It is incredibly easy to take our bodies for granted. Especially when, so often, we accomplish physical tasks with barely a thought. If we want something to drink, our legs walk us to the fridge. If we want to play catch with our children, our arms oblige. If we want to tackle a strenuous hike, our lungs pump our veins full of fresh oxygen. However, effective machines though they are, bodies do undergo wear. Like any reliable machine, we must treat our physical selves with respect in order to garner maximum function. For without a sound body, it is also difficult to maintain sound mental health; this is particularly true as we age. Repair, recovery, and rejuvenation may come easily now, but, to ensure activity and mental acuity during our ‘golden years,’ bodily systems must be attended. In this blog, TOPPS analyzes those systems most prone to wear, how said wear affects mental health, and the ways in which we can stay healthy.
Bones are perhaps the body part we hear about most in relation to the aging process. Many of us are familiar with osteoporosis, a condition which leads to weakened bones. Osteoporosis is frequently linked to females and declined estrogen storage in bone material. These declines make fracture or bone damage much greater threats (Rodriguez, 2013). This perceived strength decline might lead us to believe, perhaps, we cannot run as many miles per week as we’d like or jump from rock to rock during a challenging hike. We may think our youthful lifestyle is no longer available. Understandably, the necessity for extra bone care may affect our perceived identities and self-esteem. We may avoid activities simply because we think we are “old.”
However, bone weakening need not prove detrimental; we can abate symptoms by taking essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Calcium keeps bones healthy; Vitamin D aids absorption. Though Vitamin D is not readily present in many foods, it is most easily accessed through sunlight (our bodies automatically produce it in direct light). However, if you are an adamant sunscreen user or live in a less sunny locale, it is smart to supplement with vitamin pills or fortified foods (Davis).
As we age, our hearts also face increased pressure and, without delicate care, can weaken. Over time, the heart may naturally become enlarged (Rodriguez, 2013). An enlargement limits the body’s ability to supply fresh blood; it can also interrupt heart rhythm, thus leading to potential cardiac arrest. Individuals with enlarged hearts are also at “greater risk of developing blood clots inside the heart that are attached to the…lining. If these clots break free, they can travel to another part of the heart, the brain, or the lungs” (Pick). To keep the heart in tip-top shape, regular exercise is highly recommended, including adequate warm up and warm down. Also recommended is a heart healthy diet consisting of nutrient-rich fruits and veggies, whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice), minimal dairy, and lean protein (poultry, seafood) (American Heart Association).
As mentioned in previous blogs, stress and anxiety also wreak havoc on heart function as we age. Destressing activities such as yogic breathing, yoga practice itself, mindful daily observation, and alone time can all contribute to anxiety and stress mitigation. To continue with our previous metaphor, all machines need rest; work without down time results in an over-worked apparatus. Over-work leads to weakening and, thus, injury.
Lastly, it is imperative to take care of our digestive system as the tract becomes rigid and less effective over time. Rigidity leads to less contraction and, consequently, “constipation, stomach pain, and feelings of nausea” (Rodriguez, 2013). These symptoms can absolutely keep us from tackling favorite activities and feeling like ourselves; a poorly functioning digestive system is both uncomfortable and incapacitating. Tips to keep digestion running smoothly include: chewing food thoroughly (this releases an enzyme called amylase in our mouths; amylase instantly begins breaking down food), eating smaller meals (limits discomfort due to an overfull stomach), keeping up fluids (this eases food through our tracts), and exercising regularly (working out promotes normal intestinal contraction; also, sedentary lifestyles are “another factor that can underlie chronic constipation”) (Mead, 2016).
Altogether, aging is simply a part of life and certainly not something about which we should be nervous or afraid! Many of us feel aging symptoms are inevitable and we must, therefore, accept new restrictions. New labels. However, this is simply not so. As illustrated in the paragraphs above, many of our functions are linked. If we face bone issues due to flippant care, we may become stressed; this stress can then affect heart health. Thus, it is essential to observe a holistic view of our selves. We take care of our body, knowing it is a whole, a sum of parts, and physical health aids mental health. However, that care is necessary; eliminate excessive alcohol intake now, take prescribed medications now, continue regular check-ups now, get appropriate sleep now, etc. TOPPS believes our physical and mental health is a gift and we must appreciate it as such! Given proper treatment, our body will serve us well and for a long time.
American Heart Association. Retrieved on June 28, 2017, from https://healthyforgood.heart.org/
Davis, Jeanie Lerche. 5 Lifestyle Steps for Better Bone Health. WebMD. Retrieved on June 28, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/features/lifestyle-tips#1.
Mead, Naomi. (13 June, 2016). 12 steps to better digestion as you age. Netdoctor. Retrieved on June 28, 2017, from http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-eating/advice/a26642/12-steps-to-better-digestion-as-you-age/.
Pick, Adam. What is an Enlarged Heart? HeartValveSurgery.com. Retrieved on June 20, 2017, from http://www.heart-valve-surgery.com/enlarged-heart-what-is-it.php.
Rodriguez, Daniella. (April 16, 2013). 7 Steps to Healthy Aging, Happy Aging. Everyday Health. Retrieved on June 28, 2017, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/senior-health/understanding/index.aspx.