Last weekend my mom and I were looking through old pictures and we came across this one:
This is my favorite picture of my grandma (on the left) and my great-aunt at the beach in Florida. My grandma was extremely active up until the day she passed away. She swam laps in the gulf of mexico, mowed the lawn, played tennis, you name it.
That got me thinking about how important it is to maintain our health as we age. I truly believe that your health is the most important thing you have. How can you live life to the fullest when you can’t get enough oxygen into your lungs, or your heart is failing, or you’re bound to a wheel-chair because you are too obese to be mobile anymore. (I realize that many people suffer from disabilities that are completely out of their control and still live amazing lives– I think that is living life to their fullest. I’m talking about health factors you can control).
So I thought I would list some of the best things you can do for your health as you age. But first, let’s recap yesterday.
Yesterday’s breakfast looked exactly like the day before. Mmmm oatmeal. I had to go to a different hospital pretty early yesterday to observe electro-convulsive therapy. As part of the psychiatry rotation, we are all required to watch ECT once to see what it’s like. If you have ever seen movies where they shock someone, it’s nothing like that. These days, the patients are under anesthesia and have a paralyzing agent, so they barely move at all. It takes about 5 minutes total and then it’s over. Pretty anti-climactic. But it’s a great treatment option for many people!
After ECT, I went back to the hospital I’m working at and made it just in time for rounds. At 10, my classmate and I had to duck out early to make it to a 10:30 chemical dependency meeting at the other hospital. I was all over the place yesterday! The chemical dependency meeting was very similar to an alcoholics anonymous meeting. I actually loved it- those meetings are so uplifting and everyone is always so nice!
Finally it was lunch time: Salad with carrots, beets, and a chicken burger on top. With a side of cherries dipped in PB2. I also snacked on a blueberry muffin made by the sweet pharmacy student.
After we finished our work, our attending let us (all the students) out super early! I was home by 3- yippee!! I relaxed for a bit, made a snack of 2 dates with almond butter and a glass of almond milk. Studied for about an hour, and then off to the gym. It was a cardio day so I ran 3 miles on the treadmill, did 20 minutes on the elliptical, and topped it all off with some push-ups at the end. Good workout!
(Obviously I was studying as I was jogging away… gotta multi-task!) Now that I’ve blabbed on and on and forced you to read through my boring day to get to the real purpose of this post, let’s get started!
Forever Young- How to Put Your Health First as You Age
1. Don’t Smoke, or Stop Smoking- I know that this has been said over and over again. But the single best thing you can do for your health is to stop smoking. Smoking is linked to just about every cancer (that’s not true- but it’s linked to tons of cancers: lung, bladder, stomach, esophageal). Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Smoking will eventually lead to COPD and emphysema.
Someone once told me that COPD is like trying to breath through a straw all the time. Go try that right now- after a minute you will feel extremely short of breath, and this is how these people live!!! No wonder they can’t play with their grandchildren and walk around without oxygen tanks! Here’s the stats for what happens when you quit- so if someone tells you they’ve smoked for 20 years and it’s already too late, tell them this! You can also tell a loved one to ask their family doctor for nicotine patches, gum, or medications to help with smoking cessation. Lastly, you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW anytime to help you through the quitting process.
At 20 minutes after quitting:
- blood pressure decreases
- pulse rate drops
- body temperature of hands and feet increases
- At 8 hours:
- carbon monoxide level in blood drops to normal
- oxygen level in blood increases to normal
- At 24 hours:
- chance of a heart attack decreases
- At 48 hours:
- nerve endings start re-growing
- ability to smell and taste is enhanced
The first year after quitting:
- At 2 weeks to 3 months:
- circulation improves
- walking becomes easier
- lung function increases
- 1 to 9 months:
- coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, shortness of breath decreases
- 1 year:
- excess risk of coronary heart disease is decreased to half that of a smoker
At 5 years:
- from 5 to 15 years after quitting, stroke risk is reduced to that of people who have never smoked.
- At 10 years:
- risk of lung cancer drops to as little as one-half that of continuing smokers
- risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decreases
- risk of an ulcer decreases
- At 15 years:
- risk of coronary heart disease is now similar to that of people who have never smoked
- risk of death returns to nearly the level of people who have never smoke
2. Don’t Drink (too much) Alcohol
Alcohol actually has many beneficial properties if consumed in moderation. Red wine is full of antioxidants. Alcohol can also have positive effects on your heart. But alcohol in excess is bad bad news. The recommended amount of alcohol for a woman is 3-4 drinks a week and no more than 1-2 in one sitting. For men, it’s 5-7 per week and no more than 2-3 per sitting.
Diseases associated with long term alcohol use include liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, tons of cancers including liver, mouth, and esophagus, high blood pressure, injuries, motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence, fetal alcohol syndrome, and more.
3. Stay out of the Sun (Most of the Time)
The sun is our skins worst enemy when it comes to warding off skin cancer. But I have a hard time with the whole ‘stay out of the sun’ statement because to me, feeling healthy is feeling active and a big part of that is going outdoors to do things like run, walk, play tennis, swim, and bike ride. I think a big part of aging gracefully is to stay active and keep doing all the things you love to do.
So instead of saying ‘stay out of the sun’ let’s say, ‘protect yourself from the sun’. Wear sunscreen. Wear hats. Wear protective clothing. Don’t get burned!! That’s a big one.
We all need a little sun to get that good Vitamin D (I’m all about the vitamin D- more and more studies are showing just how awesome it is- post about that coming soon). But in reality, 15 minutes in direct sunlight with just your legs exposed a few times a week is probably enough to get all the vitamin D you need.
4. Stay at a Healthy BMI
I know BMI isn’t the best measurement for everyone out there, but for the average person, BMI is a great tool to use to make sure you are within a healthy weight range. To calculate your BMI you can go here.
The more body fat you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, gallstones, and even some cancers.
Most of all, the more body fat you have, the harder it is to get around. That makes it more difficult to stay active and therefore more difficult to lose weight- and so the cycle continues. If you find you BMI creeping up into an unhealthy level, there are tons of great tools to lose weight. You can talk to your doctor and enroll in programs at a hospital, visit websites like Spark People, start writing down your food and counting calories, and start moving!
5. Sleep Sleep Sleep!
According to the CDC insufficient sleep is linked to an increase risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. There is a great link here as well as tips for improving your sleep.
Do you have role models who have aged well? Are your grandparents healthy? What do you think is important to remember as we age?