If you think you’re too young to worry about what old age will mean for you, think again. It’s never too early to start preparing to grow older. By 2031, one-quarter of all Canadians will be over the age of 65. And while aging is a natural part of life, people who enter their senior years in better physical and emotional health are more likely to enjoy this stage of their lives.
Not everyone ages at the same rate. There are a number of factors that determine how—and how rapidly—a person will age. One of the main factors is genetics (family history). If a particular disease or chronic health problem runs in your family, that means you could have a higher risk of developing that problem as well—but could have doesn’t necessarily mean will have. The lifestyle choices you make can increase or decrease your chance of developing health problems. Other factors that have an impact on how you will age include how physically fit you are, how healthy your diet is, whether your weight is in a healthy range, how well you deal with stress, and how connected you feel to your family, your friends, and your community.
How Our Bodies Age
Our bodies undergo a series of gradual changes over the years. Bones become thinner and more brittle as we age, especially in women. Thin bones can increase the risk of fractures from a simple fall. An aging heart may become slightly enlarged, and the walls of the heart may thicken, which can be associated with heart disease. Fatty deposits can build up on artery walls over time. The arteries can stiffen, leading to high blood pressure and other problems. Cells in the brain and nervous system can be damaged, and that could eventually lead to dementia. While dementia is not a normal part of aging, it is common for people to experience some degree of forgetfulness. The digestive system may become less flexible, leading to constipation, stomach pain, or nausea. Senses may become less sharp. Vision and hearing may suffer, and the senses of taste, smell, and touch may be reduced. Skin becomes less elastic and may start to sag and wrinkle. Teeth may be more susceptible to cavities as the tough enamel coating wears away. Sex life may change as women lose vaginal lubrication following menopause, and men may experience erectile dysfunction.
Staying Healthy As We Age
While some changes are a natural part of aging, there are steps we can take to help ensure that we remain as healthy as possible as we get older:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. Limit fatty meats, butter, sugar, salt, and highly processed foods.
- Be physically active. Regular exercise can keep your bones and muscles strong, help control your weight, boost your mood, help you sleep better, and may reduce the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you consume.
- Do not smoke.
- Get the sleep your body needs. Insomnia is more common in older adults, but you can help get the sleep you need by maintaining a regular schedule and going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evenings will also help. Keep your bedroom dark, and turn off your TV, cell phone, and laptop when you go to bed.
- Stay socially active. Loneliness can be harmful to your health. Research has shown that lonely people have higher levels of stress hormones that cause inflammation linked with arthritis and diabetes.
- Take care of yourself. Get regular medical and dental check-ups and take all medications exactly as they are prescribed—every dose, every time. If you have any questions about your medicines, your London Drugs pharmacists will be happy to answer them.
- Don’t forget about your emotional health. Take the time to enjoy life and be happy. Look for things to be optimistic about, surround yourself with people who make you feel good, and keep a gratitude journal where you record all of the people and things you are grateful to have in your life.
Remember: It‘s never too early or too late to make changes in your life that will help you age in a healthy manner so you can enjoy your golden years.