Tips on Healthy Aging

The United States is aging. According to the CDC (Center of Disease Control), longer life spans and aging baby boomers will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years. September is healthy aging awareness month and as the weather cools it’s a good it’s time to start working on improving your physical, mental and social well-being. SIMED Primary Care’s Board Certified Family Medicine physician and geriatrician Dr. Seth Perkins answered a few questions to give you a better piece of mind on how to age healthy.

1) How much exercise do seniors need?
In general, adults over 65 years of age need at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise such as brisk walking. Additional exercises that works to strengthen all the major muscle groups in the body should be added in at least 2 days a week. For those who prefer more vigorous aerobic exercise such as running, 75 minutes a week is recommended. Aerobic exercise refers to any activity that gets your heart pumping harder. As for the muscle-strengthening exercises, 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions are recommended during the day. This can include exercises such as weightlifting, stretching against resistance, push-ups, sit-ups, and even heavy gardening and yoga. Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure what exercise regimen is right for you to see which exercise plan is right for you.

2) Do sleep “needs” change as we age?
The need for sleep and the amount of sleep recommended does not change as we age. However, it can take longer to fall asleep and waking up during the night is more common. Additionally less time is spent in REM sleep, the period of sleep when dreams occur. Other factors contributing to unfulfilling sleep include increased incidence of snoring, increasing weight with age and general change in sleep patterns that leads to falling asleep and awake earlier than in the past. Your physician can evaluate any sleep disturbances issues and work with you to achieve healthy restorative sleep. Some of the solutions can be simple, such as reducing the timing of caffeine consumption. Other sleep issues may require an overnight sleep study to determine the best approach.

3) Is memory loss always a part of aging?
How much loss is considered normal? Some forgetfulness can be seen with age. For example, many patients will complain to me that they forget why they walk into a room, or they will say that there is a word or phrase that they just can’t remember even though they should know it. Even forgetting something you have just read can be seen with the forgetfulness of aging. However, there is concern when this forgetfulness begins to interfere with life. Things like language and judgment may begin to change. People with memory disorders may have difficulty doing everyday things such as paying bills or practicing appropriate hygiene. They may become lost easily, even in well-known places. Perhaps one of the key differences is that people with “normal” memory loss are able to remember instances when they were forgetful, but people with memory loss disorders often cannot remember these. If these memory issues become concerning to you or to a family member, talk to your doctor.

4) How should my eating habits change as I age?
How do I know I’m getting enough nutrition? Healthy eating is especially important as we age. Healthy foods can reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, and they can also keep the mind sharp. Fruits and vegetables, calcium (through dairy products or non-dairy sources such as tofu, broccoli, or almonds), fiber, healthy fats (salmon and other fatty fish, as well as walnuts, almonds, avocados, and olive oil), and protein (fish, beans, eggs, nuts, and dairy products) are all important to a healthy diet. You may also need to increase water consumption, as our bodies are not as good at telling us we are thirsty. Vitamin B-12 and vitamin D-3 are also important. Metabolism decreases with age, so we need to be aware of what we eat to avoid undesired weight gain. Digestion can take more time, and certain vitamins such as vitamin B-12 and vitamin B-6 may not be digested as well. Supplements may be necessary. Our taste buds, especially our salty and bitter taste buds, will decrease in sensitivity. Resist the urge to add salt to food! Our sweet taste buds tend to stay sensitive longer, but do not use that as an excuse to turn to sugary snacks. Lastly, talk to your doctor to make sure that medications are not playing a role with any eating problems.

5) Why will I get shorter as I age?
We typically get shorter as we age. This is because the discs in our spine lose fluid and flatten, our arches in our feet flatten, and we lose muscle mass. From age 40 to age 70, men will lose on average 1.2 to 1.5 inches in height, and women will lose 2 inches. However, some people may lose more due to diseases such as osteoporosis or bad habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, and not exercising. Good diet and exercise can help prevent some of the height loss. How important is it for me to have a social life? Keeping up with your social life is important not just because it is enjoyable, but also because it helps to promote good health habits. When people eat alone they are at increased risk of either overeating or not eating what is recommended having meals with others can reduce this risk and may lead to further friendships. Even in nursing homes, eating in common area can have positive benefits. In addition to better eating habits, a good social life may have a positive effect on memory decline. It may not eliminate this risk, but it may slow the decline. I have had people tell me that they like to keep their minds sharp by doing crossword puzzles. While I agree that these are wonderful, I learned in my geriatrics training that another activity that had a positive effect on memory was dancing. Taking a dance class may help you meet new people, the activity can help you stay healthy, and remembering the steps can keep your memory intact.

6) Are immunizations still necessary?
Ask your doctor if your immunizations are up to date. Some vaccinations you received when you were younger need to be repeated. There are a few vaccines recommended to prevent illnesses that threaten older people, like pneumonia, shingles and flu.

With a little extra care and some key questions to your medical providers, your body can continue to serve you for decades to come. If you have any other questions feel free to request an appointment online or contact SIMED Primary Care to schedule a visit at one of our many locations including Lady Lake (The Villages), Gainesville, Ocala, Chiefland and McIntosh. Dr. Seth Perkins or one of our many SIMED Primary Care physicians would love to answer all of your questions to help you age healthy.