a brief phone call to make the appointment and about six minutes in my doctor's office. I realized later I could have done it at the local health department (it costs less there), so you might factor that into your health-planning equation. Once you're vaccinated, it doesn't mean you'll never get shingles, but the likelihood is notably reduced.

It meets the test of common sense, don't you think? When it comes to "healthy aging," we have options, we can make choices.

When September comes around I'll opt for the flu vaccine, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for anyone over age 50, yet another preventive "shot in the arm.". At age 65, maybe earlier, I will say "yes" to the pneumonia vaccination. The cost is covered under Medicare, as are a number of other preventive procedures.

Preventative health is getting more attention — thankfully.

As older adults, we're particularly susceptible to many of the infections that can be prevented by vaccination or "booster doses" (think about things like tetanus and diphtheria). These 'shot in the arm" choices I'm putting forward are in a way less difficult than the ones we make daily about what to eat and how far to walk.

Okay. I have now communicated my 'shot in the arm" message and I'm moving on.

I've opted to return to the fudge brownie reference I made earlier. It's still on my mind because I have brownies in the oven.

As I'm writing this column the aroma raises yet another decision. And I have made it "¦ one warm, moist, medium-sized, dark-chocolate brownie, eaten slowly and savored fully.

Oh I could go for a bowl of blueberries, or have a handful of almonds. Nope, I opt for eating a brownie, after which I may take a short walk, or a long one. I have options.

And all the choices I make belong to me.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension Service. She can be reached at

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