Check Your Knowledge of Healthy Aging
Faithful or even occasional readers of this column should know about healthy aging. The National Institute of Aging (NIA) has put together a fun-to-read booklet quiz entitled "What's Your Aging IQ?" that can be viewed at the NIA website or you can order it and have it sent to you from the website. (Please see a sample in the table.) The point is: it is very important for those of us getting on up there to know what is normal and what is not.
To stay healthy there are three major things one should do and the quiz nicely reminds you about these three with interesting little scenarios The three are 1) be aware of what are normal and what are abnormal changes with age, 2) have good health habits that lead to prevention of problems and 3) consult with a physician so that you are getting the full advantage of all modern medicine has to offer in terms of early diagnosis and treatment of any health problems. We will expand on these three below.
What is normal now?
Anyone who is observant knows that 70-year-olds are not the same as 20-year-olds. Lots of things change as we age and these changes are the normal consequence of aging--better than the alternative of not aging! Our senses are impaired, especially hearing and vision, our endurance is less, strength and balance are not what they use to be, should we even mention weight that seems to increase no matter what we do? And we develop diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, cancer, and a host of other medical ills. The important thing is that we be able to distinguish what is normal aging and what is abnormal. For example, one of the NIA quiz scenarios is about and 80-year-old man who does not drive like he used to and it turns out one reason is his vision is less acute than it used to be. His physician told him he had a cataract. So the usual and normal loss of visual acuity was more profound because of the cataract formation which is a common, but abnormal, problem of aging eyes. As one ages there are countless examples of things that don't work as well as they used to like memory, sleep and many others and it is incumbent on you to ask your doctor about worrisome changes.
We have written many articles about how to prevent disease to remain as healthy as possible as the years go by. The main things to do are to exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet high in fiber and fruits and low in saturated fats and calories, and maintain an active social life--meaning staying close to family or friends. There are other things to do such as do not smoke or engage in other unhealthy habits and get your normal amount of sleep. One of the NIA quiz questions discusses the concept of there being no fountain of youth, but it turns out, in my opinion, the fountain might just be a water fountain. If you exercise and stay hydrated with water, you will certainly live longer and be healthier. (It is the exercise that is the elixir not the water, of course.) So the next time your exercise is rewarded with a drink of cold water, consider yourself slurping from the fountain of youth. Nothing has proven more preventative for a variety of medical problems ranging from osteoporosis to cancer and heart disease than regular exercise.
Regular health checkups
The early detection of things only a physician or nurse can discover are high blood pressure, abnormal blood sugar, cholesterol, colorectal cancer and the list is very long. Annual or semi-annual visits to your clinician just to check on your systems (yes, including the prescribed colonoscopy) can be life-saving. If problems are detected earlier they are more likely to be amenable to treatment than if discovered late. This is common sense, and yet there are many people who choose not to have a regular check up by a general internist or family physician. This is reckless because in this era of medicine many therapies for early detected problems exist. It turns out that 80% of elderly people are on some medicine and only 25% of younger people are. The result is that people are living much longer than they used to and by 2050 we may have 600,000 people in this country over 100 years old. This is a testimony to these individuals making healthy choices plus a little bit of luck with the genetic makeup given to them by their parents.
The bottom line
The more we know about what healthy aging is and how to achieve it, the more likely we are to enjoy it!
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