By Eva Briggs, M.D.
If you own a car, you know that to maximize its longevity you need to perform regular preventive maintenance such as oil changes.
The same concept applies to your body.
Here are some tips to help you maintain your best health as you move beyond age 50.
1. Exercise. Keep active and keep moving with a goal of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly. That averages to about 22 minutes per day. You can walk, cycle, dance or do whatever you like. It’s hard to stick with any activity unless it’s something you enjoy. Some people prefer to go it alone, others like to attend a class or work out with a friend. If you are a dog owner, you have a ready-made exercise buddy. Also aim for muscle strengthening exercise twice a week such as resistance exercises at the gym, body weight exercises, yoga, or resistance bands. If you are currently inactive, don’t try to jump into exercise all at once. Build up gradually.
2. Diet. Choose a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. Avoid sugary drinks like soda and juice. Water is the best drink to stay hydrated. Consider adding electrolytes when you are in particularly hot or strenuous circumstances.
3. Consume alcohol in moderation. Alcohol has short term risks of motor vehicle accidents, violence and sexual risk behaviors as well as long term risks, including high blood pressure, liver disease and some cancers. Current recommendations are for no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for men and no more than one per day for women.
4. Quit tobacco if you smoke, to reduce the risk of heart disease, lung disease, and various cancers. One place to start is by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help.
5. Family history. Try to find out your family history to determine whether you are at risk of conditions that require early or special screening or testing. Don’t be afraid to ask for details. For example, if a relative had cancer, what type of cancer did they have? Where did it start? What type of treatment did they need? If they had heart disease, was it a blocked artery? A bad heart valve? Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)?
If you don’t already have a primary care provider (PCP), become established with one. One benefit is that your PCP can guide you to age-appropriate screening tests. This might include colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, mammogram to screen for breast cancer, as well as appropriate lab tests. If you have been a smoker, you may need a lung CT to screen for lung cancer.
6. Stay social. People who stay socially engaged live longer. Keep in contact with family and friends, and participate in activities with a social component — membership in organizations, volunteer work, attending church, taking enrichment classes, etc.
7. Hobbies. Continue hobbies or learn a new hobby. My own current favorites include guitar lessons, reading, crafting, walking my dogs and photography. The possibilities for keeping your mind engaged and active are endless.
And follow all the various miscellaneous recommendations for staying healthy: wear your seatbelt, use eye protection, apply sunscreen.
Some things are of course out of your control, such as the genetics you inherited, the environment you were raised in, and youthful indiscretion. But as one of my older friends always says, today is the best day of your life because you’re still here!
So, make the most of your future by starting healthy habits today.