Watching the number of candles on the birthday cake multiply each year isn’t easy. Getting older may bring new challenges, but it’s never too late to adopt healthy habits that can help you grow old gracefully. Three Meritas Health doctors share what works, whether you’re 25 or 75.
“Patients always ask me for a drug that has the fewest side effects and the most benefits,” Michael R. Brown, DO, a family medicine physician with Meritas Health Park Plaza, said. I always prescribe exercise.” Regular exercise can counteract some of those inevitable changes that come with age.”
- Help with weight management
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Boost your mood and improve mental health
- Help treat insomnia and improve sleep quality
- Decrease erectile dysfunction
- Increase sexual arousal in women
- Increase your balance, strength and flexibility
- 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week
- At least two days every week of strength training activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)
“It shouldn’t be done all at once, but spread throughout the week,” Dr. Brown noted. “In fact, recent studies show exercise can be effective even if it’s only in 10-minute episodes.”
How do you know if you’re working out hard enough? “If you don’t have to shower after the fact, then you probably didn’t reach moderate or vigorous intensity,” Dr. Brown said. “Even 10 minutes of moderate exercise should induce a light sweat. Vigorous activity will have you sweating within a few minutes.”
If you’re fairly healthy, stick with the recommended guidelines as you age. “Anyone worried about what they can or can’t do should talk with their primary care physician to come up with an individualized plan,” Dr. Brown noted.
If you’re just starting out or getting back to a regular exercise routine, start slowly and work your way up. “It’s important to set goals and track them,” Dr. Brown added. “Your doctor can help you come up with a plan to reach those goals safely.”
Building your workout around personal preferences will bring the biggest benefits because you’re more likely to stick with it for the long term. “Find the things that brings you the most joy,” Dr. Brown said. “They could be group classes, dancing, hiking, volleyball, yoga or swimming. And, have a few different routines so you can adapt to the seasons and keep your workouts fresh and exciting.”
Dr. Brown’s bottom line: “Exercise is one of the most powerful and effective treatments I can offer my patients. Be active and enjoy all the benefits that come from it.”
NKCH offers more than 50 different land and water fitness classes. From our Getting Started With Exercise class, to Zumba and Aqua Zumba, to Yoga for Seniors, there’s something for everyone. Find your fit.
Wine and cheese get better with age. With proper nutrition, the body can, too. “I encourage my patients to look beyond reaching their ideal weight to the general benefits of eating healthy,” Samantha M. Fawcett, MD, a family medicine physician with Meritas Health Gashland, said. “Eating healthy plays a big role in how we feel and how much energy we have.”
That said, excessive weight gain later in life is a real concern. As your body ages, fat begins to replace muscle, your metabolism rate slows, and your level of physical activity may taper off. To balance these changes, you total daily calorie intake should decline, too, but that’s not always the case.
“Combining reduced activity with the physiological and metabolic changes make it likely you’ll gain weight if you don’t reduce your calorie intake appropriately,” Dr. Fawcett advised. Being overweight increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and can cause problems in the hips, knees and feet as the lower body tries to support the extra weight.
Dr. Fawcett’s suggestions for eating healthier.
- Track what you eat for a week to become more mindful of how many calories you actually eat and drink in a day.
- Learn how to read food labels to determine how much sugar or sugar-like substances are in different foods.
- When you dine out, ask the server to bring you a to-go box right way so you can take half home.
- Try a meal service delivery company like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh or Plated. They offer different dietary options, the chance to try new recipes, convenience and portion control.
Dr. Fawcett’s bottom line: “It’s never too late to eat healthier. Choose whole foods over processed foods, and avoid foods with added salt, sugar and preservatives.”
If your daily diet needs an overhaul, NKCH’s registered dietitians offer outpatient nutrition counseling services. You’ll need a referral, so talk with your regular doctor first.
Keep This in Mind
You might be surprised to learn that memory loss and aging don’t always go hand-in-hand. “There is a connection,” said Jeffrey W. Thornton, MD, a neurologist with Meritas Health Neurology. “But it is not absolute. No one will be a cognitively sharp at 68 as they were at 28.”
However, there are many things younger people can start doing now that can help keep their brain sharp in later years, and they have less to do with engaging the brain than they do with keeping your body healthy. “There isn’t a lot of evidence that shows intellectual stimulation is as helpful as physical exercise for maintaining cognitive health,” Dr. Thornton said.
In addition to regular exercise, you can start training your brain today for good health later by:
- Maintaining a healthy heart
- Eating a balanced diet
- Having a positive outlook on life
- Maintaining social relationships
- Treating depression
- Avoiding head injury
“We will all experience walking into a room and not knowing why you are there, forgetting things your spouse said and not remembering to bring your grocery list when you leave the house,” Dr. Thornton said. “But a decline that affects a person’s ability to perform daily activities or that is noticeable to friends and family should be investigated. That’s when you should seek neurological consultation.”
Dr. Thornton’s bottom line: “Think ahead and start today to protect your brain from memory loss. And, don’t ignore symptoms that could be linked to a more serious memory problem.”
The neurologists at Meritas Health Neurology offer a range of treatment options for memory loss and other related conditions. Explore our neurological services.
The Fountain of Youth may just be a myth but eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise and developing some healthy brain habits are three things you can start doing right now to help you get better with age.