So I am now confining myself to my room, to abandon all the noises and disturbances outside that steal my attention and disrupt my concentration. Now, let me see, there is a blog to work on, there are health books to review, there are ‘informative’ articles to write, anything that deals with health. One thing I found : the art of movement is important in this stage of my life. In my younger years I always thought that exercise, for it to be so, requires me to sweat and grunt and break some old time personal bests. As I am now in the middle of the golden years of life, I am slowly realizing that an activity doesn’t have to be a grunt work, all it needs is movement.
Exercise remains a must, especially the one that gets you to age-appropriate max heart rate. However, studies upon studies have suggested that over the top exercises done constantly can be detrimental to health. Usually heavy-duty work outs don’t succeed much anyway. Soon you’d be confronted by the boredom of monotony especially when confined in a monochromatic gym. If injury doesn’t hit you first.
I have learned that in order to survive my upcoming senior struggles, there are a few things I must know and consider:
The Baby Boomer (birth year 1946-1964) are rapidly becoming a large consumer of the nation’s health care cost.
The most common conditions ailing the boomers are: hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease
In 1996, boomers started turning age 50 at 10000 per day. In 2006, they turned 60 at 10000 per day. Boomers represent 12 percent of the population but they take 25% of physician office visits, 34% of pharmacy cost, 38% of ER responses. A whopping 78 million Americans will retire by 2030.
Consider the health care cost for retirees. Life expectancy for females in US is now 81 with the last nine years of those unhealthy. For males, it is 76 with the last nine years of those unhealthy. We talk about hospitalizations, surgeries, chemos, accidents/falls, nursing home confinements etcetera.
The most common surgeries for baby boomers are total knee and hip replacements, coronary artery bypass and stents, diabetes and dialysis, heart attacks and strokes, spinal surgeries.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death followed by cancer and stroke. Tobacco use is the actual number one cause of death followed by inactivity and poor nutrition/diet, and alcoholism
These are the statistics that mirror US current boomers’ health situation both in its relation to population and cost. And I have been a witness of this in my work as a PT and as a baby boomer myself. It is not easy, let me put it mildly. It is in fact agonizing. To go through knee surgery or hip replacement or stroke or traumatic brain injury due to a fall is easily dismissed until it happens to you or a family member. The act of getting sick and caregiving(by the family) can take its toll on time and effort and money and worst of all, it happens when you are just getting ready to enjoy the fruit of your decades of hard work to build a family and save for retirement. With the types of patients I see everyday, the question “What is the use of success and fame and wealth and honor if you are in daily agony or you are unable to move?”
The question really is this: Given that most of these ailments are lifestyle and habit driven, [versus genetic-driven] it may be prudent to pay attention to things we can do to proactively avoid or minimize them. I have been trumpeting the importance of healthy lifestyle in this web site and I certainly do my best to practice it but I do it so because I am exposed to the devastation of illness everyday in my hospital work. A lot of people don’t have that exposure. How many stroke victims do you encounter everyday? Lung cancer, amputations, heart attacks, broken bones? Majority of people haven’t even seen an unhealthy person in their well-shielded lives. Not with me. I see them everyday. I can see the darkness of hospital beds with eyes staring endlessly at the ceiling and listening to the ticking of the clock. I see it in the smell of a Nursing Home and the eternal nothingness surrounded by people on wc all seemingly waiting for their deaths. I see it in the eyes of family members afraid of the new burdens they have to carry and the need to alter their lifestyles to accommodate that burden. I see it all the time and yes, it also frightens me.
