Happy, Healthy Aging

The media constantly encourages us to contribute to a 401K at work, open an IRA, and start saving and investing as much as possible to prepare for a happy retirement and old age. We need to make the same kind of steady investment in our health and wellbeing. Good health in old age is not achieved all at once. It is the result of years of healthy habits. 

The aging process begins soon after we reach adulthood, but we do not begin to notice its effects until sometime in our 50s. Wear and tear gradually makes our bodies less efficient and less resilient. By being aware of the aging process, we can make a conscious effort to compensate for the changes taking place in our bodies, and continue to enjoy freedom and flexibility well into old age. 

Loss of muscle mass - Beginning in your 30s, your body loses as much as 3% to 5% of its muscle mass every decade. You can slow this process by continuing to be physically active.

Weight gain - As muscle mass decreases, fat tends to increase. Your metabolism slows, and you do not burn calories as efficiently. Even your heart and liver burn fewer calories. In her fifties, an average woman requires approximately 300-500 fewer calories per day than she did in her twenties to maintain the same body weight. As you age, you have to eat smaller portions and eat smarter to manage your weight. Being overweight is a factor in other health risks, including high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Insulin resistance - As the body ages, insulin regulates blood sugar less efficiently. Higher levels of glucose in the blood are associated with tissue damage, memory loss, and sometimes the onset of diabetes. 

Osteoporosis - As levels of certain hormones decline, bone loss increases. Fragile bones can fracture easily, resulting in disability and limited movement.

Many of these effects of aging can be managed by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. Do you spend hours every day seated at a desk, or on a couch? The effects of being sedentary accumulate over the years. In addition to the recommended 150 minutes of exercise every week, look for opportunities to be active throughout the day. Aerobics, yoga, and weight-bearing exercise help maintain muscle mass, strengthen bones, and keep you flexible.

A diet of fast food and sweet snacks takes a toll over the years. Begin now to nourish your body with fresh produce, high fiber foods, proteins, and healthy fats. Be aware of the sugar hidden in many processed foods.

As the years pass, everyone is inevitably exposed to stressful and unhappy situations. Developing successful ways to cope with stress is another key to maintaining good health as you grow older. Hobbies, regular physical activities, and a supportive social network of friends and family members all help you maintain your equilibrium as circumstances around you change.

Monitor your health and have regular checkups. The risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes increases with age.  Early discovery allows you to begin treatment before a condition becomes serious. See your doctor if you develop unusual symptoms or experience pain that you did not feel before.

By starting early and making physical activity and good nutrition priorities throughout your adult life, you are setting yourself up for a happy and healthy old age. 

Further reading:

Aging and Metabolism. Weightwatchers.com (https://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=24491)

Blood Sugar Linked To Normal Cognitive Aging. Science Daily (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081230072238.htm)

Osteoporosis: bone health following the menopause. Women's Health Concern. (https://www.womens-health-concern.org/help-and-advice/factsheets/osteoporosis-bone-health-following-menopause)

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