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October is Healthy Aging Month

You Can’t Stop the Aging Process, But You May Be Able to Hit “Pause”

A 2009 study from the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research reported that, statewide, the senior population will double by 2030, reaching 2.2 million residents. This growth reflects nationwide trends as baby boomers turn 50 and people retire later and live longer. Healthy Aging Month hopes to help citizens celebrate and take advantage of the many benefits of aging, as well as address the unique challenges along the way.

As we age, we all expect the wrinkles and grey hair, but have you ever thought about how aging will affect your heart, eyes, joints, or bladder? With the help of the Mayo Clinic, let’s look at several of the changes you can expect to see in your body as the years tick by. But, don’t fret…we’ll also discuss ways to can hit “pause” on the aging process.

Cardiovascular System

What’s happening:

As you age, your heart rate slows and your heart might increase in size. Blood vessels and arteries also become stiffer, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood. This can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension) and other cardiovascular problems.

What you can do:

Include physical activity in your daily routine. Try walking, swimming or other activities you enjoy. Regular moderate physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure and lessen the extent of arterial stiffening.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods, and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat and sodium. A healthy diet can help the heart and arteries healthy.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking contributes to the hardening of arteries and increases blood pressure and heart rate. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, call Stacie Barnett at (252) 672-9690 or e-mail at sbarnett@cchealthcare.com to get more information about CCHC’s FREE smoking cessation classes.
  • Manage stress. Stress takes a toll on your heart. Take steps to reduce stress and learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.
  • Get enough sleep. Quality sleep plays an important role in healing and repairing heart and blood vessels. Your needs may vary, but you should generally aim for seven to eight hours a night.

Bones, Joints, and Muscles

What’s happening:

As we age, bones tend to shrink in size and density, making them more susceptible to fracture. You might even become a bit shorter! Muscles generally lose strength and flexibility, so you might notice that you become less coordinated or have trouble balancing.

What you can do:

  • Get adequate amounts of calcium. For adults ages 19 to 50 and men ages 51 to 70, 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day is recommended. The dose increases to 1,200 mg a day for women age 51 and older and men age 71 and older. Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines, and soy products, such as tofu.
  • Get adequate amounts of vitamin D. For adults ages 19 to 70, 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day is recommended. The dose increases to 800 IU a day for adults age 71 and older. Although many people get adequate amounts of vitamin D from sunlight, this might not be a good source for everyone. Other sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as tuna and sardines, egg yolks, fortified milk, and supplements.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, tennis, climbing stairs, and strength training can help build strong bones and slow bone loss.
  • Avoid substance abuse. Avoid smoking and don’t drink more than one or two alcoholic drinks a day.

Digestive System

What’s happening:

Constipation is more common in older adults, most often caused by a low-fiber diet, not drinking enough fluids, and lack of exercise. Medications, such as diuretics and iron supplements, and certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also might contribute to constipation.

What you can do:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Make sure your diet includes high-fiber food like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit meats that are high in fat, dairy products, and sweets (they may cause constipation). Drink plenty of water and other fluids.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular physical activity helps prevent constipation and is important for your overall health.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. Holding in a bowel movement for too long can cause constipation.

Bladder and Urinary Tract

What’s happening:

Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence) is common with aging. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, might contribute to incontinence, just as menopause can for women, and an enlarged prostate can for men.

What you can do:

  • Go to the toilet regularly. Consider urinating on a regular schedule, perhaps every hour. Slowly, extend the amount of time between your visits to the bathroom.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, lose those excess pounds.
  • Do Kegel exercises. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
  • Avoid bladder irritants. Caffeine, acidic foods, alcohol, and carbonated beverages can make incontinence worse.
  • Avoid constipation. Eat more fiber and take necessary steps to avoid constipation, which can worsen incontinence.

Memory

What’s happening:

Memory may naturally become less efficient with age; it might take longer to learn new things or remember familiar words or names.

What you can do:

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Physical activity increases blood flow to the whole body, including the brain. This might help keep your memory sharp.
  • Stay mentally active. Mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape—keeping memory loss at bay. Do crossword puzzles, take alternate routes when driving, or learn to play a musical instrument.
  • Be social. Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, which can contribute to memory loss. Look for opportunities to get together with loved ones, friends and others.
  • Lower your blood pressure. Reducing high blood pressure might reduce vascular disease which may, in turn, reduce your dementia risk. More research is needed to determine whether treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of dementia.
  • Quit smoking. Some studies have shown smoking in middle age and older might increase your risk of dementia. Quitting smoking might reduce your risk.

If you’re concerned about memory loss, please consult your doctor.

Eyes and Ears

What’s happening:

With age, you might have difficulty focusing on objects that are close. You may even become more sensitive to glare and have trouble adapting to different levels of light. Aging can affect the eye’s lens, causing clouded vision (cataracts).

Your hearing may also diminish. You might notice you have difficulty hearing high frequencies or following a conversation in a crowded room.

What you can do:

  • Schedule regular checkups. Follow your doctor’s advice about glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, and other corrective devices.
  • Take precautions. Wear sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors, and use earplugs when you’re around loud machinery or other loud noises.

Teeth

What’s happening:

Your gums might pull back (recede) from your teeth. Certain medications, such as those that treat allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, can also cause dry mouth. As a result, your teeth and gums might become slightly more vulnerable to decay and infection.

What you can do:

  • Brush and floss. Brush your teeth twice a day and clean between your teeth with regular dental floss or an interdental cleaner once a day.
  • Schedule regular checkups. Visit your dentist or dental hygienist for regular dental checkups.

Skin

What’s happening:

As we age, the skin thins and becomes less elastic and more fragile with a simultaneous decrease of fatty tissue just below the skin. You may notice you bruise more easily. Decreased production of natural oils might make your skin drier. Wrinkles, age spots, and small growths called skin tags are more common.

What you can do:

  • Be gentle. Bathe in warm—not hot—water. Use mild soap and moisturizer.
  • Take precautions. When outdoors, use sunscreen and wear protective clothing. Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor.
  • Again, don’t smoke. Smoking contributes to skin damage, such as wrinkling.

Weight

What’s happening:

Maintaining a healthy weight becomes more difficult as we age—muscle mass decreases and body fat takes its place. Since fat tissue burns fewer calories than does muscle, you need fewer calories to maintain your current weight.

What you can do:

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular moderate physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods, and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit sugar and foods high in saturated fat.
  • Watch your portion sizes. You might not need as many calories as you used to.

Above all, remember that it’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle. You can’t stop the aging process, but you may be able to minimize its impact by making healthy choices.

Coastal Carolina Health Care (CCHC) offers primary and specialty care services with offices located in New Bern and Morehead City. We also operate the CCHC Urgent Care located in New Bern, off McCarthy Boulevard. CCHC is physician owned and operated and always welcomes new patients. If you would like more information, or would like to join the CCHC family, call our Patient Information Line today at (252) 633-4111 or visit www.cchchealthcare.com.

(Sources: North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research; The Mayo Clinic; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Healthy Aging NC; Alliance for Aging Research; Johns Hopkins Medicine; and Coastal Carolina Health Care, P.A.)