We face eight key health challenges as we age.
The steps you take to prevent and mitigate these challenges can make the difference between just hobbling through your golden years and actually thriving. There’s just no reason not to enjoy energy and vitality well into your seventies, eighties and beyond.
Here are the top health issues we all must face when we descend to the other side of the hill, and the smart steps you can take – now – to stop them. Although I think it’s worth stating that the hill metaphor of life should be chucked entirely. “Over the hill” doesn’t make sense in this day and age with all the amazing scientific and nutritional advances of which we can take endless advantage. So I prefer to think of life as a gently sloping valley that gets a bit steeper the closer you get to the other side. You just need a few more tools to ace the slope.
1. Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome
This is the biggest cause of preventable death, because it’s linked to virtually all the other major causes of death (cancer, diabetes, heart disease). 75% of adults over 60 are overweight or obese. Obesity and poor health go hand in hand. It’s almost impossible to live a long, healthy life if you are seriously overweight. No wonder we’ve got such a massive health care tab and drastically reduced quality of life among seniors. Though I ought to quibble with the BMI, for the purposes of this post I won’t. The general guideline is to make sure your waist is less than 40″ if you’re a man and 35″ if you’re a woman. I don’t recommend focusing on LDL cholesterol to the detriment of other crucial factors like raising your good (HDL) cholesterol and keeping your triglycerides and inflammation under absolute control.
The four simple steps required:
- Eat smart protein that contains good fat: grass-fed meat, wild fish, DHA-enhanced eggs, fermented tofu (and take a fish oil supplement, too).
- Cook with olive oil or walnut oil.
- Absolutely avoid all refined foods that contain processed grains, sugars, corn syrup, starch, flour, etc.
- Move a little. A daily walk is sufficient if you do your best to make it brisk.
Half of us will get it. I even have osteoarthritis from my time as a pro runner. We’re also prone to joint troubles thanks to our primal past – er, the fact that we walk upright hasn’t quite registered with our DNA. Hence, we experience knee and back issues like they’re going out of style (only as of yet, they are not). Of course, obesity is a big culprit. Losing just ten pounds can cut your risk in half.
I manage arthritis successfully by doing the following:
- Taking at least a gram of fish oil daily.
- Reducing free radical oxidation with…a diet high in vegetables, gluttonous amounts of olive oil, a few glasses of wine a week, and a potent antioxidant supplement.
- Following all the tips in #1.
- Resistance (weight-bearing) exercise at least 3 times a week.
3. Osteoporosis and Falls
Despite our love affair with Blunder Tonic, osteoporosis is one of our most prevalent diseases (and curiously missing from places like Africa and Asia where they consume little dairy). I don’t go in for the whole “dairy actually causes osteoporosis” scare manufacturing – protein will not leach calcium from your bones. But dairy will also not prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is caused by a lack of exercise (particularly weight-bearing activity) and lack of sunlight exposure.
You can be a vegan or live on smoked gouda for all I care, but be warned: the triple-whammy of being overweight, sedentary and spending all your time indoors will set you up for osteoporosis guaranteed. And a simple fracture in old age can mean death. Falls are the #1 cause of death in people over 65. That’s just crazy, isn’t it?
Your risk for cancer just increases as you age. I think of aging as being, essentially, progressive tissue wasting. As we age we are simply more susceptible to damage (oxidative, environmental, stress, deficiency, atrophy, you name it). It becomes that much harder for our cells to repair themselves. Immunity becomes compromised. Metabolism slows. Muscles weaken. Susceptibility to disease increases. You have to take sensible steps to mitigate – and prevent – the increased health risks of aging.
Aside from following the sensible diet, exercise, and supplement advice I’ve touched on, you should also be very proactive about medical screenings. Get over the hang-ups or nerves and just go see your doctor regularly because this is the best way to beat cancer. Cancer simply isn’t the death sentence it used to be – far from it. Caught early, survival rates – even five years out – are stunning. Live a sensible lifestyle, get screened, and should you happen to get cancer, your chances for many more quality years are excellent if you take immediate action. If you do not have insurance, there are plenty of economical options for routine screenings in most major cities, so do a little homework. (Of course, quitting smoking, managing stress and avoiding excess alcohol are hopefully things that go without saying.)
5. Cardiovascular Disease
See #1. Cardiovascular disease (CHD) is an umbrella term that includes heart disease, heart attacks, hypertension, arrhythmia and many other cardiovascular complications. In this case, prevention pays: follow a healthy lifestyle and your risk for CHD drops by a massive 80%. That’s huge!
- Get exercise (walking, hiking and intervals are great).
- Don’t smoke.
- Limit salt.
- Avoid all processed foods.
6. Vision and Hearing Loss
Aside from the basic preventive measures like careful sunlight exposure, resting your eyes, and not subjecting your ear drums to your teenager’s sound system emanations, you can actually eat your way to healthy vision and hearing.
A diet high in produce – I’m talking at least, at least 6 servings of vegetables daily, and preferably 9-12 – will provide your eyes and ears with a protective antioxidant arsenal against aging. No smoking, either. To stave off hearing loss, experts recommend that you avoid earbuds and use regular old headphones if you can – or at least don’t shove the buds into your ears tightly.
I’ll say one thing, and one thing only: floss. Of course you brush twice daily, and few people need dentures anymore, but you can reduce inflammation and infection – not to mention cavities and expensive dental procedures – with daily flossing. Flossing also helps with bad breath.
8. Mental Health: Memory and Emotional Well-Being
Memory loss is not a requisite of aging. At all. Stress is what affects our cognition, alertness, memory and emotional health. To stay healthy and mentally sharp, you must limit stress.
- Exercise. End of story!
- Find a spiritual or emotional outlet such as meditation, yoga, prayer, or being in nature.
- Don’t think of yourself as old. You’re not. Mental outlook and a positive attitude are vital. Taking care of yourself can easily ensure you of 80, 90 or even 100 full years. Don’t talk about “senior moments” and your “brain farts”. Since when is a little extra life experience a reason to think of yourself as aged and crumbling? We’re not blue cheese. We’re people.
- Maintain at least a few close friendships (this is crucial).
- Hug or kiss someone you care about every day. Touch is really important, particularly as we age, when isolation and loss become more common.
- Have a pet, adopt a child, spoil the grandkids – love someone who is dependent upon you.
You also need to take active measures to keep the brain both elastic and healthy.
- Learn a language or build your math skills.
- Read a book a month, or better yet, a week. It is shocking how little we read. Choose difficult books or new topics and mix it up: novels, philosophy, history, memoir. Avoid the emotional political books and other pop culture reads that contain mostly irrational opinion (hey, that’s what blogs are for). Those “books” only cement stagnant and ignorant beliefs rather than truly challenging your mind. They calcify the brain.
- Stay current with technology and trends. Don’t start dressing like your kids (you mortify them enough as it is) but stay informed and interested. Learn and use new technologies like blogging, social bookmarking, portable communication devices, and media players.
- Travel, if you can. If not, make sure to expose yourself to new groups, communities, activities and hobbies. Try to make several new friends every year.
- Learn something new every day. Encourage curiosity and nurture growth.
Health is cumulative. The way you treat yourself aggregates. You must take care of yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend or your children. Do you feel depressed? Are you overweight? You are not taking care of yourself! And it will catch up with you, sooner than you think. If you are suffering from health problems as a result of personal neglect, you’re sending a pretty clear message that you don’t care about yourself. Why?
This post was inspired by an article at WebMD