Healthy aging

Dr M K Mam
Aging or growing old is a normal phase of life through which we all leaving aside some unfortunate ones go through.As we age, certain changes in the body are inevitable. With all that, everyone would love to experience the aging in the best possible way – have a healthy aging.World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined healthy aging as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age”. It is more than just the absence of disease. It is always good to wish and have a long life, however it should be a quality one and that is what really matters. Abraham Lincoln has very rightly said “In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in years.”
Importance of healthy aging:Studies have shown that healthy aging decreases chances of getting chronic medical problems like hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, diabetes, obstructive lung disease and falls etc.that are common in an elderly. It helps in quicker recovery from illness, reduces dependency and healthcare costs. It also allows older people to continue participating productively in the society with all their wealth of knowledge, skills and experience. Big question that comes to the mind is —Is healthy aging possible?. Answer is YES, it is possible as we work to improve the quality of life as we age.
Factors that promote healthy aging
Regular exercise: Regular exercise and staying active is the key to healthy aging and longevity. Studies show that people who exercise daily not only live longer but also live better. Regular exercise decreases the risk of osteoporosis, makes bones and muscles strong, and keeps joints fully mobile and functional. It also improves balance and decrease the risk of fall, a major cause of disability in elderly. Regular exercise not only prevents the chances of various medical problems like hypertension, heart disease ,diabetes etc. but also helps in their better management and improvement. Simple walking, yoga, gardening, dancing , swimming etc. are some of the activities that an elderly can do to keep moving on, depending upon one’s capacity and health status. Walking is a great aerobic, low impact and safe exercise, that has lot of health benefits. Thirty minutes a session of physical activity- walking per day for most of the days of the week (at least 150 minutes per week) should be fine for an elderly.
Yoga harmonises the mind and body, increases and maintains the range of movements in the joints, builds muscle and bone strength and improves balance. Exercise and yoga has to be a must to do activity of the daily routine , it just cannot be a weekend activity. We need to change sedentary life style and remain physically active as much as we can and as long as we can.
Eating healthy diet
Eating a balanced diet with all essential nutrients like proteins, minerals, vitamins etc. is essential. It nourishes the body, provides energy for doing various daily functions of the body. Consumption of fats, fatty foods and excess of sugar has to avoided, it is not good for the heart and will increase the weight. Low fat milk and milk products like yogurt, cheese etc., being rich in calcium and proteins are good for an elderly. We need to consume more of vegetables, fruits and whole grains – wheat products. Among non- veg foods fish, eggs and chicken are good choices.
Drinking enough of water
Drinking enough water helps to keep the body well hydrated and improves general health. Elderly should drink water more often, particularly on an empty stomach on getting up in the morning, after exercise and then before going to bed.Water as someone has rightly said is “the best and the cheapest health drink”.
Social connect
It is always good to remain connected with family, friends etc. Research has shown that elderly persons with significant contact with family members and friends enjoy a broader sense of well-being – healthy aging than those who are without such contacts. Social support alleviates everyday problems and promotes physical, mental and social wellbeing of the individual.
Having a leisure activity
Having a leisure activity – hobby particularly in old age takes care of loneliness which is not uncommon with elderly. It gives joy, relieves stress and elevates the mood. It also gives an opportunity to socialise, helps to learn new things and be creative and productive. In addition to being supported, elderly feel good and happy as they help others by voluntary social work. Gardening, singing, music , reading and writing, arts and crafts, walking, yoga, social work, volunteer etc are some of the leisure activities that an elderly can have, depending on one’s liking and needs.About old age George Bernard Shaw has very rightly said that “We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing”.
Adequate good quality sleep
It is essential to have around 7-8 hours of sleep per night so as to refresh and get ready for the next day. Insufficient sleep affects our health. Sleep can be improved by regular exercise, having a regular sleep schedule and avoiding screen- television, laptops, smart phones etc.,smoking , consumption of caffeine and alcohol before going to bed.
Keeping the weight under control
Overweight increases the risk of getting chronic health problems like hypertension, heart diseases , diabetes, stroke , osteoarthritis etc., so it is essential to keep a watch on the weight – maintain normal body weight.
Spiritual aspect
Spirituality and faith helps in changing negative image of aging and focus on more positive aspects of aging. Studies show that religiousness and spirituality can contribute to healthier lifestyles by assigning negative points of view to consumption of drugs and alcohol, tobacco etc. It also helps to deal with stressful life events, contribute to overcoming adversaries such as loss of loved ones, physical disabilities and promote meaning of life.
No smoking: Cigarette smokingand use of tobacco productsis a significant risk factor for most of the medical problems involving heart, lungs, blood pressure etc., osteoporosis and hip fractures particularly in an elderly, so it has to be stopped at all costs.
Not drinking alcohol: Alcohol consumption has to be avoided particularly in old age as it is harmful particularly to liver, bones, brain, immune system.It also affects memory, can impair judgement, coordination, reaction time and balance, thereby increasing the risk of falls and fractures in elderly.
Last but not the least , it is essential that the individual, family, society, government , heath care system, professionals, media etc. work together for overall well-being of elderly so as to have healthy aging.
(The author is former Vice Principal , Prof. and Head of Orthopaedics, Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, Punjab)