We are being flooded every day with health advice. The latest is the claim that people aged 85 years and over are relatively free of illness. The questions now are what healthy lifestyle rules in old age should we apply? Should the same health rules which helped us to reach a good old age continue to apply when we get there? That is should a ‘healthy lifestyle’ really matter once we are in our 70s, 80s, and 90s?
There’s been controversy on this issue. But for now, are some facts on major health areas of concern. These are nutrition, exercise, body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Therefore, the topic of healthy lifestyle rules in old age will focus on these five major areas
In old age underfeeding is a threat to good health. Old people suffer the loss of appetite (anorexia) due to loss of taste and smell. With age, food stays longer in the part of the stomach that signals fullness before moving to the small intestine. Men are likely to be less attracted to food, due to the steady drop in testosterone with age. Also is the social aspect which contributes to the single life of older people. This makes it difficult to induce appetite that comes with eating with others.
There are also possibilities for vitamin deficiencies due to less food consumption. Depletion of vitamin D is another risk for older people. This is because they spend much time indoors, so can’t get adequate sunshine vitamin D required for calcium absorption and healthy bones. Another problem is the short supply of B12 since older people are unable to absorb it adequately from food.
On the issue of calories, older people need fewer calories since they are not so active and with less muscle. People over 70 are more likely to eat fewer calories than younger people. Overdoing healthful eating of a super low-fat diet often results in malnourishment.
It is easier to overdo exercise especially if older and have not been exercising for a while. For many older people, getting the heart going a modest 15–20 beats above the resting rate is a good goal. Brisk walking is the ideal exercise for a beginner. The normal definition of a brisk walk is 3 to 4 miles per hour. But experts now say such a pace for a typical older person is much more than the ‘moderate intensity’ exercise recommended for disease prevention. Therefore, the trend is to measure exercise intensity relative to a person’s capacity rather than on a total, one-size-fits-all rule.
Manage Body Weight
Being obese is a risk factor for hypertension, diabetes, and disability. All of these illnesses put an older person at greater risk of dying. But several studies have shown that in old age being heavy is not a particularly good predictor of mortality. For instance, one study concluded that ‘years of life lost’ from obesity goes up in the decades up to age 70, then declines for ages 70–79. This doesn’t mean that losing weight, if you are overweight, would not pay health dividends when you are older. It is just that the payoff may be less certain.
Watch Blood Pressure
Lifestyle changes are preferable to drugs. Some research shows that losing weight, if overweight, and eating less sodium may lower blood pressure more effectively among people ages 60 to 80 than in younger people. If you must take a blood pressure medication, studies and guidelines have re-introduced diuretics as the first choice. This is because they offer the added benefit of an anti-osteoporosis effect.
However, if you have an additional health condition, another kind of medication may be preferable. For instance, a beta-blocker would be the first choice for a person with hypertension and angina. While a diagnosis of heart failure might mean a different prescription. Talking to your doctor to discuss any concerns is the best option.
Studies have shown that in people over 70 with heart or vascular disease, cholesterol-lowering statins are just as beneficial as they are in younger people. If you fall into this group, you should get your cholesterol levels monitored. Ideally, your doctor will work with you to improve your diet and get you to exercise more. Nonetheless, a lot of people will need statins prescriptions.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons.