While you may expect changes like gray hair and wrinkles as you age, the Mayo Clinic urges you to take action to address the other changes your body experiences and promote your good health. Changes occur to your . . .
- Cardiovascular system (heart)
- Musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, and muscles)
- Digestive system
- Bladder and urinary tract
- Eyes and ears
In its “6 Tips for Healthy Aging,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers simple advice for remaining active and independent:
Eat and drink healthy. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and water.
Move more/sit less throughout the day because activity can help prevent, delay, and manage chronic diseases; improve balance, stamina, and brain health; and reduce the risk of falls.
Do not use tobacco. If you do, get free help with quitting by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Get regular medical checkups as a preventive measure.
Know your family history so your doctor can help you take steps to prevent chronic diseases or catch them early when treatment is more effective.
Be aware that dementia is not a normal part of aging, although everyone’s brain changes with age! Ask your doctor if you have questions about memory or brain health.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Chan) conducted a study using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which studied women for over 34 years, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which studied men for over 28 years. Chan determined five healthy habits added 14 years to women’s and 12 years to men’s lifespans if they had these health habits at age 50:
- Healthy diet, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids; and avoiding red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium.
- At least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
- Healthy body weight, defined as a normal body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9.
- Never having smoked.
- Moderate alcohol intake, measured as between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. One drink (12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits) contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol
Clint Carter explains in an August 2020 American Association of Retired Persons article entitled “What Should Your Diet Be like After 50?” that your basal metabolic rate – the energy burned simply to sustain the bodily functions that keep you alive – slows down after 50. Unfortunately, most 50-year-olds keep eating like 40-year-olds, although they are burning approximately two hundred fewer daily calories. The weight gain may be “normal,” but it is definitely unhealthy.
Regarding diet, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers calorie guidelines for women and men over the age of 50. A woman who is not physically active requires about 1,600 calories daily; somewhat physically active, 1,800 calories; active 2,000-2200 calories. A man who is not physically active requires about 2,000-2,200 calories daily; somewhat physically active, 2,200-2,400 calories; active, 2400-2,800 calories. NIA’s tip is to aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week and to be active throughout the day to reach this goal. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods.
The NIA observes that with age some people’s sense of taste and smell changes, and foods seem to lose flavor. Add extra spices, herbs, or lemon juice to enhance flavor. Medicines also may change how foods taste, making some people feel less hungry. Talk to your doctor if this is your experience or you are having difficulty digesting milk and milk products (lactose intolerance), trouble chewing, and sore gums.
It is usually preferable to obtain the nutrients you require from food rather than a pill; however, if you are uncertain you are getting the nutrients you need, speak with a doctor or registered dietician to determine if you should be taking vitamins or supplements. Be aware that mega-doses and too much of certain vitamins and minerals can be harmful. The Mayo Clinic’s Jason Ewoldt, a wellness dietitian, suggests that women over 50 targets three nutrients – calcium, protein, and vitamin B-12 — to address the most common age-related changes.
Unless your doctor has told you to limit fluids, the NIA urges you to drink plenty of liquids like water, milk, or broth, because your sense of thirst may also diminish with age. Do not wait until you feel thirsty to drink water or other fluids.
In a January 2021 Cleveland Clinic Sports Health & Fitness article, senior athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist Tom Iannetta cautions that no matter how spry you feel, you probably do not want to work out like a twenty-year-old if you have reached the mid-century mark. As you get older, your muscles and tendons tighten, and injuries like tendon tears become more common. To reduce the risk of injury, he suggests the following:
- Warm-up for five or ten minutes on the elliptical machine or stationary bike before lifting weights.
- Incorporate yoga or a simple stretching routine with your strength-training program to stay flexible and decrease the risk of tendon tears and other injuries.
- Consider switching from lifting free weights to using weight machines, which can be safer and help you avoid injuries.
- Consider skipping high-intensity interval training and substitute racquetball or time on the bike instead.
- Listen to your body! Stop exercising and check out muscle pain that lasts the better part of a week or joint pain that lasts more than a day or two. While it is normal to become winded when working out, you should not feel like you cannot catch your breath.
The key advice for those exercising after a half-century and beyond is this: “Don’t worry about what your buddy is doing or stress about keeping up with the younger crowd.” Consider also the implications of outdoor exercise when it is hot. According to the NIA, too much heat is not safe for anyone, and most people who die from hyperthermia (overheating) are over fifty
Many of us who have reached or passed the half-century mark lament that we are not what we used to be. Aging is inevitable, but our actions can mitigate its effects. We can choose to consider the positive aspects of advancing years and use the wisdom we have gained to shape our future healthfully.
As nineteenth-century German writer and novelist, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach wisely pointed out, “In youth, we learn; in age we understand.” Panhandle Home Health is nearing its half-century of service to the residents of Eastern Panhandle. Should you need us, call us and we are happy to talk about your situation. We are ready to provide you with trained, knowledgeable, experienced, and understanding staff committed to helping you or your loved one maintain independence and dignity.