Age is merely a number
If you are in the fifty years plus category you have probably spent some time thinking about your future. Aging is a gift for most of us. You have years of challenges and triumphs that give you a sense of who you are. You have past experiences to lean on when making difficult decisions. You have figured out who your real friends are. And if you are happy and content with your life, you can make others happy without expecting anything in return. You are content.
For some, outside influences forces them to change in their mid-life years. It might be a sudden loss of a loved one, a sudden loss of a job. An unexpected blow. Or it may be that you have decided to pursue your dreams. Your current life is not what you want for your golden years. You need a new purpose to boost you out of bed every day. The small consistent changes you make each day will make each day better. Reinvention can make your next chapter relevant, fun and significant.
The most important guidelines for a healthy lifestyle after age 50 are the same for men and women at any age. Making small consistent changes will lead to a healthier body and mind. The COVID pandemic has forced many people to examine their exercise routine. Gary Evans of the Cycle Shop in Jamestown said, “There is definitely a bike boom. People are frustrated by not being able to go to gyms as before. Bike riding is a good sport for all ages. You can do it as a family especially with the distancing requirements and you are outside. You can ride locally or go to riding trails outside the city. Allegany State Park has great trails. I am anticipating an uptick in cross country ski sales this year given the continuing pandemic guidelines. That is also a great sport that uses all your muscles. If you can walk, you can cross country ski. It takes a bit of time to get used to the timing and movement, but it is a lot of fun, and again, almost anyone can do it.” Evans went on to add, “I have been a skier all my life, downhill and cross country. You are doing your body a favor by making exercise a life-long activity.”
It is never too late (or too early) to adopt some or all of the following habits:
- Fuel up! A healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. Make whole foods the foundation of your diet. Focusing on whole grains, fruits and veggies will help avoid a lot of common problems that come with age. Make sure you get needed nutrients. Plan out your meals to make sure you get a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. For heart health and weight management, it is important to eat foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.
- Drink up. Drink before you are thirsty. The way your body detects thirst changes as you age. Carry a water bottle and drink a glass with every meal.
- Stay at a healthy weight. Keeping a healthy weight may help improve your health. The weight that is healthiest for you may be higher than that of a younger person. A Body Mass Index or BMI between 25 and 27 is best for older adults. Ask your health care professional what a healthy weight for you may be.
- Get your ZZZs. Your brain needs to “reset” during your sleep time. Aim for 7 to 8 hours a night. If you have trouble staying asleep all night try: going to sleep and waking up the same time each day, turning off blue screen devices (phones, TV, computer screens) 20 minutes prior to going to bed, increasing the amount of physical activity throughout the day, increase the amount of daylight you get during the day, limit alcohol and caffeine, and reduce the length or number of naps.
- Break a sweat! Physical activity is the best way to improve your heart health, muscle strength, flexibility and balance. Physical activity helps reduce the risk of some diseases, including dementia. Aerobic or cardio exercise such as walking, biking and swimming, gets the heart pumping and uses large muscle groups. Strength training involves using weights such as dumbbells or weight machines to build up muscle.
Experts recommend both types of exercise. If you have not been active you should consult your doctor before starting an exercise program and select activities you enjoy to increase your chance for success. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) a week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week.
At the Jamestown YMCA, Wellness Director Kacey Shelters said, “Here at the Y, it doesn’t matter what age or fitness level someone is at, come as you are, and we’ll meet you there. The toughest part is the first step, but once you are consistent – whatever that looks like for you – maybe it’s just 5 minutes of movement each day to begin with, if you stay consistent, you’ll see you’ve created a healthy habit that will carry over to all aspects of your life.” A few participants of the older adult classes have remarked that the activity benefited their everyday lives. “It’s taught me a lot of balance; it’s taught me how, if I start to fall, to catch myself.” Another student said, “range of motion is really important; mine has improved, so that when you drive and look around you’re a safer driver.” And, “the class has helped me a lot with tight muscles and joint pain.”
If you smoke, QUIT. It is never too late to quit smoking. As soon as a smoker quits, the body begins to heal the damage caused by smoking. Smokers who quit quickly notice they can breathe easier, have more energy, lose the “smoker’s cough”, and have a better sense of taste and smell. For long-term health, quitting smoking lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
- Watch your alcohol intake. Keep alcohol consumption to two drinks a day for a man, and one per day for women (standard drink is: 12 ounces of beer/wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits).
- Get routine exams, screenings and vaccinations. Screenings are tests that look for diseases in their early stages, before symptoms develop. Which screenings you should have and how often depends on your family health history, personal health history and lifestyle habits.
- Buddy up to support your brain and mental well-being. Stay engaged with friends and connected to others that pursue the same activities. What is your purpose in life? Who are your confidants and reliable friends? For more information about brain health visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org/WNY.
Pre-Planning eases the burden.
While this article is focused on a longer, healthier, happier life, eventually we all pass away. Pre-planning your funeral will make losing you much easier on your loved ones. You will also be able to make your own arrangements. According to a 2018 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association, only 26 % of Americans have talked with a loved one about their funeral Hugh Golden, Lake View Cemetery’s General Manager, says, “The biggest part of pre-planning is the peace of mind for your family. The deceased also gets to pick their gravesite which also makes it easier on the family, especially during the winter months.”
Take some time to reflect on your life. What would you like to be doing in ten years? Are you in shape to achieve your goals? Are you ready to make some changes in your everyday life to achieve your goals? Take charge of what you can change and make the next chapter of your life the best it can be.