Maximizing Health into Older Age

If you calculated your lifespan online (like here: https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/retirement/life-age-expectancy-calculator.aspx) you might be lucky and unlucky. You might be lucky to see you may live to 80 or more. But unlucky if you are not planning on staying healthy into retirement and become unhealthy for years. This could be hard on you emotionally, but also financially. The cost of health only continues to climb, and for those in today’s “sandwich” generation for your retirement years, you can expect to pay twice as much as those retiring today. It only makes sense then to stay as healthy as long as possible. This means starting lifelong habits in these arenas: mind, body, and spirit.

Body:

Exercise
Exercising and staying active in your 20s and 30s is hard enough. For those in their 50s and beyond you might think it’s an even bigger bear. Not so! Your parents don’t have to run 5k’s like you to prove themselves. They only need to do as little as walk 30 minutes, five times weekly. Getting a dog could be the best excuse to do that, so you can walk them three times daily for ten minutes. Some may prefer to swim or bike, while others are lucky enough to have good knees and hips to run or other vigorous activities such as aerobics for 20 minutes, three times weekly. Gardening and household chores all count too.

Strength and Flexibility Training
Now is the time to keep your bones strong and resistant to fractures. Broken hips are a bad statistic to be a part of. Strength training will help maintain bone density and muscle mass, both aiding in fighting fractures. Flexibility exercises will reduce the chance of falls and other accidents as well. Avoid sedentary days and just move around every hour or so for good heart health too.

Diet
They all fail. What’s the next section? Just kidding. One thing I notice about my patients who are in retirement age: though most are actually overweight, they never seem to gain any weight. That might be because they developed lifelong habits. The Mediterranean and Dash diets seem to be great choices for health altogether. I developed the “Aquavore” Diet that lets you eat what you want by concentrating on the water content in the foods you pick. Whatever you or your parents pick though, make a healthy choice–the point though is to keep it a lifelong habit, no matter the weight you eventually stabilize at because fad diets all work, but not for long.

Spirit:

Volunteering not only helps you get your exercise, but is good for your spirit. Volunteering helps reduce stress, combats depression, keeps you from feeling isolated, and actually can put you in positive emotional territory for a change.
Developing a deep faith in God has not only been shown to improve anxiety and overall health, but can also put you in positive emotional territory as well. Prayer and other good spiritual habits such church going take practice and patience. In other words, don’t expect quick and grandiose miracles to happen, or you definitely will quit. But know one thing: your spirit needs some kind of “exercise” and just as your body can’t be sedentary, neglecting this part of your overall health will make you equally sick, spilling over into your emotions as well as your body in general. Prayer can be fun. Find the right spiritual books, read the bible with passages that interest you, movies about inspiring people like Mother Theresa can be fun—it doesn’t have to be a chore.

Mind:

Cognitive
When we talk about our retirement years and mental health, dementia may immediately enter one’s thoughts. Not to get too technical, but dementia actually occurs in seven stages, from no or mild dementia to severe dementia. There is no cure, but is there anything we can do to keep progressing along these seven stages? Not surprisingly, by having a healthy diet, exercising and maintaining positive social contacts, and in some cases with medication–these seem to be powerful deterrents. But is there anything we can do mentally? Yes, there is, with what one could call “brain exercise”, or more generally, “cognitive stimulation”. In fact there scores of studies on brain exercises and their benefits.

A “Cochrane” review looked at several studies revealing the impact of cognitive stimulation for people with dementia, which included 15 randomized controlled trials with subjects having mild-to-moderate dementia, mainly in the form of Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia. Participants underwent different activities, including:

  • discussion of past and present events and
  • topics of interest,
  • word games, puzzles,
  • music and
  • practical activities like baking or indoor gardening.

Subjects having the intervention scored significantly higher in cognitive function tests.

Most recently the “ACTIVE” study at IU, USF and PSU also showed this promise. In this study, 2800 subjects took ten separate hour long sessions over a six-week period and up to eight booster sessions afterwards. After ten years, the risk of developing dementia was 30 percent lower in the experimental group, and even better for those in the booster group. Understand, though, that the experimental group used a computer program that one day could become public, but since this is under study, is still unavailable.

Ref: Edwards et al Speed of processing training results in lower risk of dementia. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.trci.2017.09.002

In the meantime it makes sense then to keep mentally active, actually challenging yourself a little by learning new things or changing your normal daily patterns a little:

  • learn a new song, or a new instrument
  • discuss current news stories
  • play puzzles or word games
  • learn how to crochet
  • try a new hobby
  • try baking something really new which involves measuring ingredients and carefully following recipes.

Emotional:

Maintaining social activity in general has been shown to be effective in preventing depression in older adults, but having a good social network can help in so many ways, in offering assistance with shoveling, doing shopping, having an exercise partner—this kind of “social capital” is priceless.

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