The class of older adults walked though the gym, all carefully checking their balance on a stretch of flooring purposely made uneven.

The class, "Delay the Disease," is for patients diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and it is one example of how targeted steps, taken early, can help with health outcomes.

Longer life spans and the sheer number of baby boomers will double the population of elderly Americans by 2030, according to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC. Some 72 million people will join a group that's at higher risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.

The CDC prepared a report, "State of Aging and Health in America 2013," to provide a look at how the United States is doing when it comes to promoting the prevention of unhealthy habits, reducing behaviors that contribute to premature death and disability, and improving the health and well-being of older adults.

Marli Apt, the instructor of the Delay the Disease class at the Scott County Family Y in Bettendorf, said it may take a serious medical diagnosis before people actually adopt healthy lifetime habits.

"You don't think it will happen to you, but then you have a heart attack or find out you are pre-diabetic, and that's when you realize you have to start caring for yourself," she said.

Apt and Dr. Ann O'Donnell of Genesis Health System weighed in on the CDC's top suggestions for healthy aging:

Get screened

Screenings are important, O'Donnell said, not only for the results they provide, but they simply should be part of a senior citizen's overall plan to remain healthy as well.

Individuals who seek out screenings are usually more health-conscious, the doctor said.

"Not everyone needs every screening all the time. We need to look at our genetics and family history to identify what we are most at risk for," she added.

Get vaccinated

Vaccines are an important part of health, especially in the younger and older populations, said O'Donnell, who is the medical director of the Genesis Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice as well as the Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House in Bettendorf.

Aging Americans may have inadequate immune systems due to other diseases, take medications that suppress the immune system or have a genetic makeup that makes them predisposed to certain illnesses, she explained.

"There is no reason to tempt fate when vaccines are widely available to help prevent a viral or bacterial illness that could cause death," she added. 

Be physically active

Apt, who also teaches a fitness class for older people who have survived cancer, said that older Americans mostly hope to remain independent as they age.

"In some of my classes, for example, we'll work on getting out of a chair because that's where some people have problems," she said. 

It's a matter of pushing seniors to do more, but the good news is that it's never too late to begin a fitness routine, she said. Physical activity can prevent many of the health problems that come with age, including the risk of falls.

Eat fresh fruits, vegetables daily

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some cancers and chronic conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Fresh foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and other substances important for good health.

Apt challenges her older adult students to think about what's in the foods they eat, and she suggests they might try organic foods that are grown without pesticides. She talks about food benefits, such as how eating celery can help reduce one's blood pressure.

"I don't promote diets, but I do suggest my students eat 'bad' foods in moderation and to go overboard with 'good' foods," she said.

"With my folks, it's really a lifestyle change. They may not eat like they used to, but with these choices they quickly notice how much better they feel, and how much better their bodies feel," Apt added.

The CDC recommends that adults 65 years and older eat five or more helpings of fruit and vegetables daily.

Quit smoking

Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States.

"That is plain and simple truth. There is no benefit to smoking," O'Donnell said. "Quit!"

For help, call toll-free 1-800-QUITNOW (784-8669) or visit

Take medication for high blood pressure

The leading cause of illness and death among older adults is cardiovascular disease, and the leading risk factor for that is high blood pressure. Of the almost 67 million Americans with high blood pressure, more than half do not have it under control, according to the CDC.

Those patients should take the initiative to monitor their blood pressure, take medications as prescribed, tell their doctor about any side effects and make lifestyle changes as needed. 

O'Donnell said it's important to decide early in life to be healthy and to build habits with that goal in mind.

"In this day of information overload, what you need to concern yourself with is your family history and change the factors that you have control over," she said.

For example, those with a strong history of diabetes should avoid being overweight and eating concentrated sweets, never smoke — and exercise regularly.

"If you do that, you stand a better chance of not developing type 2 diabetes, avoiding the gradual complications that develop over the years and will get to retirement age in good condition, ready to enjoy the next phase of your life," she said.