Aging Gracefully

By Laura DeFina, MD

Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, the “father of aerobics” and founder of the Cooper Institute, recently celebrated his 80th birthday. His celebration included a skiing trip to Colorado. With helpful aging tips, you too could be skiing into your 80th birthday. It’s never too early to start a healthy aging process.

Five Principles of Healthy Aging

Principle # 1: See a physician
Begin preparing medically for healthy “golden years.” Routine preventive health care, including evaluation for cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, cancer screening and immunizations, is important to aging with less debility and medical illness (disability). Good control of cardiovascular risk factors leads to fewer heart attacks and strokes, which in turn allow for better physical function (a.k.a. more golf!). Historically, men often avoid “unnecessary” screening medical care until they are ill. It is important to break this cycle and get preventive health care now!

Help your physician help you:

• Have regular preventive care and follow-up appointments.

• Bring a list of your medications to your exam, prescribed by both your primary care doctor and any specialists you see. This list should also include your supplements and over-the-counter medications as these can interact with prescription medications.

• Bring a list of your medical questions. This helps your physician focus your appointment on both your active concerns and your preventive care. You should also include information about any other doctor visits or emergency room trips you had in the past.

Principle # 2: Regular exercise helps you now and later
The numerous medical benefits of exercise, including less high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, can be realized from starting and maintaining a regular exercise regimen early in life. This “head start” on wellness can translate into having to deal with fewer diseases in the “golden years” and maintaining better function.

Exercise is also beneficial to those who suffer from significant medical conditions. Generally speaking, individuals of 55 to 65 years old should discuss beginning an exercise program with their primary care doctor or cardiologist to ensure safety. It is also important to speak to your orthopedic surgeon if you have had lower extremity surgery to clear you for exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) website offers helpful information on exercise for older adults in its “Physical Activity for Everyone” section.

Exercise not only prevents disease but keeps seniors active, maintains muscle bulk, helps prevent falls and has been shown to decrease memory loss.

Regular activity should include:

• Aerobic activity, such as walking or stationary cycling, for at least 150 minutes per week.

• Strength training at least two days per week.

Principle # 3: Healthy eating does matter, especially for senior citizens
It is not time to “throw care to the wind” and eat whatever you want. An appropriately balanced diet that is low in fat, low in sodium and provides adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrates is important for preventing and treating high blood pressure, diabetes and other medical conditions.

In addition, getting sufficient vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids through food intake and/or supplements helps to maintain strong bones and strong minds. Seniors should avoid tobacco and only use alcohol in moderation, if at all. Both of these habits can worsen overall health and memory.

Principle # 4: Memory loss, dementia or senility are not a given with aging
Memory loss occurs with many conditions of aging including low thyroid function, low vitamin B12 level, active medical conditions, depression and with many medications. Keeping good control of cardiovascular risk factors by eating well and getting regular exercise promotes the improvement of memory and activity in the elderly.

Depression is absolutely not a normal symptom of aging. Appropriate treatment of depression can improve memory and activity levels. Staying socially and intellectually active can be helpful to prevent or slow memory loss.

Principle # 5: Enjoy your golden years!
Again, it’s never too early to start preparing for the aging process. With these five tips in mind, you are sure to be running into your golden years.

Laura DeFina, MD currently works as a Medical Director at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, TX. She previously served as a preventive medicine physician with a special interest in healthy aging and caring for the elderly at the Cooper Clinic. For more information, please visit http://www.cooperinstitute.org

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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