like plan for my aging so I'll have some control over what happens as I get older. Having worked in the aging field for nearly 30 years, I've long said my goal isn't to live forever...
I try to practice what I preach — like plan for my aging so I’ll have some control over what happens as I get older.
Having worked in the aging field for nearly 30 years, I’ve long said my goal isn’t to live forever, but to live as healthily and independently as I can for as long as I can.
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This means following good health habits: I eat right, exercise, take vitamins — I gave up smoking 25 years ago — and pat myself on the back occasionally for being so darn virtuous. It’s the mom-knows-best things that we’ve all heard for the past 30 years and that are, let’s face it, often hard to follow and boring but really necessary.
Well, if you need inspiration to start or restart these habits as the new year begins, you’ll want to catch a one-hour special at 8 p.m. tomorrow — part of KING-TV’s Healthlink programs — called “55 Ways to Stay Young,” with Jean Enersen.
“There’s nobody who doesn’t decline as they age,” says Dr. Eric Larson of Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, who’s studied our brains and aging since 1978. “The question is how steep that slope of decline is and what affects it.”
For instance, one of the critical factors of healthy aging is the subtle, slow loss of our senses — vision and hearing being the most important. I hadn’t realized until this program that both can disappear without symptoms, and when you finally discover their absence, it’s too late to repair the damage.
“You don’t know you have glaucoma,” says Dr. Christopher Clark, an ophthalmologist from Belltown Vision in Seattle, “until your vision is gone.”
Listening to loud noises doesn’t affect you immediately — but the damage comes later, irrevocably. Parents to kids: If others can hear what you’re listening to when you’re on headphones, you face major hearing loss in your 40s and 50s. Kids to parents: Leaf blowers are dangerous to my future hearing.
Which is why, throughout the program, the emphasis is on two things: prevention and regular health exams to monitor what’s going on.
Good nutrition is a constant of the hour: What we eat truly does affect our aging. Want to avoid the disabilities you love to hate, such as cancer, heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s, cataracts and strokes? I’m sure it’s not the whole solution, but the program reinforced my appetite for nutritious food — broccoli (I really don’t like it, but I eat it several times a week), tomatoes, fish, carrots, whole grains, apples, onions and tofu (soy beans, from which tofu comes, are called the “natural anti-aging pill”).
But more than anything, the program calls for the two cornerstones of healthful aging: weight control and exercise. I wish it were otherwise, truly I do.
The average American is 25 pounds heavier than the average in 1960. Statistics and simple observation tells us the problem is significantly worse. Often gaining only one or two pounds each year, we soon get fat, and then it’s hard to take the pounds off — much harder than putting them on. But we must, for being overweight is related to just about every age-related health condition there is.
If weight gain is part of the problem, exercise is key to the solution. “Regular exercise is one of the most potent medications we have,” reports Dr. Larson, the No. 1 way to reverse the aging process. Muscles need to be used routinely, or you lose them.
In one vignette on the program, you’ll see me and my dog, Abby, playing tug of war. It was Abby’s rambunctiousness three years ago that forced me to walk her three miles every day. Not only is she easier to live with, but, better than any pill, these walks made my arthritis pain disappear.
Another example of the potency of exercise is the group of men and women who began playing pickle volleyball every Friday night at the Nisei Vets Hall on King Street in Seattle. Now 22 years later, they’re in their 70s and 80s, the picture of strength, joy and vitality.
Then there’s the showstopper: A 63-year old woman who began lifting weights to forestall osteoporosis (thinning bones). While her weight trainer describes her as a “frail little creature” when she began, she mocks herself as having been the original “Pillsbury Doughboy.” The “before” and “after” photos show an amazing transformation — after just 12 weeks. Best of all, she’s reversed her disease.
So get ready to begin the next year with better health habits.
My one little quibble: None of us can “stay young.” But we can work against our natural inclination of sloth, fat and inertia by aging healthfully and in control, which is smart aging. Maybe next time KING-TV will name its program, “55 Ways to Age Smarter”!
Liz Taylor’s column runs Mondays in the Northwest Life section. A specialist on aging and long-term care, she consults with individuals and teaches workshops on how to plan for one’s aging — and aging parents. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 11601, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. You can see all of her columns at www.seattletimes.com/growingolder/.