A most interesting thing occurred in the office last week. We work with a significant number of elderly patients, and curiosity prompted me to look at the date of birth for one person in particular. This patient talks more lucidly, thinks more clearly and gets around with less trouble than most people in their sixties and seventies. It was very surprising to find that he was born at the turn of the century.
At what point do we classify someone or ourselves as elderly? We have all heard the saying "You are only as old as you feel." If you are 30 or less, you probably do not think about your age, or how you feel, very often. If you are between 30 and 50, you likely have, or soon will, think about your age. If you are over 50, chances are, the thought of your age has crossed your mind at least once. Regardless of your current age, we all know a parent or relative who may fit into the senior category.
According to Dr. Robert Marini and Dr. Ellen Schiaffino-Purvis, the elderly are the fastest growing population in the United States. By the year 2030, 20% of the total population will include this group. Most people tell me, and I agree completely, they do not care how old they get as long as they feel good, think clearly and can comfortably do whatever they wish. Since we shall all eventually reach the senior category, barring unforeseen circumstances, how do we ensure that this will be an active, productive, happy phase of our lives? Proper Diet, Exercise, Nutritional Supplementation, Laughter, Companionship and some form of Relaxation. Sound too simple? Fortunately, it is.
Dr. Roy Walford wrote a book entitled The 120 Year Diet. He believes by eating fewer calories we can extend our current life span 30 to 50 years. He is not alone in this belief. The Framingham Heart Study also showed increased health benefits with reduced body weight. There is also evidence from rat, mice and hamster models that food restriction retards the aging process and has the ability to extend the animal's maximum lifespan. Simple diets are always best. Mostly, have lots of organically grown fresh foods, raw or lightly cooked.
Falls are the number one cause of injury-related deaths in the elderly. Balance is, among other things, a function of strength. Increasing strength can, therefore, reduce the risk of falls. Physical training can produce a profound improvement of functions essential for physical fitness in old age. Even through the age of 96, men and women can respond to resistance training with a substantial increase in size and muscle mass. Resistance, or strength training, is most easily accomplished through weight lifting. It can also be done with large rubber bands, available at most sporting goods stores. With this type of exercise, older people can triple their muscle strength. Just as important is the benefit of weight training in helping women prevent the bone loss that results in osteoporosis. Always, take a day or so in between days of weight, or resistance, training for aerobic activities.
Aerobic activities should be done at least three times per week for a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes each time. These might include walking, swimming, cycling, low impact aerobics, and rowing, skiing or rebounding on home equipment. All athletes, especially mature ones, should exercise well within their limits. Warm up slowly and thoroughly, then cool down after with active, stretching exercises. All elderly exercisers should stop immediately if they feel any adverse symptoms such as chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, coughing, wheezing or excessive sweating. Most importantly, however, is age should never be considered a reason for not exercising.
Each age has its own special nutritional requirements, and seniors are no exception. The importance of reducing calories has already been stated. As we mature, our bodies frequently produce less than adequate amounts of stomach acid. The acid produced by the stomach is not only essential for digestion, but also for the destruction of bacteria which are ingested. If not destroyed, these bacteria reside in the stomach and the upper part of the small bowel. This problem affects approximately 20% of the people between 60 and 69 years of age, and 40% of the people over 80. When present, these bacteria can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12. Not surprisingly, prolonged use of antacids also induces vitamin B12 deficiency. Dr. Robert Russell, from the Center on Aging, indicates the crystalline form of vitamin B12 supplements is well absorbed. In addition to vitamins, food-grade digestive enzymes, taken at the beginning of meals, greatly improve digestion and absorption.
Other nutrients, of special importance to maturing humans, include the vitamins B2, B6, A (in the form of beta carotene), C, D, E; the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc; and the amino acid cysteine which the body uses to produce glutathione. Antioxidant nutrients include vitamins A (beta carotene), C, E, the minerals selenium, zinc and, of course, glutathione. Antioxidant supplements protect our bodies by providing the immune system with the nutrients it needs to function in preventing dis-ease. The same nutrients are essential for repairing injuries to our systems. An excellent example of this protection is against the formation of cataracts. The cost for cataract-related problems or extraction comprise the largest line item in the Medicare budget. And, in terms of avoiding cataracts, antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C and E and the carotenoids (beta carotene, for example) are potential preventive agents.
Laughter, Companionship and Relaxation
Norman Cousins is the most famous proponent of laughter being the best medicine. He wrote Anatomy of an Illness about successfully healing himself (he had cancer). Since then, other researchers have found supporting evidence for his claims. Dr. S.A. Salazar published an article, in the January, 1992 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, to this effect, entitled "Immunologic Effects of Laughter." Find things to laugh about every day. Help others discover reasons to laugh.
Companionship is important to all of us, at all ages, but especially for the elderly. It was noted earlier that falls are a real problem for many mature individuals. One study found half of the patients who lay on the floor for more than an hour after they fell will die within 6 months, even if they have no injuries. If you, or someone you love, does not have a companion or, more importantly, chooses not to have a companion, exercise becomes even more essential. Besides the exercise routine, plan for regular visits, either personally or by phone.
Two researchers evaluated residents in 73 retirement homes whose average age was 81. The group practicing TM (Transcendental Meditation) showed the greatest improvement in blood pressure (average systolic blood pressure was reduced from 140 to 128), vision, thinking and memory. Relaxation techniques can be as easy as taking 15 or more minutes daily to sit quietly, relax, and let your mind just drift. Choose a time and place to ensure you will not be disturbed. Do this in a tub of comfortably warm water to truly pamper body, mind, and soul.