As the body ages, the signs of wear and tear start to show, both internally and externally. These effects of aging can be detrimental to your physical and emotional health, which ultimately leads to your quantity and quality of life. Fortunately, there are ways to make your aging a doable process, even an enjoyable one! From eating right, to sleeping, to staying close with friends, here are the numerous ways you can maintain your good health throughout your life.
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MAINTAIN HEALTHY WEIGHT | EAT WELL | LEAVE NO VITAMIN BEHIND | GET ACTIVE | THE SLEEP YOU NEED | SOME EXTRA TLC | KEEP A HEALTHY MIND |
BE SOCIALLY INVOLVED | HEALTH CONCERNS | PREVENTATIVE MEASURES | WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR
A large part of maintaining your overall health as you age is maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life. Whether you are having trouble gaining pounds or keeping them off, health risks are associated with unhealthy weight on both ends of the spectrum.
There are a number of ways to determine whether or not you have reached a healthy weight. As a general standard, measuring your waist or your calculating your body mass index are fairly reliable ways of giving you an accurate idea of the state of your body:
Body Mass Index
Your body mass index (or BMI) is a measure of whether or not you are at a healthy weight in relation to your height. A healthy BMI score for adults is between 18.5 and 24.9. You can ask your general practitioner about your BMI, or you can use this online calculator for an estimate. Talking to your general practitioner about your BMI would be a good idea, since BMI does not take into account the loss of muscle mass many experience in old age.
A simple test you can do at home is to measure the circumference of your waist. If your measurement is greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man, that could be a sign of being overweight. Keep in mind that this is a rough estimate and cannot give as accurate of an estimate as a BMI score could.
If you are noticing that you are losing your appetite, your clothes and jewelry seem a little looser, or you’re feeling tired and depressed, you may be at a low unhealthy weight. A low weight often means that you are not getting the nutrients that your body needs, making you more frail and more susceptible to some diseases. If you are having trouble gaining weight, you can try the following:
If you have noticed an increase in your weight, it is equally as important for you to reach a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. If you are looking to lose weight, try the following:
Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, so these tips are general guidelines. Make sure to consult your doctor before implementing any major changes to your diet and exercise so that you can do what’s right for your body.
As mentioned, a large part of maintaining a healthy weight is eating healthy foods. But that’s not all that eating well can do for you. It may sound obvious (and a little too simple) but having a well-balanced diet is a great way to fight the effects of aging. Although this doesn’t mean that you need skip dessert for the rest of your life, creating and cultivating a healthy diet is one of the key ways you can maintain good health as you age. Even if you are well past your youth, it’s never too late to start your healthy lifestyle. So what do those healthy eating habits look like?
Overall, people over 50 should not only be careful about the types of food they put into their bodies, but the amount of food as well. The suggested caloric intake for those over 50 are:
Eating the right foods can produce drastic results with your body. Eating well is critical for boosting your energy level and helping to prevent illnesses in addition to adding positively to your health in general. In fact, researchers believe that a healthy diet can physically change the part of your chromosomes that deal with diseases and illnesses related to age. Multiple studies have found that a healthy diet is linked to a decreased risk in diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease.
Specifically, fruit and vegetables contain a wide range of minerals, necessary vitamins, and fiber. Just fruit and veggies alone have been shown to decrease the risks of developing certain cancers and congestive heart failure. Similar to fruit and veggies are oily fish and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids which help fight against the onset of heart disease as well.
Your cardiovascular health isn’t the only thing benefitting from your diet. If you have just had surgery or are recovering from another injury, proteins found in foods like beans, fish, eggs, and meat contain the vitamins to help maintain and actually repair your body. And calcium from dairy products helps keep your bones strong to prevent against falling or other future injuries you may have.
