Healthy Aging

Whether you are forty wondering why you ache after doing activities that were simple just ten years prior or over seventy and find it difficult preventing a fall, there are ways to actually slow the aging process also known as healthy aging.  Although the risk of disease and disability clearly increases with advancing age, poor health is not an inevitable consequence of aging.  Much of the illness, disability, and death associated with chronic disease are avoidable through known prevention measures.  Key measures include practicing a healthy lifestyle which encompasses exercising, healthy eating, keeping your mind stimulated, avoiding toxins and practicing early detection.

EXERCISE

There are four types of exercises necessary to have the right mixture of physical activities; endurance, strength building, stretching and balance training.

Endurance

Get at least 30 minutes of activity that makes you breathe harder on most or all days of the week such as swimming, jogging or walking.  This aerobic activity builds your energy or “staying power”.  Ideally this should be done at one time although dividing this up throughout the day is still beneficial.  For example, walking for 10-minutes three times a day adds up to a total of 30 minutes.  A simple guide on how hard to push yourself is if you can talk without any trouble at all, you’re not working hard enough.  If you can’t talk at all, it’s too hard.  Unless you are on medication that slows your heart rate such as betablockers (Atenolol, Metoprolol, etc.) the ideal heart rate is 50 – 85% of your maximal rate depending on your level of conditioning. Maximal heart rate is about (220 minus your age).  If you are over 50 years of age or have chronic medical conditions, consider a cardiac stress test before starting an aerobic exercise program.  This link provides a quick guide to measure your target heart rate.  http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4736

Strength Building

Exercising your muscles until they fatigue promotes strength, protects joints, helps to regulate sugar and insulin levels and promotes better balance.   This should be done between three and five days a week for twenty minutes at a time.  Muscles that are not used waste away.  Even a healthy twenty year old who is bed ridden for two weeks would be too weak to walk a significant distance.  When you have enough muscle, you can be a weekend warrior and play sports with less risk of injury or get up from a chair by yourself. When you don’t, you avoid participating in physical activities or have to wait for someone to help you get up. When you have enough muscle, you can walk through the park with your grandchildren.  When you don’t, you may have to stay home as fatigue and weakness makes activity difficult.  This is true for both younger and older adults.

Stretching

Stretching helps keep you flexible enabling you to move more freely. Only stretch when your muscles are warmed up such as after walking or using a stationary bicycle for at least five minutes.  Never stretch so far that it hurts.  A proper stretch takes you just before pain occurs and should be held for at least fifteen seconds.  Be sure to stretch opposite muscle groups. For example, stretch your hamstrings (back of thighs) then stretch your quadriceps (front of thighs).  Never bounce during a stretch as it may result in tearing muscle.  It is best to obtain proper instruction in stretching so that you may acquire a routine that is both safe and effective.  This link through the Women’s Heart Foundation gives an excellent diagram of a sample stretching routine for both men and women. http://www.womensheart.org/content/Exercise/stretching_exercise.asp

Balance Training

Many times we take for granted the importance of good balance yet it is critical to our independent living.  Practice these activities with care as they might be difficult at first.  For example, stand on one foot, then the other.  If you can, don’t hold on to anything for support. Stand up from sitting in a chair without using your hands or arms.  Every now and then walk heel-to-toe.  When you walk this way, the toes of the foot in back should almost touch the heel of the foot in front.  Practice Yoga on a level that challenges you without resulting in over exertion and injury.  Improving your balance will help prevent falls and injury.

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HEALTHY DIETS

Whole, natural, fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, healthy sources of protein (poultry, fish, eggs, tofu) and dairy products that contain calcium constitute efficient eating.  The following basic guidelines are what you need to know to construct a healthy diet.

1.  Eat plenty of high-fiber foods—fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

2.  Make sure to include green, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables—such as broccoli, carrots, cantaloupe, and citrus fruits which are high in antioxidants. Eat five or more servings a day.

3.  Limit your intake of sugary foods, refined-grain products such as white bread, and salty snack foods. Sugar, our No.1 additive, is added to a vast array of foods providing excessive calories with little nutrition.

4.  Cut down on animal fat which is rich in saturated fat, boosts blood cholesterol levels and has other adverse health effects.

