When it comes to being over 60, you should be proud you made it this long—and careful not to mess it up now. “Everyone knows the basics of how to live a healthy life even if they don’t follow them,” says Kay Van Norman, President of Brilliant Aging. But what are some things you may not know? The things you should stop doing now? We asked Van Norman, as well as Stephen Anton, Ph.D., Professor and Chief, Clinical Research Division, Department of Aging and Geriatric Research, College of Medicine, University of Florida; Stephen Golant, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Gerontology, University of Florida; and Gary Soffer, MD, an integrative medicine expert at Yale Medicine and assistant professor, Yale School of Medicine. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these 19 Ways You’re Ruining Your Body, Say Health Experts.
“What happens when you have a health crisis as a young person?” asks Van Norman. “You likely address the problem and then aggressively pursue physical therapy in order to get back to doing everything you could do before. Unfortunately, with age it becomes more common for people to accept a health set-back as a new health set-point. Instead of aggressively pursuing the fullest recovery possible they may allow healthcare bias against older adults drive them into a mindset of just getting out of crisis and then trying to prevent getting any worse. This insidious mindset will send you down the path of physical frailty – progressively losing more function each time you’re hit with a health challenge. Just say NO and fight back with everything you’ve got!”
“None of us age in a bubble,” says Van Norman. “We age in family, in community and in culture. We learn about aging from our parents and grandparents, neighbors and community members, and we absorb aging expectations from our culture. For example: both sets of my grandparents retired in their early 60’s (like they were conditioned to do in the 60’s and 70’s) but got bored and started over again. One set remodeled and ran an old motel into their 80’s, the other set (who had retired from cattle ranching) bought and ran another ranch into their 90’s. So, one of my personal ‘aging scripts’ rejects the concept of retirement in favor of staying engaged for my entire lifespan. What aging scripts are driving your behaviors?”
Says Van Norman: “I often hear people say ‘I had a senior moment’ when forgetting a name or a fact. Meant to be funny or self-deprecating, it becomes an automatic response. However, a robust area of research clearly demonstrates beliefs and expectations impact health—especially on healthy aging. What you’re thinking, saying, and doing about aging well work together to determine if you’re supporting or sabotaging your chances for living with vitality through your full lifespan. Ban ‘senior moment’ from your vocabulary and recognize that we’ve been forgetting things our whole lives; yet, we don’t suggest having kids who forget their gym shoes, lunch, or homework evaluated for memory impairment!”
“Young people with functional challenges are given resources, tools and encouragement to overcome those challenges and live fully in-spite of them,” says Van Norman. “They are given a steady diet of resilience training to seek adaptive strategies and live large! But consider what often happens when an older adult is struck with a functional challenge. They’re only given resources and tools to cope with—rather than overcome—those challenges by making their world smaller and more manageable. There is a profound difference in mindset between overcoming and coping, resulting in profoundly different outcomes. Again—just say NO! Embrace adaptive strategies, ask for ways to continue living fully regardless of challenges!”
“Cognitive training uses a series of challenging tasks to help improve skills that may decline with age, such as memory and attention,” says Anton.
How to get started: If you don’t have computer or video games handy, you can still introduce brain-training activities into your daily life. Here are some ideas:
- Practice writing in cursive
- Drawing a map from your home to the grocery store or library
- Researching a new topic that interests you
- Learning a new language, instrument, or hobby
- Reading a how-to book
“When you combine movement with a brain challenge (which happens in sports), both your mind and body get a workout at the same time,” says Anton. “Fortunately, there are many other options besides playing a sport to achieve this goal. Research shows that older adults enjoy and are able to adhere to ‘exergames’ that include physical activity on a long-term basis, while games without exercise components have been shown to improve selective attention, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination.”
“When we sleep, our bodies go through the important process of removing waste products from our cells (known as autophagy),” says Anton. “When we eat too close to bedtime, our body is unable to remove as many toxins since its energy is being used to digest the food from the last meal.”
“Every time you eat, you affect your metabolic health. Large meals lead to abnormally high increases in postprandial glucose,” says Anton. “In response to these elevations in glucose, the body secretes large amounts of insulin and other counter-regulatory hormones to lower blood glucose levels in an attempt to return to homeostasis (healthy metabolic state). At first, this process may work well but if it is repeated, a state of reactive hypoglycemia can occur which can stimulate hunger since food intake is elicited when blood glucose levels are quickly reduced. Thus, large meals may not only trigger the body to store body fat but can also dysregulate glucose homeostasis, setting up a viscous weight gain cycle.”
“Going for a short walk after a meal can make a big difference in improving metabolic health. The key is to not sit too long and keep your body moving,” says Anton. “Ideally, one should not sit for more than an hour at a time but rather get up and move around throughout the day.”
“How less active older people obtain their meals should be on the radar screens of all relevant food providers,” says Golant. “A large market of middle-income older persons with mobility challenges is anxious to avoid the omnipresent fast food delivery franchises. They seek quality lunch and dinner options that offer them healthy and innovative meals that can be safely and conveniently delivered to their dwellings. This large group of older consumers is now underserved.” What can you do? “Older adults—and the organizations they member—must aggressively advocate for more responsive food delivery options.”
“I cannot overstate the importance of telling your physician each of the herbs and supplements you might be taking,” says Gary Soffer, MD, an integrative medicine expert at Yale Medicine and assistant professor, Yale School of Medicine. “While they may seem safe, they often lead to interactions with other medications and serious side effects. Many patients worry that their physician may judge them for taking these, but if you don’t feel comfortable telling your doctor about it, then it may be time to find a new doctor who is a better fit.”
“Strength is the amount of force muscles can generate,” says Van Norman. “Power is the amount of force muscles can generate quickly. An easy demonstration of power in action is to simply rise from a chair. Now sit back down and this time stand up slowly to a count of 8. Which one is easier? When you stand up normally you use power—strength x speed. When you take speed out of the equation you are using strength alone, which is much harder. Power is more closely linked to functional independence than strength alone and research shows you lose power 3 times faster than strength alone!! To train power you have to accelerate through a range of motion—think whipping big ropes up and down, throwing medicine balls, jumping, etc.”– or train with resistance equipment like pneumatic resistance that allows you to train with speed.” And to get through life at your healthiest, Don’t Take This Supplement, Which Can Raise Your Cancer Risk.