What Changes Are Happening Inside You?
Being 50 or older can be a fulfilling time of life. You are more experienced and wiser. You have a broader view of the world and may be able to take challenges in stride more effectively. If you’ve raised children, they are likely on their feet, or getting there. You may even be enjoying grandchildren or having more time to pursue your interests.
Aging is a gradual, natural process of change. It becomes more apparent in early middle age as certain body functions start to decline. Besides wrinkles and gray hair, the heart and arteries, bones and muscles, digestive system, urinary tract, memory and thinking, ears, eyes and teeth are changing too.
Hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, often occurs with aging. Fats, cholesterol and other substances can form a plaque on the inside walls of the heart arteries. This can restrict the flow of blood and make the heart work harder to pump blood through the arteries. These changes can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and other issues.
The best way to keep your heart healthy as you age is to stay active, eat healthy foods, manage stress, quit smoking if you haven’t already, and get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Walking, swimming, biking, gardening, exercise classes—anything that gets you moving for at least 30 minutes on most days will help you lower your heart disease risk. See our past newsletters to read more about healthy lifestyles (see links below).
As we age, our bones begin to shrink in size and density, making them weaker and more prone to breaks. If less active, our muscles begin to weaken, making us a bit less steady and coordinated.
To promote bone and muscle health, experts recommend getting 1,000 mgs of calcium daily (1,200 for women 51 and older and men 71 and older). Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, broccoli, salmon and tofu. Taking calcium supplements is a good way to get more calcium if it’s hard to get enough from your diet. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is why dairy and other products are often fortified with it. Some get the vitamin from sunlight, though the use of sunscreen (needed for skin cancer prevention) interferes with absorption. Tuna, salmon and eggs are sources of vitamin D, or a supplement of 600 IUs per day can be taken.
Physical activity helps to build strong bones and slow bone loss, especially weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging, tennis and weight-training. These activities also increase muscle strength. Smoking and alcohol use can affect the health of bones and muscles so try to limit alcohol use and quit smoking (if you smoke).
As we age, it is common to experience more constipation. This happens in part because of a gradual loss of muscle strength and other changes in the digestive tract, but also due to inactivity, low fiber diets or not drinking enough fluids. Medications for certain conditions may also contribute to constipation.
What to do? You guessed it! Eat a healthy diet rich in high-fiber foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Limit fatty meats, dairy products and sweets which can add to the problem. Drink lots of water and other fluids. And, you guessed it again (!), get moving. Regular exercise can help prevent constipation. Take the stairs, dance, bike to work, or anything that increases your level of activity. You can even look at house cleaning differently; mopping and vacuuming are a good way to add movement to your day!
The bladder and urinary tract are changing too. If the urge to urinate comes more often, it’s likely because the bladder is becoming less elastic. Weaker bladder and pelvic floor muscles can make it harder to fully empty the bladder. For men, an enlarged prostate can also affect bladder function. Loss of bladder control (incontinence) can be caused by being overweight, having diabetes, certain medications, and caffeine or alcohol intake. Healthy bladder and urinary tract habits include using the toilet regularly (not waiting) and maintaining a healthy weight. Caffeine, acidic foods, alcohol and carbonated drinks are bladder irritants, and can worsen incontinence. Taking the steps above for avoiding constipation can also help with maintaining a healthy bladder.
You may notice changes to the eyes and ears. It may be more difficult to focus on closeup objects; this is called presbyopia, caused by a natural weakening of the eye muscle. It can also be harder to adjust to changing levels of light.
Difficulty hearing high frequencies or conversations in noisy rooms becomes more common. To prevent injury to your eyes, wear sunglasses or a hat outdoors; to prevent hearing loss, use earplugs around machinery or other loud noises. You can keep up on eye and ear health by having regular checkups and following your provider’s advice about wearing glasses, contact lenses and/or hearing aids.
Because our gums may pull back (or recede) from the teeth and some medications can cause dry mouth, the teeth and gums can be at a higher risk for decay and infection as we age. To keep the mouth healthy, brush twice daily and floss between the teeth once a day. Regular dental cleanings and exams can help prevent dental problems from starting or worsening.
The brain also undergoes some changes, which can have minor effects on memory or thinking. It’s normal to forget familiar names or why you walked into a room, or to have difficulty multi-tasking. Many of the things you will do to keep other parts of your body healthy will also help you maintain your cognitive skills: physical activity, a healthy diet, managing high blood pressure and cholesterol, and stopping smoking. Other ways to keep mentally sharp include staying social (spending time with family/friends, attending events or volunteering) and keeping mentally active (reading, playing an instrument, doing crossword puzzles).
If you’re thinking about retirement, it’s never too soon, or too late, to plan for it. Financial worries can cause stress, which can affect your health. So, it makes sense to see where you stand. You may appreciate a little time in your working life to catch up.
Financial experts estimate that people will need 70 to 90% of their preretirement income to maintain their standard of living when they stop working. For example, a person making $60,000 at the time of retirement will need $42,000 to $54,000 a year to live in a similar fashion.
You can use online calculators to see how you are doing based on your income, savings and investments. The top way to plan for retirement is to save, and to keep saving! Be sure to contribute to your employer’s retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan, if available, and consider contributions to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) each year. To learn more about retirement planning, see Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Retirement and How to Take Steps Toward to a Happy Retirement.
Planning for retirement also involves giving some thought to how you will spend your time. What interests will you pursue? How will you stay active and engaged in your community?
We can’t stop the aging process, but we can make choices that improve our ability to do the things we enjoy. If you are struggling with the aging process, let us help. Your KnovaSolutions clinician may recommend preventive screenings and immunizations; s/he can help with your specific challenges and offer support as you make changes. Give us a call at 800/355-0885, Monday to Friday, 8 am-8 pm, MT.
The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.