Aging Myths - Older Does Not Mean Over

By: Alere Staff
Publication Date: Thu, 10/01/2015

As we get older, our bodies go through changes. We have all heard the exaggerated clichés “everything slows down”, “when you get old, you get arthritis” and “when you’re old you’re going to be on a lot of medication” but these are not always true. When you look at aging from a scientific view these proclamations do not hold much weight.

Let’s start with the first assumption that “everything slows down”.  

There are only two things that slow down as we get older: our heart and our metabolism. Here are a few things we can do, at any age, to minimize the effects this has on our bodies:

  • Do Not Smoke: We hear this time and time again but that’s because smoking affects your heart. Tobacco causes our arteries to harden and our heart rate to increase. These are major contributing factors to stroke and heart attack. If you currently smoke, there are several options out there to help you quit. Please talk to your doctor about them.
  • Manage Stress: Many events in life can be stressful. A savings account is a good way to combat stress over money. Even if you can only put away $5.00 a week, it adds up quickly. For physical stressors in your life, try meditation or a yoga class. In addition to alleviating stress, it gets you out of the house and can even introduce you to new people.
  • Eat Healthy, Well-Balanced Meals: As the old adage goes, you really are what you eat. Well-balanced doesn’t just mean incorporating foods from all the food groups, it also means healthy portions. Even if you eat healthy foods, it’s never a good idea to overeat. Eat until you’re satisfied or satiated. As we age, the demand for calories lessens so listen to your body and stop eating when you are satisfied.
  • Stay Active: This can be easier than you think and doesn’t have to be one to two hours at the gym. You also don’t have to do it alone. Make a schedule, setting aside time for activity, making it easier to stick by. For example, if you have a dog and work full time, you can make it a point to walk your dog for 20-30 minutes every evening. This can be your exercise and can also relieve stress. Also, talk to some of your friends and you may find some activity you enjoy together. It may be tennis, swimming, hiking or even dancing.

The next common aging stereotype is arthritis. Your bones and joints do change, but not everyone is affected by arthritis. As we age, our bones shrink. Bones lose density, which is why a fracture is more likely after a fall or other type of trauma. This is also why consuming calcium, whether in foods or supplements is important. Calcium helps our bones retain more of their density. 

What can we do about this?

  • Increase Calcium and Vitamin D in Your Diet: Maintaining adequate calcium levels in our body helps slow down bone shrinkage and increases bone density. Vitamin D helps our bodies retain the calcium so they make a super team. Great natural sources of calcium are dairy products. If you are lactose intolerant, you may take a calcium supplement. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a recommended brand. While sunlight is a good source of vitamin D it is recommended to be careful with the amount of time you spend in the sun because sunlight has also been linked to skin cancer. Some foods that are high in vitamin D are trout, mushrooms, whole grains and eggs.
  • Stay Active. Again: It’s true. Keeping your joints moving will reward you by producing more of the lubricant that helps with smooth, painless motion. If you already suffer from arthritis, start slowly. There are many of what is called “range-of-motion” exercises you can do while sitting down. One well-known for arthritis in the hands is when you touch your finger tips to your thumb, one at a time. Start with the index finger then continue until you’ve touched your pinky to your thumb then go the other direction. Start with your pinky and continue until you get to your index finger again. If you have really bad arthritis, talk to your doctor about other “range-of-motion” exercises you can do at home or physical therapy.

The last stereotype is the idea that seniors are on a lot of medication. Taking care of yourself is important. Many of the diseases that plague the elderly can be escaped with diet and exercise. While it’s true you can’t fight genetics you can take steps so you’re not a prisoner to your disease.

  • Be Proactive in Your Healthcare: Never be afraid to ask questions. That’s one of the things your doctor is there to do: answer your questions. If you do take medication, keep an updated list with you at all times. If you are newly diagnosed with high cholesterol or diabetes, before your doctor puts you on medication to treat it, ask him or her if there’s anything you can change in your life that will lower your cholesterol or blood sugar as effectively as the medication.
  • Stay Social: After a certain age, many of us can start to feel isolated. This can be dangerous as such feelings can lead to depression and, sometimes, suicide. Depression is nothing to ignore. A great way to prevent this from happening is to stay social. Keep in touch with friends. If you have friends that are relatively close, plan to have a poker night every Friday night. Invite your family too, if they live close. If you like to go out and play golf, hike, plant trees or even go to movies, there are groups for such activities. Another great way to stay social is to volunteer. Many hospitals take volunteers. Check websites such as volunteermatch.org to see volunteer opportunities in your area.
  • Stay Active: Movement cannot be emphasized enough. Being overweight can often lead to diabetes, heart failure and other illnesses. Talk to your doctor about a weight loss program if you need to lose weight. If you are morbidly obese, ask your doctor about surgical intervention. Many are covered by insurance plans. It’s not a guarantee that, if you have diabetes and or high blood pressure, these will go away once you reach a healthy weight but it’s highly probable your knee and back pain will.

Making certain to stay healthy as you age not only benefits you but also your family. Healthy people may have smaller insurance premiums or other benefits for healthy living habits. Healthy aging means having fun, eating right and, of course, keeping active. Your body and mind will thank you.

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References:

  1. Anderson, L.A., PhD et al. Fostering Engagement and Independence: Opportunities and Challenges for an Aging Society. Health Education and Behavior. 2014, Vol. 41(IS) 5S-9S. Retrieved from website: http://heb.sagepub.com/content/41/1_suppl/5S.full.
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Aging: What to Expect. Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Aging. November 8, 2012. Retrieved from website: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/aging/art-20046070.
  3. Whitbread, D. BSc (Hons) MSc DipION. Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin D You Can’t Miss.Healthaliciousness. Retrieved August 28, 2015 from website:http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/high-vitamin-D-foods.php
  4. http://www.volunteermatch.org/