Like it or not, we are all going to get older.
As my best friends mother used to say, “it beats the alternative.”
Unfortunately, her Mom died less than a year after she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in September of 2009, at age 69. Ironically, she’d made a huge lifestyle change just three years before her diagnosis: she quit smoking.
There’s still time for many people in their 50s and up to get their acts together. My uncle quit smoking 15 years ago when he was 45, for example. According to the experts, in doing so, he significantly reduced his risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer.
With your current and future health in mind, here are healthy changes you can make at any age.
We benefit from healthy changes
Let’s start with this surprising fact: the brain of an 18-year-old isn’t much different than the brain of a 100-year-old, says Dr. Argye Hillis, director of the cerebrovascular division at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, and a professor of neurology.
A Johns Hopkins multi-ethnic study tracked over 6,000 people 44 to 84 years old for over seven years.
Those who quit smoking, followed a Mediterranean-style diet, kept their weight at a healthy level, and exercised on a regular basis, cut their risk of death during that time by 80%.
Get more exercise
It’s no secret exercise improves our lives. Specifically, the healthy changes include a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even some types of cancers.
Dr. Hillis adds that exercise also helps prevent dementia and other cognitive changes. With your doctor’s approval, she recommends getting at least a half-hour of physical activity most days of the week.
Reduced physical activity leads to a loss of strength and stamina. By age 75, one in three men and one in two women don’t partake in any physical activity at all, says the Centers for Disease Control.
Activity does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial, the CDC points out. A moderate amount of activity can take the form of a moderately-intense activity such as long walk, or a more intense activity such as speed walking or stair walking, but for a shorter period of time.
If you haven’t been exercising at all, the CDC suggests you begin your healthy changes with 5-to-10-minute intervals of moderate activity, then work your way up to your goal.
Modify your diet
There are some who exercise regularly, but their food intake consists of processed and packaged goods and fast food. At some point, many older Americans find exercise alone isn’t enough to manage their weight. The older you get, the harder it is to lose – and to keep off.
The Mediterranean diet Dr. Hillis recommends is high in fruits, veggies, olive oil, fish and whole grains. It’s also low in processed foods, sugar and meat.
As people age, their eating habits change. Since our metabolism slows, especially after age 65, we should be eating less, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture notes.
Furthermore, the USDA also recommends adding fruit and veggies to meals and snacks. Folks who have difficulty slicing and chopping can purchase them pre-sliced. Another USDA tip: drink 3 cups of lowfat or fat-free milk each day. If you can’t digest milk, consider small amounts of yogurt and lactose-free products. Also, drink water instead of drinks loaded with sugar.
Get more sleep
Ever heard the quote by Friedrich Hebbel, “Sleep is death enjoyed”?
To be sure, a great night’s sleep is something we all look forward to and appreciate. However, as we get older, it becomes more of a challenge to achieve a solid night’s rest.
The Sleep Foundation reports that for people 65 and up, poor sleep can significantly reduce their quality of life.
All of us have an internal clock operating in our brain. And as our brains change with age, they can cause a disturbance in circadian rhythms, which are our 24-hour daily cycles. This disruption can shift when people feel tired or awake.
According to the Sleep Foundation, changes in the hormones melatonin and cortisol can also contribute to disrupted sleep in older adults. In addition, prescription and non-prescription medications often affect the quality and quantity of sleep. Close to 40% of people over 65 take five or more medications.
Older Americans should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, says the National Institute on Aging. That said, they tend to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier than they did when they were younger.
Here are steps you can take to help you get a good night’s sleep:
- Go to bed on a regular schedule
- Don’t nap in late afternoon or early evening
- Stay off your computer and phone in the bedroom
- Avoid watching TV in bed
- Keep the temperature at a comfortable temperature
- Don’t eat large meals just before bedtime
- Don’t drink caffeine and alcohol – they can disrupt sleep
We can’t stop the aging process. However, it is never too late to make healthy changes including exercise, diet and sleep. All three will positively affect us and by extension, those we love.
For some of you, these may seem very challenging. But even small steps can put you on the path to a more comfortable and enjoyable life.
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