In contrast, a diet high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt result in almost the exact opposite: an increased risk of heart disease, some cancers, stroke, and high blood pressure. A heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to problems in your brain, your heart, and your digestive system as a whole. Other foods, such as caffeine, can worsen symptoms of other conditions, such as essential tremors, insomnia, or anxiety. Although the occasional treat is fine, make sure that your body is mostly being fed foods that will contribute to a longer and happier life.
It’s true that it is better to get the essential vitamins and minerals you need from your food instead of supplements. However, that isn’t always possible, especially because after the age of 50, your body needs more vitamins than it did before. The common vitamins you may need to search out would be:
This vitamin is often hard for older digestive systems to absorb from foods.
This helps your bones stay strong to prevent frailty and injuries.
This helps strengthen your red blood cells so that they can continue to carry oxygen throughout your body.
A deficiency in vitamin D can cause heart disease, bone problems, and cognitive impairment, such as memory loss or difficulty focusing.
Before taking these supplements, try to get as many vitamins and minerals as you can naturally from your food and from the sun. If a supplement is needed, talk to your general practitioner first to make sure a pill wouldn’t react with any other medication you may be taking.
Just as important as eating well is exercising! Exercising has a lot more benefits than just a healthy weight and appearance. Daily exercise lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Not only that, but it also helps you sleep better at night and gives you higher energy levels throughout the day so that won’t just live longer, but live better as you age.
The recommended exercise for older adults is 150 minutes per week, which would include moderate-intensity activities every day and strength-training a couple times per week. These activities could include:
Some of these exercises have added benefits. For example, swimming allows you to exercise the majority of your muscles while being gentle on your joints. And walking 30 minutes every day has been shown to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Depending on your age and condition, this list could grow with a variety of ways to keep you moving and active.
If it is difficult for you to exercise, try doing small exercises for ten minute intervals throughout the day, such as walking down the street. Stay with that regimen until you feel more comfortable increasing the time of your exercises while getting to decrease the amount of times you exercise during the day. You can slowly build yourself up to working out for 150 minutes each week or more -- just remember to be patient with yourself and with your body.
Your sleeping habits change from infancy to adulthood, so it’s no surprise that they continue to change as we grow older. Unfortunately, this often results in trouble for older people sleeping at all. And those troubles during the night affect your mood and your capabilities (both mental and physical) the next day.
It’s a myth that the older you get, the less sleep you need. Just like any other adult, you need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Poor sleep, especially for a prolonged period of time, can cause a myriad of problems. These can include:
Luckily, there are many tips, tricks, and methods to help people to have a more restful night’s sleep. Although everyone’s sleeping habits are different, it’s good to try out different strategies before having to resort to any sort of medication. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, here are some general things you can try:
If you have exhausted every option of trying to sleep well, it may be time to talk to your doctor about insomnia. Insomnia can affect anyone, although it is more common in women than men. Insomnia may also come after being triggered by stress, a traumatic event, or a side effect of a medication. You should consult a doctor if you have tried to sleep well and you still:
Your doctor may prescribe other methods for falling/staying asleep, prescribe medications, or run sleep tests to get a better diagnosis of your symptoms. Because of the debilitating effects of poor sleep, it’s better to see a doctor sooner than later if you suspect your sleeping patterns are a result of something much larger than needing a bedtime routine.
Unfortunately, aging has physical effects as well as mental effects. Diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can be just as crippling as any other physical ailment. The key to maintaining a healthy mind and a healthy brain is regular mental exercise, physical exercise, and having adequate social engagement. This regular involvement of your brain can help you retain a smart and sharp mentality as your grow older.
Your brain’s health depends largely on what happens to the rest of your body. Your diet, exercise, and stress management largely affect how your brain will function later on. Luckily, our genetics don’t always determine how our brains will function later in life -- it will largely depend on what you do with that particular organ in your body.
The best exercises you can do for your brain are cardio and aerobic exercises. These particular activities increase blood supply and oxygen for the brain, which in turn increase your brain volume and growth hormones. Try to get your heart pumping regularly to get that much needed oxygen to your head.