5.  Cut way down on trans fats, supplied by hydrogenated vegetable oils used in most processed foods in the supermarket and in many fast foods.

6.  Eat more fish and nuts, which contain healthy unsaturated fats. Substitute olive or canola oil for butter or stick margarine.

7.  Keep portions moderate, especially with high-calorie foods. Choose an appetizer instead of an entrée, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything.

8.  Keep your cholesterol intake below 300 milligrams per day. Cholesterol is found only in animal products, such as meats, poultry, dairy products, and egg yolks.

9.  Eat a variety of foods. Don’t try to fill your nutrient requirements by eating the same foods day in and day out.  A wide assortment of foods helps to ensure that you will get all the necessary nutrients.

10.  Maintain an adequate calcium intake. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. Get your calcium from low-fat sources, such as skim milk and low-fat yogurt.

11.  Try to get your vitamins and minerals from foods.  If this is not likely then add a quality supplement. Supplements cannot substitute for a healthy diet, which supplies nutrients and many other compounds besides vitamins and minerals.

12.  Maintain a desirable weight. Balance energy (calorie) intake with energy output. Exercise and other physical activity are essential.

13.  If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

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KEEPING YOUR MIND HEALTHY

Inactivity is the precursor to a failing memory and can be strengthened just as we strengthen our bodies with exercise. A decline in memory is not always a function of serious disease, like Alzheimer’s. Sometimes memory loss is caused by factors that can be changed — such as diet and alcohol, medication misuse and depression. Memory gradually declines until age 70 then the pace increases, but not so much as to impair us. The greatest enemy to the healthy senior mind is depression.  New activities, hobbies, and exercise are wonderful anti-depressants. If you truly are depressed, don’t bear it alone and seek help.

Stay active doing things that use your memory:

  • Be with people. Take a class at the community HS or college, play games, join a social club such as a bowling league or book club.
  • Maintain a dynamic lifestyle. Seek out variety and challenge in your daily life, choose a new hobby every six months.
  • Travel. After a lifetime of raising children and working, older Americans love to travel — to see new things and experience new cultures. By beginning to plan a trip you will notice that half the excitement is in the planning.
  • Communicate Regularly.  Learn how to email and keep in touch with family and friends.  Send and receive pictures and interesting articles then pick up the phone and call them, just to “chat”.
  • Laugh Loud, Laugh Often. A good sense of humor is essential. Start the day off on a light note by reading the comic sections of your local newspaper. Find humor in every day events. Be ready to laugh at yourself and with others. See comedy movies, go to a comedy club and read books with a comical flair.
  • Volunteer your time. Be generous with the most important thing you own — your time. Volunteer in a local nursing home, hospital, youth center or school. Get involved with a cause you believe in or in something that interests you.
  • Seek Inspiration/Keep the Faith. Belief in a higher power is of paramount importance.  This can be done in an organized group or privately.

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AVOIDING EXPOSURE TO TOXINS

What we expose ourselves to is usually in our control and can benefit us or harm us depending on what it is.  Avoiding smoking is the single most important factor in avoiding health related problems and this can not be over stated.  Keep alcoholic beverages to no more than two drinks per day with one drink being either one and one half ounces of liquor, six ounces of wine or twelve ounces of beer. This assumes that a medical condition does not preclude even this amount.  Minimizing processed foods is also critical as the nutrients in foods that are found in a box or package almost always contain preservatives and sweeteners which promote obesity and diabetes. ___________________________________________________________

PREVENTION

Obtaining a yearly preventative physical exam helps you to review the recommended prevention opportunities for your individual age and medical condition.  Some of these topics include immunizations, blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol, risk assessment for premature heart disease, accident prevention, depression and dementia screenings, mammograms, pap smears, prostate exams and colonoscopies.

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Aging is an inevitable part of life but how we age is the key to our success and happiness. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is a choice but the benefits far exceed the time and commitment spent.  Million dollar race horses are usually pampered, thousand dollar pedigree dogs are treated with kitten gloves yet our billion dollar bodies are usually ignored. Where do you want to be 10, 20, 30 years from now?   Invest in your body. Treat it well. It is the only one you have.

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