My personal philosophy is - I don’t want to regret that if I only did this and that, I won’t get sick. I don’t want to say “if I only stopped smoking”, or “if I only listened to my Doctor”, or “if I only visited my MD earlier”, of “if I only took my medicines as prescribed”, or “ if I only exercised, quit drinking, avoided stress” and so forth I’d have a good quality of life right now. No I don’t want to go through that miserable existence. And so far, despite my diabetes, I have no health-related regrets at all. Banning any uncontrolled circumstances, I feel quite healthy if being sick-free is the main criteria. My life is not one hundred percent disciplined but it is not careless either. I have decided, when I reached forty, that my life will embark on a healthy lifestyle, following well-established guidelines set by experts. I quit 10 year smoking, trained for half marathons, avoided alcohol and made it my quest to maintain a BMI score that’s appropriate for my built via correct dieting. Of course I did not achieve the BMI goal but I did well with the rest. And despite all that, I was diagnosed with Diabetes type 2 when I reached 50. I was always aware that diabetes is probably one of the conditions I have to face in my future as half of my family have it. It came as a surprise though because I was hoping my healthy lifestyle would have protected me. Well, my genetics did not.
But with medications, exercise and dieting, I seem to have a good control over it.
And let me tell you this: It is not easy. Being conscious of numbers and right food choices and proper exercise everyday can be daunting. It could be frustrating too when I thought I’ve done well but the numbers didn’t agree. So I constantly return to my drawing board to re-map my whole lifestyle program. And despite all the pitfalls, I feel I am within the required numbers I need to maintain.
And because I am a Physical Therapist by profession, I am becoming more and more empathetic with my patients who suffer complications because of uncontrolled blood sugar and concomitantly, high blood pressure and cholesterol. It is also quite surprising how many of them know virtually nothing about controlling their numbers.
It is really simple yet challenging. But it is a must to find ways, even experiment, to determine that personal fine line between controlled and uncontrolled numbers. And because I am using my body as my only laboratory, I can share what worked for me so far - and what did not. Medications are a given, once you take them as prescribed, you are halfway successful already. The challenge really are in diet and exercise.
Dieting is a personal preference. What I find effective for me may not work for the person next door. But the basic principles I follow are - reduced carbs, good proteins, more veggies, avoidance of hunger and starvation, and most of all, correct timing of food intake. Usually I splurge in the morning, take moderate lunch and minimum dinner ( taken before 7 pm preferably). Again I was not perfect in this arena.
The exercise part is what I have quite discovered somewhat interesting - and this is due partly to age-factor. One thing missing in today’s health information and data is the paucity of literature about exercising beyond 50. Most health book bestsellers assume everyone is about to peak in their prime years. They usually appear to address a younger audience and very little detail shared with those over 50. Worse, they have a brief warning at times such as, ‘Don’t attempt this when over fifty or worse, do less of this and more of this when over fifty.’ I wish we have more and more exercise literature and research for much older boomer generation.
Meanwhile, this is what I found: Exercise does not need to be vigorous to be considered exercise. Exercise is much less monotonous when you block the youthful exercisers around you and establish your own pace, cadence, style, techniques commensurate to your age and to your liking. Gone are my days when I buy gadgets to measure improvements every time I work out. Gone are my days reading the latest books on improving speed, improving strides and frequency of leg turnovers. For what? Self satisfaction maybe. Bragging rights maybe. I never succeeded anyway though not in a frustrating way. I was just so happy I was able to run at least 11 half marathons in my lifetime.
I am completely changed in my approach to exercise at my age. I am finally realizing that exercise is not a race but an enjoyment/leisure to splurge on. I still run albeit slower but enjoyable while listening to an audio book imagining someone is running beside me while telling his story. I do other activities that I did not even consider as exercise in my younger years. Like brisk walking or gardening or bicycling around the neighborhood. I realized these can be considered exercises as well. And with weights, I pretty much limit them to comfortable levels (without grunts) to maintain tone and definition. As far as I am concerned, exercise can be a simple movement that is sustained for a long period and if you really want to keep it beneficial, I make sure my activity involves the larger muscles - quads, has, gastrocs, lats, shoulders, core and back. These utilize more energy and can easily help you reduce weight quicker while improving body definition at the same time.
I will talk more about other age-appropriate activities in my upcoming blogs.