Actress Bette Davis once said “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” That adage sometimes rings true once we hit 55 – the age where many of us can start to feel, well, our age. The fact is, growing older causes lots of changes to our minds and bodies that we may not expect – or welcome. Aging has an impact on our brains, our eyes and ears, our skin, our hearts and even our moods. But even though we can’t stop Father Time, we can take steps to slow down some of the changes of aging and keep ourselves as healthy as possible.
We asked geriatric and integrative medicine expert Gazala Parvin, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician with Research Medical Center, to tell us what to expect as we age, and what we can do about it.
I feel like I’m losing my mind
Although everyone is different, most people begin to experience gradual mental and physical changes in their late 50s, with those changes becoming more pronounced in your 60s and older, says Dr. Parvin. Among those changes are “simple memory issues,” forgetting where you left the keys, forgetting a name, etc., and you might not be able to multi-task as well as you once could. When memory issues strike, some people tend to go to the worst-case scenario, worrying about Dementia or Alzheimer’s, but in most cases, there’s no need to panic.
“Everyone has a little forgetfulness,” Dr. Parvin says. “It becomes worrying if all of a sudden you can’t remember your way home from the grocery store, have difficulty with routine tasks, or forget where you are or how you got there.”
Bolster your brain
Just like a muscle, your brain will respond to exercising it. Do puzzles, learn a musical instrument, challenge your brain with Sudoku, just try new things. Every time you try something new, it opens neuron paths that can actually strengthen your brain. The most important thing to do to prevent memory decline? Aerobic exercise, says Dr. Parvin.
Aging gives me heartache
As we get older, our blood vessels and arteries stiffen, which makes our hearts have to work harder to pump blood. If unchecked, it can lead to heart issues and high blood pressure.
What can you do to keep your heart healthy?
- Get moving – Exercising is key for heart health.
- Eat well – Pack your diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit your fats to the “good ones,” and cut back on processed foods.
- Don’t smoke.
- What else? Manage your stress, and try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Aging bones and Joints
Getting older can take its toll on our bones, joints, muscles and overall mobility. Our movements and reflexes slow, our bones get thinner and lose their density, and we tend to naturally cut back on activity.
Better Bone Health Tips
- Maintain a healthy weight. Our joints are weight-bearing, so carrying excess weight puts extra strain on our knees, hips, spine, etc.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Ensure that you have plenty of vegetables, fresh fruits, lean proteins and whole grains.
- Load up the calcium and Vitamin D3. Calcium in your diet and through supplement is one of your most important weapons against osteoporosis. Vitamin D3 helps our bodies absorb calcium more efficiently.
- Get up and move. Weight-bearing exercises – jogging, tennis, etc., and weight training can help you build back bone mass.
- Kick those habits – Tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to bone density loss.
As we get older, our skin can feel drier. Why? It makes less natural oil as we age. We also sweat less as we age and lose fat tissue just below the skin, leaving our skin feeling thinner, and less supple.
Saving our own skin
Some things we can do for our skin include:
- Bathe in warm, not hot water, using mild soap and moisturizer.
- Always use sunscreen and wear protective clothing.
- Check your skin, specifically moles or freckles for any changes and let your doctor know about them.
- Don’t smoke.
One of the unfortunate side effects of aging is that we often have difficulty controlling our bladders, a condition called urinary incontinence. For some, it may just be a little leakage when you cough or sneeze, while others, it’s more of an embarrassing excess of urine.
If you are starting to experience incontinence, see your doctor. There are medicines that can sometimes help. Other tips:
- Go to the bathroom on a regular schedule, starting with hourly, then begin to extend the time between trips.
- Try Kegel exercises – Kegel exercises can help strengthen your pelvic floor and help with incontinence. Squeeze as if trying to not urinate. Hold for five seconds. Relax for five seconds then do it again. Do it several times consecutively in a day.
- Avoid bladder irritants like caffeine, acidic foods and alcohol.
DRESS for Success
It can be hard to remember everything you can do to stay healthy as you age, but there are some common themes. Need an easy way to remember all the things you should do?
“I use a mnemonic patients can understand” says Dr. Parvin. “I tell them to check their DRESS. It’s a quick, easy way to help them stay in touch with the simple things that impact their health. How is your DRESS?”
- Diet – A healthy diet is critical to healthy aging. Dr. Parvin recommends an anti-inflammatory diet, swapping our refined and sugary foods with nutrient-rich foods – lots of plant-based proteins, fruits and veggies, healthy fats, fish, and reducing or eliminating processed meats, sugary drinks, and the fats found in fried food. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help control or minimize many conditions.
- Relaxation – Stress has to be managed on a daily basis, Dr. Parvin says, so find a relaxation technique that works – meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, or whatever works for you.
- Exercise – Exercise is key to overall health as we age – Not only does it help our hearts, and minds, bones and joints, and emotions, exercising helps us maintain flexibility and decreases the risk of falls – a real concern as we age. Everyone has different capabilities, so choose an exercise that works for you.
- Sleep – A good night’s sleep is a gift that keeps on giving. It helps you feel refreshed, more energetic and more mentally alert.
- Social – Stay connected with loved ones and socialize to help keep your mind sharp and prevent emotional issues such as depression and anxiety.
Helping you age well
HCA Midwest Health offers the area’s largest network of primary care physicians and specialists in areas such as oncology, cardiology, neurology, orthopedics and whatever else you need to age well. Our 11 24-hour ERs, conveniently located across the metro area, have the shortest wait times in Kansas City and are staffed with the experts conveniently located across the metro area to treat your every medical emergency.