Wednesday, August 5, 2009

June 10, 2009: Aging and Health

As we age, our bodies change. Let’s look at how we can adapt and maintain a healthy life.

Our hearts get a little stiffer and a bit larger. If heart problems develop, lose a little weight. Losing 15% of body weight reduces blood pressure and may decrease the need for medication. Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous aerobic exercise, but keep up daily activities like walking. Spend ten to thirty minutes every day relaxing, perhaps through yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing.

Our lung capacity lowers. At the extreme, COPD results in difficulty exhaling. Breathe in through the nose and out through pursed lips, as if you were blowing out candles on a large cake. Exhaling this way keeps the lung passages open a microsecond longer, which helps clear the junk from the lungs.

The filtering capacity of the kidneys lowers. The answer to this is a no-brainer – drink lots of water!

The liver gets smaller. Avoid heavy consumption of alcohol; limit yourself to no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women. Cut down on fats, especially saturated and trans-fat.

Our muscle-to-fat ratio shifts, unfortunately toward less muscle and more fat. Another good reason to keep exercising and eat less.

Our eyes see less well at night. Be especially careful or don’t drive after dark.
We lose some high frequency hearing. It becomes harder to hear lighter, for example women’s, voices. Ladies, if he says he didn’t hear you, that might be technically true.

As we age, we tend to wake up earlier. Just follow Ben Franklin’s advice: “Early to bed, early to rise….”

And finally, there’s some good news! Our brains develop more connections. As we begin to lose neurons, our brains compensate by forming more and stronger connections. The saying, “Age brings wisdom,” has a basis in physiology.

Our bodies are getting a little stiffer and drier, but the lifestyle changes we need to make are healthy choices for everyone. A little more exercise, a little less food and alcohol, and going to sleep a little earlier will pay big dividends in maintaining a healthy life.

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