I have a vested interest in this column…I just had a big birthday! It is a BIG birthday because it is the one before I get health care insurance from Uncle Sam! Consequently, the “aging process” is very much on my mind!
In the book, “Being Mortal,” Atul Gawande discusses the role of medical care placing emphasis on “well-being” rather than survival, especially as it relates to end-of-life care. It is a “must read” for health care providers as well as the general public. The book also describes, in great detail, the process of aging; the physiology of bone and muscle mass loss, factors affecting balance and coordination, changes in mental acuity, memory, and mood. As depressing as it sounds (many of the changes begin as early as mid to late thirties), it is also a “call to arms!”
To prepare for the inevitable aging process one must be proactive, not reactive. From an early age, challenge yourself mentally by taking classes and learning things for which you may not have an interest. Try new physical activities and sports even if you feel unable to excel. Find balance in your diet by trying to eat fruits and vegetables that you don’t find appealing. Engage in daily exercise and physical activities even if you would rather be indoors playing video games. Lastly, get professional advice on matters beyond your scope. See your physician regularly for routine care and diagnostic tests, find a mental health professional if you are not at peace, consult with a physical therapist to help you design an exercise routine appropriate for your individual needs.
While it is never too late, remember, slowing down the aging process should not begin at 60, it begins at 30!
Minor word or memory loss is a normal part of aging as the brain changes and affects how you remember things. Don’t hesitate to use technology or other tricks to assist you. For example, consider using alerts, reminders and lists on your smart phone. Also, you may want to organize certain items in a set location, use post it notes or a white board. However, these reminders are not a substitute for keeping your mind sharp. Studies show that being social, exercising regularly, eating well and learning a new skill can go a long way to maintain a healthy brain.
According to several studies on aging, unfortunately, most people gain 1-2 pounds per year (10 to 20 pounds over 10 years). The aging body does not burn calories like you used to. But there are some simple steps you can implement to offset this pattern of weight gain. Obviously, eat less (less calories) and exercise more (stimulate your metabolism). Consider fruits, vegetables, and leaner protein instead of foods high in sugar/carbs and saturated fats and don’t forget portion control. Be active and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Aging can also affect sexual performance. According to the Mayo Clinic, lower testosterone levels in men can lead to erectile dysfunction and hormonal changes in women can cause vaginal dryness. Stiff and painful joints add to the challenge. However, with a little effort, most healthy people can continue to be sexually active well into their 70’s and 80’s. Communication with your partner is important. Try new positions. Discuss hormone supplements and ED medications with your doctor. Try over-the-counter lubricants. Remember, exercise improves blood flow and stimulates sex hormones!
Like the other muscles in your body, pelvic and bladder muscles also weaken with age. This problem can be worsened for men by an enlarged prostate and for women following multiple births. However, the muscles can be strengthened by performing specific exercises that target the area called Kegel exercises. These exercises involve squeezing the muscles that control urine flow. For example, while urinating try to stop midstream and hold your urine flow for a few seconds. Repeat 10 times and do this 3-5 times a day. Other recommendations include eating foods high in fiber, avoiding carbonated drinks and limiting caffeine.
People often fall into a rigid routine with age. While this predictable pattern often provides comfort, it can also lead to boredom. Try changing your routine or schedule. Learn a new skill (baking, painting, golf) or visit a new place (museums, libraries, community centers). Getting a part-time job or volunteering can be rewarding and stimulating.
There are a number of reasons for one to feel lonely with age…children relocate, loss of a spouse, divorce. Experts say that it is important to take control by initiating contact with others. Call upon neighbors, friends, relatives, and former coworkers to chat or get together. Volunteer for a charity; join a book club or fitness group. Take classes at a local college and consider getting a pet.
Most health problems associated with aging can be treated. Regular checkups and routine diagnostic tests (blood work, colonoscopy, cardiac tests) will assure that health issues do not get out of control. Be sure to organize your medications and take them as directed. Keep a health journal or use and app on your phone to list meds, allergies and record tests and doctor visits.
SOURCES: National Institutes of Health; Mayo Clinic, WebMD
NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician.
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.