December 7, 2020

5 Small, Powerful Changes for Feeling Good After Age 65

Leverage the synergy of simple adjustments

elderly man stretcing legs

What are your goals for your health? It might help to think of health as a pyramid with three pillars: eating, activity, and rest and relaxation patterns.

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“There is tremendous synergy among these pillars,” says internal medicine specialist Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS. “Go for a great walk and you sleep better that night; get a lousy night’s sleep and you circle the vending machines all day. Eat too much and it’s hard to get off the couch.”

Fight pain through gentle movement

The take-home message? You can leverage that synergy to make small improvements feel like a million bucks.

Even if you feel somewhat limited, whether by arthritis pain, circulation issues or breathing problems, you can overcome many obstacles with a few simple adjustments. It is never too late to change your perspective, adopt new habits, improve your health and wellness, or see things just a little bit differently.

Gentle exercise is an important part of effective pain management strategies, and good compliance, including taking pain medications as prescribed, is likely to improve range of motion and endurance.

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Therapeutic yoga and chair-based exercises, for example, are great choices for people who are unable to walk easily and for whom pick-up games are no longer a reasonable option. Exercise is also a powerful mood stabilizer.

Take control by managing issues

“If you, like half of people over age 65, carry a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes, keep in mind that it’s not diagnosis that’s the problem, but rather the degree to which it affects your life, both day-to-day and long-term,” says Dr. Sukol.

It’s not diabetes that’s the problem, but rather uncontrolled blood sugars; and it doesn’t matter what we call it, as long as your blood sugars are well managed. What we call it (diabetes, prediabetes) is simply a reflection of how much it’s takes to keep your sugars in the normal range.

Learning to involve your mind and body in the effort to conserve your insulin yields all kinds of benefits. These, of course, encourage further efforts. I continue to work with patients to find ways to improve insulin function and keep their blood sugars in the normal range. It’s an ongoing partnership.

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Make simple, powerful habits part of your life

Try these recommendations for your health and wellness:

  1. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and veggies. Each different color is a different type of phytonutrient, or plant-based nutrient, that serves as a building block for your good health. Make a special effort to locate fruits and vegetables in season, whether from a local farmers market or supermarket. Frozen is also good since fresh produce usually goes straight from the field to the freezer.
  2. Shift to whole grains and colorful carbs. Besides fruits and vegetables, eat more beans (including hummus, edamame, tofu, lentils, peanuts) and switch out the stripped grains (white flour, white rice, sugar, corn syrup) for whole grains.
  3. Make activity and relaxation part of your life. Find a local recreation or senior center with yoga and exercise classes for improved fitness and relaxation. Increase activity levels slowly: even short walks and light stretching count. Spend a few minutes daily relaxing your mind, too, whether through meditation, prayer, reading, knitting, quilting, music or your favorite fishing spot.
  4. Consider shared medical appointments. Depending on your location, you may find virtual shared medical appointments (SMAs) for brain health and wellness, weight management, breast and prostate cancer prevention, pain control and stress management. Groups provide opportunities to support and be supported by others as you work together to overcome challenges. The social interactions inherent to these activities also promote improvements in your mood and quality of life.
  5. Educate yourself. Think about the difference between nourishing fats — like those in avocados, olive oil, deep sea fish, dark chocolate, nuts, nut butters, and seeds vs. ultra-processed, manufactured fats like soybean, cottonseed, corn and “vegetable” oils, all of which are strongly pro-inflammatory

Remember to take pride in caring for yourself no matter how small each step. All those small steps multiply, resulting in big improvements.

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