Both omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants found in vegetables have been linked to a decrease in cognitive illnesses, such as dementia. Light alcohol consumption has also been linked to a decrease in dementia, but should be consumed in moderation to prevent too much alcohol from causing damage to the brain.
When the brain is engaged in mental exercises, the connections between your brain’s neurons are strengthened. This improves the life-spans of the neurons as well as improves your brain’s overall ability to function. In contrast, high levels of stress, or chronic stress, can actually prohibit the formation of new neurons and can damage your mental flexibility and your brain’s ability to retain memories. High stress can even start affecting your physical body, making you more susceptible to other illnesses or diseases. To prevent stress and to encourage healthy brain activity, you can start improving with these activities:
The Mayo Clinic Study of Aging found that reading books can lead to a 50% decrease in your chances of developing dementia. Reading can also help enhance your memory, decrease stress, and help your critical thinking skills, all of which contribute to your overall brain health. If you have trouble reading, try reading for short periods of time or reading smaller books or articles.
Writing, especially handwriting, has been shown to help stimulate not only your memory, but the parts of your brain that deal with language and critical thinking as well. You can write letters, create fictional short stories, or write about your past memories in a journal. Whatever you write about, it’s best to put away the computer screen and get out a pen and paper.
If you live in an area where you can take college or adult education classes, take advantage of them! You don’t even have to do the homework -- just sitting in on a class and learning from the lectures can be a great activity to stimulate your brain. As a plus, many institutions offer financial aid and scholarships for seniors to make an education more possible and affordable. If you live far away from universities or a community college, look into classes through your local community programs where you can learn different skills, like painting and dancing, that could also benefit your mental health.
Play An Instrument
If you’ve never touched a bow, tickled the ivories, or even read sheet music before, there is no better time to start than now! Learning an instrument can improve your hearing, memory, and hand/joint movement in just a few months. This new hobby could improve your mental health and your entertainment greatly! You can find local classes or a local self-employed teacher to help you get started.
In addition to the enjoyment you can get from learning your new instrument, you can spend your time playing games on your own, or with others. You can fill in a crossword or sudoku puzzle, or bring out a jigsaw puzzle that will keep you occupied for hours. Or you can play card and board games with a group like your friends or grandchildren! Playing these games helps improve your memory, your creativity, and your critical thinking & decision-making skills.
Being socially involved also has major benefits for the health of your brain and cognitive functioning. Just being around others shows a decreased risk in cognitive decline. It also helps lower mortality and depression rates and boasts better cognitive function than peers who do not engage in social outings. Research has even shown that increased social engagement can lower the chances of contracting Alzheimer’s, among other mental benefits.
Being social is great for your brain, but great for other aspects of your health as well! Researcher Stewart Wolf conducted a study in 1964, comparing a small community in Roseto, Pennsylvania, to other neighborhoods. He found that although the community worked longer hours, smoked, and suffered from obesity, they had low mortality rates compared to others. He, and other researchers since, have concluded that being around family members and friends is so beneficial, it actually extends your life. And in 2010 study, researchers found that a lack of social relationships was comparable to well-known and well-established risk contributors for death, including excess tobacco usage and obesity.
In comparison, seniors who were isolated and lonely were found to have high levels of stress hormones that are linked to arthritis and diabetes. They were also more likely to get depression or dementia later on. Just as friends are helpful to your health, a lack of them can be detrimental.
Finding the time to be social can be a problem for seniors, so it’s smart to look for ways to add it into your everyday life:
As you age, there are some health concerns that can come despite good health. It’s good to be aware of some of the common ailments that come so that you can recognize your symptoms and seek out treatment from your doctor or from other means.
Parkinson’s disease affects your body’s nervous system and usually results in tremors throughout the body, especially in a person’s hands. This is a chronic condition but symptoms can be lessened with certain medications. Although Parkinson’s is not fatal, it can lead to other fatal acts like falling or aspirating food into lungs. Most of all, Parkinson’s highly affects a person’s quality of life and ability to perform daily tasks.
