Wellness In The Golden Years
If you are 50 years or older, isn’t it time to savour and enjoy each of life’s moments, with good health as your accessory? Here are some pointers to optimise your wellness quotient.
As you enter your fifth or sixth decade, I am sure there are lots of things in your life to be grateful for. Aren’t you more mature in handling life, aware of yourself as a human being, appreciative of life with all its ups and downs, blessed with wisdom and experience, unafraid to make decisions taking accountability, and embracive of imperfections? For some though, it is a time and a definitive need to slow down and savour each moment.
However, to enjoy life to the fullest, it is also important to take care of one’s health as the years roll by. Starting early is the key. If you have led a healthy life all through, with proper diet, exercise and lifestyle, chances are you already know what to do! Even if you haven’t, it’s not too late to begin. Here are some important factors to consider while prioritising your health.
Weight Gain & Metabolism:
Among the other downsides of ageing, is the gradual loss of muscle mass. Adults lose approximately 3 percent of their muscle mass every year, especially if they are sedentary, stressed, and are not eating right. This in turn, leads to weight gain and slowing down of the metabolism, since the body stores more fat as it loses muscle. Weight gain is more commonly seen in women around this age, especially since hormonal changes during menopause can play havoc with the weight on the weighing scale. The other contributing factor for both men and women towards weight gain is medications – as one ages, they’re more likely to be on blood thinners, or anti-diabetes medications. Genetics and heredity are another reason you could be putting on weight quickly.
I always believe that every problem has a solution. All you need is to find it and act. Your solution would be easier if you have been doing weights and resistance training regularly or practicing yoga, brisk walking, and also doing any form of cardio exercise at least 2-3 times a week. If you’ve been inactive so far, don’t suddenly begin an intensive regimen. Start slowly, and work your way upwards under the guidance of a professional coach in whatever area of fitness you’re exploring.
Of course, you’ll need to tweak the way you eat – we’ll read more on that in the section on nutrition. Treat your menopause symptoms and manage your medications. Also get your thyroid checked regularly, as it could be the reason for potential weight gain. As you age, the quality of your sleep tends to deteriorate. Don’t let this deter you from sleeping well for at least 7 hours a night (8 is ideal!) by keeping the room dark and quiet, the temperature ideal, and eating your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime. Stay relaxed and don’t stress as far as you can help it!
Osteoporosis & Osteoarthritis:
It is first important to understand the difference between osteoporosis and osteoarthritis – they are easily confused because people who suffer from the former invariably suffer from the latter. Osteoporosis is progressive bone degeneration, an attribute that typically sets in as you age and your body’s calcium reserves lessen. Osteoarthritis on the other hand is joint degeneration, where the cartilage between large joints such as the knee, hip and lower back breaks down, making movement very painful.
However, these are not inevitable phenomena. With the right kind of diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, and weight-bearing exercise, it can be prevented. After checking with your doctor, women should get in 1200mg of calcium supplements daily, while men should take in 1000mg. Eat dark leafy greens like spinach, dairy, nuts, seeds, eggs and omega 3-rich fish. Lack of exercise and being overweight can put more pressure on these areas, causing bone and cartilage erosion, thus compounding the situation. Stay active and make sure you don’t have any excess weight on those problematic joints. Avoid falls and physical injuries– even if you recover, falls can cause trauma that weaken the muscles.
Aches & Pains:
Since stiffness, aches and pains set in gradually and slowly, sometimes you don’t even realise they’re there – until one day you realise you can’t lift a box easily. Or get out of bed with the same spring in your step. Aching muscles are a natural tendency when we age – especially around the knees, back, neck, shoulder and so on. Obviously if you exercise regularly, maintain good posture and eat right, this can be lessened to a large extent. But what happens when you do end up suffering from aches and pains?
The first step is to use your common sense and distinguish between regular soreness and serious pain, which could mean an injury or an underlying medical condition. If you have the slightest doubt, don’t hesitate to go for a check-up and address any issues that you may uncover. If these are ruled out, then start with exercise or physiotherapy under the guidance of a trained instructor. Work on posture, balance, coordination, strength and blood circulation. Always stretch before and after your workout to prevent any injury.
