It’s a time to celebrate getting older, but caring for your body, mind, mental health, and relationships has health benefits no matter your age.
Dr. Bingham says she asks her patients about their sleep hygiene. “This is a term we use to describe habits that help patients get sleep that is long enough and restful.”
Dr. Bingham tells her patients to attempt to get six to eight hours of sleep nightly. She says a bedtime routine and a regular sleep schedule can help develop good sleep hygiene.
She says that prescription sleep agents should be used short-term.
“Many patients do not know that prescription sleep agents have been studied for short-term use, most around two to six weeks,” Dr. Bingham says.
She says poor sleep can be a sign of depression and alcohol use can also disrupt sleep patterns.
“I refer patients for cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which has been shown to provide long-term benefits and provides patients with lifelong skills to sleep better and avoid the risks and costs associated with long-term use of sleep medications,” Dr. Bingham says.
Dr. Bingham says a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is critical to healthy lifestyle. “Having a meal at a fast food establishment should be limited to no more than twice a month,” she says.
She also recommends to pay attention to portion sizes.
“If you are eating out, ask your server pack up half of the meal to take home and eat the next day,” Dr. Bingham recommends. “This is a good strategy to follow for healthy living and a great way to enjoy the social benefit of eating out without the pressure of eating too many calories.”
While vitamins are also an important part of nutrition, Dr. Bingham recommends that nutrition supplements and vitamins should be offered only to patients who have been identified as having a nutritional deficit.
“Vitamin B12 and vitamin D are two important vitamins for health, but supplements for these are only indicated if blood work confirms low levels,” she says.
In 2022, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a statement on vitamin, mineral, and multivitamin supplementation to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. The recommendation was that for most vitamins and mineral supplements, more research is needed to make a recommendation for or against taking them to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. Dr. Bingham says a specific recommendation was made against taking Vitamin E and beta-carotene, as increased risk of lung cancer was reported in persons who smoke tobacco or have occupational exposure to asbestos when using beta-carotene.
Dr. Bingham says movement is key.
“When I am meeting with my patients, I am using the term “exercise” less and instead using the term “movement” more,” she says. “The word exercise can be intimidating and misunderstood, bringing a vision to patients of heavy aerobic exercise at a gym or a participating in a strenuous team sport. I tell patients that it is more important to move daily.”
She recommends a simple walk daily for 30 minutes or light weight bearing exercises like squats, lunges, arm raises three times a week to improve their overall health and reduce their risk of falls as they age.
Dr. Bingham says a term that is gaining visibility in the medical community is NEAT (non-exercise activity thermos genesis). She says NEAT represents the calories we burn with our normal movement during the day.
“Cleaning our homes, taking the stairs instead of elevator, parking a few spots further away when we visit the grocery store count are considered NEAT calories and lead to better health,” she says.
Care for your mental health
Dr. Bingham says evidence shows that stress can increase blood pressure, increase risk of heart attack and stroke, and increase risk of depression and anxiety.
“It is very enlightening to ask patients what their stress levels are during a preventive visit,” she says. “Keeping stress in check is an important part of healthy aging. I encourage my patients to speak up when they feel down.”
She says anti-anxiety medications are not long-term solutions to stress management.
“We have many counseling resources available to our patients that can provide training on improving one’s own state of mindfulness and add tools to their mental health toolbox for long-term stress reduction,” Dr. Bingham says.
She also says smoking and drinking excessive alcohol to deal with stress can reduce your life span and your health span.
“Your health span is how long you live your years without disability and smoking and drinking alcohol can greatly diminish that,” she says.
Connect with people
“In the last year, I have begun highlighting more with my patients the importance of personal connections and relationships for improved health,” Dr. Bingham says.
She says we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection can affect your physical health. She says not connecting with people can be a health hazard.
“The United States Surgeon General released a report that found the consequences of poor or insufficient connection include an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and an increased risk of developing dementia for older adults,” Dr. Bingham says.
She provides patients with resources to connect them better to others in society. “Providing patients with counseling resources can also be helpful to strengthen family ties that may have become frayed over the years,” she says.
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