A couple of years ago I was sitting in the doctor’s office after experiencing some chest pains and shortness of breath. It was one of those scary doctor visits. As it turned out, I was fine; but the doctor said, “You need to lose some weight and relieve your stress. You are pre-diabetic and unless you deal with this now, you are in for a complicated health future.” The treatment he prescribed was not complex, we have all heard it many times: eat more fruits and vegetables, get proper rest, and get more exercise.
So I bought a smart watch. It came with a step counter, and each day I could see how much exercise I was getting. As a competitive person, I began to challenge others and compete against myself for the most steps each day. I was on the road to a better future. But the watch was just the beginning. We all know that healthy habits are an important part of healthy aging. As we age, our bodies begin to break down from wear and tear and we are more susceptible to disease. Healthy habits allow us to fight disease and recover quicker when we are sick. Scientists tell us that it is never too late to start living a healthier life. Our bodies may not completely recover from some diseases, however, they have an amazing ability to strengthen and renew. I needed to start living a healthier life, and perhaps you do too. These simple habits will certainly improve your life.
Start with exercise. It doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference. Studies show even moderate exercise and physical activity can improve your health. It is always a good idea to see your doctor before you start. Walking is a simple exercise that has made a big difference for me. It does not require a lot of equipment, just some good shoes and little bit of time. If walking is not for you, swimming or water aerobics provide a way to exercise with less pressure on your joints. Riding a bicycle or a class with others such as Tai Chi, yoga, line dancing, or stretching will get you moving. There is simply no end to the benefits: lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, improving sleep, boosting mood and self-confidence, enhancing mobility, flexibility, balance and weight.
Like I did, you can start easy, and then build a balanced exercise plan including good cardio exercise to get the heart pumping, some strength training to maintain muscle mass, and balance and stretching exercises to maintain flexibility. It did not take long before I began to feel the positive effects of exercise. You will too.
The second thing my doctor recommended was more fruits and vegetable. Mom (and my doctor) is right: the better I eat, the better I feel. The guidelines for eating have been published a lot of places, but here is a reminder: 2 or 3 servings of fruit per day; 2 to 3 cups of vegetables every day with colorful vegetables being the most nutritious (kale, spinach, broccoli, beets, squash). Older adults need 1,200 mg of calcium per day through milk, yogurt, or cheese; as well as whole grains, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. As we age, our metabolism slows; so sugar is not our friend. Reducing the amount of refined sugar in our diets can greatly improve our health. Age can also reduce our sense of thirst, making us prone to dehydration; remember to sip water regularly to avoid urinary tract infections, constipation, and even confusion. Eating more fiber as we age helps our digestion since it slows as we age. Finally, eating is a social activity. We tend to eat better, and for some reason the food seems to tastes better when we share with others.
Finally, my doctor recommended I get better sleep. As we age, it gets harder to fall asleep and wake up feeling rested. Our bodies make less melatonin which we need for restful sleep. Also, we may be less active, perhaps we are taking medications, or we may have physical problems such as sleep apnea which make us restless or can prevent restful sleep. It is also common to get up in the night once or twice to use the bathroom. A couple of things which my doctor suggested have helped: First, exercise has helped me sleep better. I have returned to the rhythm of my childhood, where playing hard helped me fall asleep more easily. Second, I created a better environment, including a regular bedtime, a quiet and dimly lit room, no TV before I go to bed, and a regular bedtime routine. I’m sleeping better, so I feel better.
Following the doctor’s simple prescription for my health has changed my life. I have lost weight and I’m coping better with my daily stress. The smart watch was a nice addition to my wardrobe, but the lifestyle change has made this so much more than a fashion piece for my wrist.