Depression & Anxiety:
This is a time when you should ideally leave behind the frenetic pace of your 20s, 30s and even 40s and prepare to relax, just live for yourself and do what you enjoy. However, your 50s also usher in the dreaded Empty Nest Syndrome, if your children have left home to study or to work or settle down elsewhere. This is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather a phenomenon that requires transition – sometimes with professional assistance. Parents who feel an extreme sense of loss might find it hard to cope, but there are certain practical mechanisms to do so. Focus on your partner – you have the opportunity to reconnect with him or her, and rekindle any common interests and hobbies. Accept your adult child’s decision to lead their own life, and while it is important to stay in touch, respect the amount of space your child wants to put between the two of you. Look for new professional avenues, find a charity to involve yourself in, focus on your own health and creative pursuits. Pick up those paintbrushes and canvas and indulge in what your heart desired when you were busy raising your babies. Like me, you could maybe invest in a karaoke system to bring music in the form of singing, or playing your favourite instrument. Call your besties for regular karaoke evenings. Trust me, music does wonders! If all else fails, seek support from a counsellor. You can also find (or even form!) a like-minded group that has the same issues, and shares coping mechanisms.
As you near retirement, those with non-pensionable jobs also have to think about their financial situation, and make arrangements to safeguard their futures. ‘What if I outlive my savings? What if there is an emergency medical expense? How do I maximise my investments?’ All this and more tends to play on your mind. Firstly, consider sound life insurance and medical insurance schemes, so that you and your family have security to fall back on in case of such events. Take care not to get into debt, and ensure that at least 30 percent of your current income is stashed into diversified investments that don’t involve more risk that you can afford. Consult a trusted professional for the same, choose a strategy and stay focussed. Try and pay off any pending home loans or EMIs while you’re
still employed. Staying organised with your finances is the key. Once you’ve done your best, there isn’t any point worrying about what tomorrow holds! Employ a philosophical approach, and focus on enjoying every day of your life rather than being stressed.
Nutrition & Exercise
The fact is, as you age, your body’s needs and necessities keep changing. The 50s and above are a crucial period, where everything you eat has a bearing on your quality of life going forward. Let’s face it, your metabolism isn’t what it was, and neither is your ability to defy lifestyle diseases!
The first step is to eat low-calorie, but high-nutrition foods. So every calorie has to count. Women need anywhere between 1600 to 2000 calories a day depending on their activity levels, while men need 2000 to 2600 calories a day. Eat two fresh fruits a day in rotation and at least three daily vegetables, in a rainbow of colours. Opt for unprocessed grains, dairy, and high-quality protein like fresh fish, skinless poultry, free range eggs, beans, nuts and seeds. While calcium and protein are essential added nutrients, vitamin B12-rich foods should also be consumed for brain function, to prevent diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Avoid processed foods, deep-fried foods, trans-fats, excess salt and sugar (except those found naturally in fruits) like the plague! Drink the recommended amount of water even if you’re not thirsty, and cut out juices, except for coconut water. Don’t skip meals. If you do that, your body will start storing fat. Consult your doctor before you take supplements – don’t take anything that might interfere with a pre-existing ailment.
As far as exercise goes, this is non-negotiable, although you need to be realistic about what you can and cannot do based on your health. If you’ve already been active throughout, pursuing yoga, weights or even just brisk walking, then continue with that and perhaps slowly up the ante every week, within comfortable limits. Add something new to your schedule like gardening or cycling or take on some cleaning at home to burn extra calories. My personal favourite is dance. I’ve been a trained classical dancer and it is a hobby and passion that has held me in good stead throughout. Dancers have the benefit of getting a good cardio workout while also building muscle strength. A few thumb rules – avoid any new exercises that put extra stress on your knees, lower back, neck and hips, as these are sensitive areas. Start strength training with body weight and light kettlebells or dumbbells. Consider downloading an app on your phone which tracks your daily diet and activity levels.
Here is a roster of preventive tests to get done, either every year or once in two years depending on your general health:
(A)Blood and urine profile, to screen for sugar, cholesterol, renal and liver function, thyroid and so on.
(B) Ultrasound of the abdomen and pelvis
(C) ECHO and ECG
(E) Skin screening for moles
(F) Vision test
(G) Hepatitis C
(H) Lung screening
(I) Periodontal exam (for teeth health)
(J) Bone density scan
(K) Vitamin D test
For Women Only:
(B) Pap Smear
For Men Only
(A) PSA for Prostrate Cancer