Chapter 5: Growing Old, But Keeping Fit
Growing old is a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form.- Andre Maurois.
Most people are scared, indeed, terrified of old age because they feel that aging is characterized by a progressive loss of essential body functions that they have learnt to take for granted over the years; for instance, loss of vision, hearing, teeth, memory, intelligence, sexual drive, muscle strength and vigour. However, it needs to be emphasized that you can become old healthily; remember that old age does not necessarily mean progressive deterioration or susceptibility to a plethora of ailments!
The best way to live to a ripe old age entails possessing the right genes. In other words, if your parents and grandparents have led long lives, you are likely to do so too! However, the fact remains that while you cannot choose your parents, you can, nevertheless, increase the chances of your growing old healthily!
Despite the advertised claims to the contrary, there is no fountain of youth or magic potion that can prevent the process of aging. And no one has still answered the key question: why do we grow old? According to a popular theory, free radicals damage cells, tissues and organs progressively and as we age the bodys ability to neutralize such damages wanes.
Presently, research is being conducted to test the anti-aging effects of human growth hormones, DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone), and other hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. However, its too early to ascertain whether or not any of these hormones will be effective. The fact remains that there is still no known drug, pill, or treatment that has been proven to reverse the aging process or to extend life. However, the good news is that there is solid evidence to prove that adopting a healthy lifestyle can both lengthen and improve the quality of an individuals later years.
TIPS FOR HEALTHY AGING
The following points should be borne in mind:
- Ensure a balanced diet, including five helpings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Exercise regularly. However, check with your doctor before starting an exercise programme.
- Go in for regular health check-ups.
- Dont ever smoke. If you have picked up the habit, its never too late to stop.
- Practice safety habits at home to prevent falls and fractures. Always wear your seatbelt while driving a vehicle.
- Stay in touch with family and friends. Remain active through work and play and interact regularly with other members of the community.
- If you drink alcohol, moderation is the keyword. Let someone else drive the vehicle after each of your drinking bouts!
- Adopt and maintain a positive attitude towards life. Do things that make you happy.
Since its extremely difficult to change the habits of a lifetime overnight, it would be highly beneficial to develop good habits right from childhood. Such habits are likely to pay you rich dividends in the future, so that you can be playing golf while your contemporaries are ailing in hospital beds!
Fortunately, aging doesnt have to be a downhill slides and gaining adequate knowledge about changing body patterns over time can help you age the healthy way. Older people have the reputation of being more mature, experienced and thoughtful. Whether or not you become wiser as you grow older, you are likely to become farsighted for sure ! Farsightedness ( presbyopia ) is a change in vision thats a normal part of aging. Presbyopia is caused by a gradual hardening of the eyes lens, which impairs your ability to see up close. Your optometrist may recommend a pair of non-prescription reading glasses or prescribe bifocals for you.
Staying active is a terrific way to stave off the negative effects of aging because it helps your body maintain, improve and even repair itself. Physical activity increases flexibility, lowers blood pressure, strengthens bones, slows down the process of osteoporosis, and promotes weight loss. The remarkable aspect about getting fit is that its never too late to start. Fifteen to 30 minutes of exercise, with a warm-up and a cool-down, three or four times a week, would be ideal. Remember to start out slowly, exercising for about five to ten minutes twice a week, and gradually build up to a higher level of activity. choose an activity that youll enjoy, and try to get a friend to accompany you. Brisk walking, swimming and yoga are just a few of the options. Before starting your regular exercise regimen, please check with your doctor about possible complications or risks.
Ensuring a healthy diet pattern is also very important. Middle-aged individuals need to increase their intake of certain vitamins, such as D and B6, while also simultaneously reducing the number of calories they consume. Bodily changes caused by aging, combined with reduced physical activity, could lead to a situation when you may gain weight more easily in your 50s than you did in your younger years. Be that as it may, that excess weight contributes to health problems more often in older people, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Contrary to popular opinion, most senior citizens want to enjoy active, and satisfying sex lives. The natural process of aging does entail physical changes that can sometimes adversely affect sexual intimacy and your capabilities during intercourse. Women may experience discomfort during sex because their vagina becomes drier and more fragile. As they get older, men often notice differences in their erection patterns, and it may take them longer to achieve an erection and to sustain it. Also, the erection may not be as firm or as large as during their younger years. Anxiety and depression, which often accompany a chronic illness can also interfere with your libido. A strong support system is an important aspect of good health, and seniors can benefit greatly by being socially active. Community organisations, clubs and religious places such as churches and temples are ideal meeting points for elderly people to socialize and to make friends.
Continue to remain productive, whatever be your field of activity; this is good for your self-esteem. Even if you have retired from your job, you can contribute your time and skills in many ways: for example, by volunteering for social service organisations; or teaching part-time in any educational institution. You could also learn new skills (such as a painting or becoming computer literate). The ultimate objective is to keep your brain active !
The twilight years are also likely to lead to an unfortunate increase in illnesses, accompanied by the additional burden of unwelcome medical bills and the fear of dying and death. As the body ages, biological systems start failing gradually, and one starts developing an assortment of medical problems. Consequently, older patients often have special health care needs. It is not uncommon for many older patients to suffer from multiple medical complications: for example, diabetes, hypertension and ischaemic heart disease often go hand in hand. Such a situation also means that they will need to be subjected to multiple medications; and perhaps consult many different doctors as well! Thus, while their care pattern becomes more complex, it also becomes more fragmented! In fact, geriatric medicine has attained the status of a specialty in its own right in many parts of the world, in order to take care of the medical needs of an aging population.
Most old people face a lot of difficulty in taking care of their own needs, because of persistent problems such as deteriorating hearing, failing vision, and decreasing memory. Many of them tend to be afraid of becoming dependent on others as they lose control over their bodily functions. Others dread becoming disabled and being confined to a wheelchair or bed. Instances of abuse and neglect of old people are becoming increasingly prevalent, as the joint family structure is breaking down in urban India. As a result, homes for the aged are becoming increasingly popular in India, so that older people can live together and support each other, when their own families are no longer willing to do so.
Remember that illness and aging need not go hand in hand. If you take good care of your body in the morning,it will take good care of you in the evening of your life.