Essential tremors (ET) are often mistaken as Parkinson’s. Though they are both movement disorders, it’s important to distinguish which ailment you may have. One thing to consider when researching your symptoms is that ET is eight times more common in older individuals than Parkinson’s. One distinguishing factor is that ET is usually seen in action, such as when you are writing or picking up utensils, while Parkinson’s is easily seen when a patient is at rest. Telling ET and Parkinson’s apart is difficult, and so consulting your doctor is necessary for a correct diagnosis so that you can be given the right education and treatments. Similar to Parkinson’s, ET is chronic and its cause is unknown.
As explained previously, gaining healthy habits in diet can help as an individual ages over time. Although ET is difficult to cure, there are ways one can improve this condition with healthy habits. Some of these habits include but are not limited to the following: refraining from caffeine and alcoholic substances, increasing B12 intake, and doing relaxing exercises such as yoga. In fact, learning to calm one’s body in stressful situations is very helpful in improving ET.
In addition to healthy diets and exercise, there are some pharmacological agents that are also available and can be used to further relax the nervous system. The two types often prescribed are Beta-Blockers and Anticonvulsants. Although this medication has had short-term improvements, no study has been done to measure the improvement of ET long-term. Also, Anticonvulsants in particular have the potential to produce difficult side-effects.
When medication and health habits don’t improve ET, surgery is an option. There are two operations that can be taken: deep brain stimulation and stereotactic radiosurgery. These procedures, however, are very invasive to the brain and do not carry a 100% success rate. They should be seen as a last resort option after working through various other options with your doctor.
Shingles comes in old age from the resurfacing of the chickenpox virus. Symptoms of shingles include painful rashes of clusters of blisters. The cause of the resurfacing of the virus is unknown; however, the pain and itching can be relieved easily with medications from your doctor. The best option would be to prevent shingles by being vaccinated early on before symptoms show up.
Glaucoma can take many forms, but a consistent factor is that the nerve connecting the eye to the brain is damaged. Overtime, glaucoma can cause vision loss and even complete blindness. Besides impaired vision, glaucoma can cause severe eye/head pain, nausea, and sudden moments where you lose your vision momentarily. Glaucoma can be lessened and even cured with eye-drops and laser surgery, but it’s important to go in to your doctor when you notice symptoms to avoid increases in pain.
Even after all the things you can do to keep your body from aging, it’s still important to realize that your body still will be different than it was before. And because of that, it’s even more important to take steps in order to prevent serious accidents or injuries from happening.
Have smoke alarms on each floor of your home, and check them regularly (every month)
Put non-slip flooring in your entryways, under your rugs, and in bathrooms
Repair uneven or cracked pathways outside your house
Use contrast strips on the top and bottom stairs to increase visibility
Put handrails on both sides of staircases with adequate width for an easy grip
Make sure that all storage areas and necessary items are accessible and easily reached
Place grab bars in the bathtub and next to the toilet
Decrease clutter around entryways
Limit decor and furniture in potentially tight places, like hallways
Even if you have a very healthy body and mind, accidents can still happen. Taking these steps can ensure that you’ll be safer in a potential time of need.
Throughout the aging process, it’s good to have a relationship with a doctor you can trust. Make sure to keep in contact with them so they can help you if any effects of aging may arise. Your doctor can often spot problems and correct them before they become a big issue.
Another great reason to stay in close contact with your doctor is to make sure you are getting routine tests done. For example, have your doctor check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They can be key indicators of risks for heart disease and stroke, but can be easily reversed before they become a problem.
The general guidelines for when and what tests you should receive are:
Make sure you are discussing all of your body’s changes with your doctor. Every person’s body is unique, and your general practitioner can help you apply these healthy-living tips to your personal life and body.