Staying Healthy as You Age
Many people mistakenly believe that their genetics determine whether they remain healthy and vibrant and live a longer life. But in reality, genes are responsible for only 30 to 40 percent of longevity and factors that we can actually control - such as diet, exercise and mental activity - play a much larger role, 60 to 70 percent. That means how long - and how well - you live is up to you. Here are some ways to help you live longer and live better.
Eating a healthy diet is essential to maintaining health, preventing disease, and increasing energy. Doctors recommend a diet full of fruits and vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates (such as whole grain foods and legumes) and healthy fats (such as olive oil). Keep your alcohol consumption moderate, as excessive drinking has been linked to osteoporosis.
If you are overweight, losing the extra pounds can help prevent some age-related health problems, including osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
Your daily requirements for certain vitamins increases as you age while your intake may decrease, so be sure you take a daily multi-vitamin. Especially important vitamins include E, which is thought to prevent certain diseases, and calcium to prevent osteoporosis.
Water is an often-overlooked component of a healthy diet. As you age, your sense of thirst decreases, so you feel less thirsty; and certain medications, such as diuretics for high blood pressure, can cause fluid loss. In addition, declining kidney function means that your kidneys are less able to concentrate urine, so more water is lost. All of these factors mean consuming adequate amounts of water becomes increasingly important. So drink at least 8 glasses of water or comparable liquid (not coffee or tea) every day, and more if it is hot or you are physically active.
Numerous studies have proven the importance of exercise at any age. Even if you have never exercised before, you can still reap the benefits by starting now. Regular, moderate exercise can delay, prevent, and even reverse many age-related diseases and conditions. It reduces your risk for heart disease and diabetes and minimizes the symptoms of diseases such as arthritis.
According to the National Institutes of Health, older individuals who are sedentary lose ground in four key areas that are important for remaining healthy and independent: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
Doctors recommend you get some form of moderate exercise every day or most days of the week. There's no need to push yourself until you're exhausted and sore, but take a 30 minute walk in the evening, ride your bike around the neighborhood, or play a round of golf with your friends. Do something to get your heart pumping and your blood moving! You'll have increased energy, sleep better, and feel great!
Walking, swimming and water aerobics are great low-impact ways of getting daily exercise. Or, if you're feeling more athletic, try weight lifting, tennis, bicycling, and aerobics or jogging. Always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen. Strength training is particularly beneficial as you age. You begin losing muscle mass at age 40, slowly becoming weaker over time. But strength training can rebuild lost muscle mass and make bones stronger, which is particularly important for post-menopausal women. It also improves your balance, helps you to sleep better and strengthens your heart.
Keeping your mind active and challenged is just as important as keeping your body in motion. Research has shown that additional years of education can increase life expectancy. It can also delay normal decline in memory and mental agility.
A study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who engaged in leisure activities such as learning to play a musical instrument or dancing were less likely to develop dementia. Dancing may be especially beneficial to the brain because it combines physical activity with social interaction, and often involves a cognitive challenge in learning dance steps. Other great ways to challenge your mind include crossword puzzles, sudoku, taking classes, starting a new hobby or learning a foreign language.
Research has shown that people who are isolated and lonely have a higher incidence of health problems, while those who have strong social bonds live longer and are healthier. In fact, experts say that how socially connected a person tends to be is one of the most important ways of predicting his or her health and independence in later years. Some studies suggest that people with limited social interaction are more likely to die over a given period as those with a strong social network. Many experts believe that social isolation may create a chronically stressful condition that accelerates aging.
Make spending time with friends and family a priority. If you don't have friends or family nearby, join a social group, a hobby group, or get involved in some other social network.
Regular, Preventative Health Care
Health care is important - and not just when you are feeling ill or are injured. Preventative care can be just as important for keeping you healthy and active. If you're over 50, you should get a flu shot every year. If you are 65 or older, you should also get vaccinated for pneumonia. You also need a tetanus/diphtheria shot every 10 years and your doctor may recommend you be vaccinated for hepatitis B and chickenpox.
Be sure you have an annual eye and dental exam, as well as a general physical. Have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly, as well as get a colorectal cancer screening. Women should have annual mammograms and PAP smears and men should be checked regularly for prostate cancer.
Don't be shy at these appointments, speak up if you don't understand something, take a list of questions for your doctor, and do your own research before the appointment so you arrive informed and prepared.
If you notice any changes in your health or have concerns, make an appointment with your doctor immediately - don't wait until your next regular appointment.
Taking steps to protect yourself from accidents and common hazards is important as you age. Make sure your home is well lighted, especially pathways and steps. If you have hardwood floors, don't wax them and avoid using area or throw rugs, as they can cause falls. Install nonskid strips in your bathtub and/or shower and on staircases, and install handrails on staircases, toilets and in the bathtub and/or shower. Keep a telephone by your bed along with a list of emergency numbers.