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A practical prevention plan
You could not pick a better time to be reaching your middle or later years. The prospects for longer life are better than ever. Life expectancy in the United States has increased dramatically for age 47 in 1900 to age 76 today. Where centenarians were once a rarity, there are an estimated 100,000 worldwide today. We know from extensive research that genes account for only about a third of the problems associated with aging. The other two-thirds are attributable to lifestyle choices – something that’s well within your control. When you take the right steps, many of the illnesses of age (including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis) can often be prevented until very late in life.
1. Get moving. Health after 50 board members are unanimous about your single most potent antidote to aging: Exercise. It’s free and anyone can do it. Physical exercise slows the erosion of muscle strength, limits the risk of developing diabetes, and increases bone mass, which helps prevent osteoporosis. Exercise also facilitates digestion, promotes efficient bowel function,reduces insomnia and prevents depression. An effective exercise routine monitored by a physical therapist would include endurance training (such as walking, jogging or cycling) as well as two other strengthening sessions using light weights and resistance with stretching.
2. Don’t Smoke! A pack-a-day smoker is four times more likely to develop congestive heart-failure than a smoker, but it’s never too late to quit. Five years after stopping, ex-smokers have about the same risk of developing heart disease as someone who never smoked. Quitting also lowers the risk of stroke, cancer and emphysema.
3. Follow a Health Diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may cut in half the risk of colorectal cancer and reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It also decreases problems like diverticulosis and constipation. Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Switching to a low-fat diet can reduce total cholesterol and produce small but significant declines in blood pressure. Reduce fat to 30% or less of total calories and keep daily cholesterol intake under 300 mg.
4. Use Supplements Wisely. While a sound diet can theoretically provide all the vitamins and minerals you need, older adults may end up deficient in vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, vitamin D and calcium. A standard multi-vitamin fills most of these gaps but women especially should also take a calcium supplement to meet the daily need (1,500 mg). Vitamin E supplements may help limit the harmful effects of oxygen free-radicals associated with aging.
5. Drink Enough Water. Virtually all chemical processes in the body take place in water or use it as part of the reaction. Older adults are prone to dehydration, especially in warm weather. Drink several glasses of water of clear fluids daily.
6. Avoid Excessive Exposure to the Sun. Aging skin and eyes are vulnerable to sun damage because protective pigment diminishes over time. Although a small amount of sunlight is needed to produce vitamin D, too much sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. In addition, most wrinkles, discoloration and texture changes are directly related to sunlight.
7. Reduce Stress. Studies show that stress and anxiety impair the immune system and make us more susceptible to illness. Choose among such stress-reducing techniques as meditation, yoga and physical therapy and set aside time to practice a home exercise program.
8. Challenge your Mind. Short-term memory and reaction time do decline over time. But it’s still very possible to learn new skills and maintain old ones. Three key factors predict strong mental function: regular physical activity, strong social support and belief in your ability.
9. Limit alcohol consumption. One glass of wine daily is acceptable and may even provide some cardiovascular benefit . But the older you are, the more cautious you should be. Your ability to process alcohol slows with age, so the effects of alcohol become more pronounced as you get older. If you don’t drink, don’t start.
10. Cultivate satisfying relationships. Studies show that positive social interaction, including sexual activity for those who desire it, lowers the level of stress hormones in the blood helps preserve cognitive function and prevents depression.
11. Consider preventive medicine. Certain drugs help prevent at least three common medical problems. 1) When lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control blood pressure and cholesterol, drug therapy (usually a diuretic for high blood pressure and a statin for high cholesterol) can reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. 2) Bisphosphonates can protect the skeletal system in men and women at risk for osteoporosis. 3) Low-dose aspirin can decrease the risk of heart disease in those with heart disease risk factors, and may also decrease the risk of colon cancer. Information provided courtesy of John Hopkins University.