Posted on Jan 23, 2023, 3 p.m.
Your biological clock may be ticking, but that doesn’t mean you have to age unhealthy, it just takes a little work which can improve your health and represents a longer and better quality of life.
Many people have a negative concept of aging, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Perhaps the most common misperception is that it is normal for the aging process to have poor health, obesity, dementia, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular and respiratory issues, as well as chronic diseases. But this is not true, when healthful lifestyle changes are adopted using evidence-based approaches, chronic disease can be delayed or prevented by 10-15 years compared to doing nothing. These changes lead to better health and extra years in which to enjoy them.
According to U.S Air Force Col. Dr. Mary Anne Kiel, who chairs the Defense Health Agency Primary Care Clinical Community and also chairs the Air Force Lifestyle & Performance Medicine, the sooner healthful lifestyle changes are adopted the better off a person will be, and she emphasizes how lifestyle choices impact health well into advanced years.
"Patients can make a personal choice at any age to optimize their health and extend their longevity by changing their nutrition to a predominantly plant-based diet, minimizing processed foods, doing physical activity daily, pursuing restorative sleep, avoiding risky substances, managing stress, and cultivating positive social connections," Kiel advised. In addition to avoiding risky behaviors, such as smoking and too much alcohol, lowering your stress levels and good sleep hygiene are crucial to staying healthy as you age.
"Improved sleep can produce almost instantaneous results for improved mental health, pain levels, and risk for infectious disease," in addition to reducing the risk of dementia and overall rates of death," Kiel said.
Similarly, "a revolutionized diet and physical activity regimen can produce rapid changes to the body's risk for cardiovascular events, cancer, and diabetes," she noted.
If you want to lower your risk of diseases and take fewer medications, you may be able to do that through changes to your lifestyle. "Studies show that individuals who make intensive lifestyle changes can actually reverse hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, often with the ability to reduce or eliminate any medications they may have needed previously," Kiel said.
Studies have demonstrated how trying to change how our DNA is negatively affected can help us to live longer. Chromosomes carry long pieces of DNA that hold our genes, these have caps on the end of them called telomeres to help hold everything in so to speak. However these caps typically get shorter with age, but following a healthy lifestyle can help to reduce the speed at which telomeres shorten to effectively extend our longevity.
Most health professionals will encourage people to engage in healthy behaviors and lifestyles that will help to promote healthy aging. For example movement on a continual basis is important as we age to help maintain mobility. Fragility can affect a person very badly who maintains a sedentary lifestyle, the largest impairments include lack of strength, balance, endurance, and limited mobility. The good news is that research is showing that even those who are fragile respond well to weight training and can increase their bone density to decrease the risk of falls and fractures. Falls are the leading cause of fatal accidents in older adults, as well as the leading cause of trauma-related hospitalization in older adults.
The more you move, the more you can move, this is even true in younger populations as well as helping to ensure that aging populations remain healthy and independent. Among the senior population, there has been increased emphasis on performing strengthening and functional activities.
Walking more is perhaps one of the best ways to help improve balance, this can be done with a walking program or working balance through an evidence-based community-based exercise program which could include but is not limited to stretching, aerobics, Tai Chi, Otago, and staying active.
According to Kiel, "Studies have shown that no matter what our age, making nutrition and other lifestyle changes can have dramatic impacts by extending our lifespans and improving our quality of life. You're never too old to make a change."
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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