Jeanne Louise Calment was born the year before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. She watched the Eiffel Tower being built as a teenager and sold canvases to Vincent Van Gogh. Jeanne rode a bicycle until she was 100 and consumed more than two pounds of chocolate a week. When she died in 1997, she established the current world record for longest life, having lived an astonishing 122 years and 164 days. Incredibly, she had only given up smoking five years before her death.
So what’s the secret to a long and healthy life? Solomon was a young, freshly minted king when God gave him the answer to that question in a dream: “If you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments as your father, David did, then I will lengthen your days.”
Healthy is as healthy thinks
As it happens, the quality of your inner life can have a lot to do with the quality of your health as you age. “There are any number of studies that have shown a direct link between the state of mind and state of health,” said Rita Zeller, GraceMed’s Director of Behavioral Health. “There’s even evidence that people who have a life-threatening illness often live longer simply because they have a positive outlook.”
So scientifically speaking, you really are as young as you feel. One important reason why appears to be rooted in stress. Negative emotions trigger stress which can, in turn, weaken the immune system and make you more vulnerable to infection and disease.
But it’s one thing to know the value of an untroubled heart and quite another to have one — especially after a lifetime that can so often be filled with painful experiences. Here again, though, there’s a kernel of wisdom to be drawn from the advice given to Solomon: To live a long life, stay focused on the here and now.
“You hear a lot of talk about something called ‘mindfulness’ these days, and there’s actually something to it,” said Jeff Hubbell, Behavioral Health Consultant at our ComCare clinic. “When your mind wanders, more often than not, the net effect is to increase your unhappy thoughts or feelings. Staying focused on the task at hand and being very present of mind about your surroundings and present circumstances can actually help you feel happier.”
Nutrition & Exercise: Keeping it simple
Beyond the life of the mind, of course, there is also the life of the body. And here, seniors are always advised to chart their course by the sister-stars of nutrition and exercise. But as we all know, diets are notoriously short-lived and running is not for the orthopedically challenged.
What to eat and what to avoid is often a moving target. Conflicting studies are always coming out about the benefits or dangers of an endless array of food and drink. Is there a simple way to think about what you eat that you can carry with you everywhere you go?
“Getting the right nutrition is very important as we get older but it really doesn’t have to get too complicated,” explained Dr. Julie Elder, Chief Medical Officer. “It really boils down to a few things: Eat more fruits and vegetables and less red meat. Get more of your protein from poultry, fish, and beans, and get more whole grain in your diet by switching to things like wheat pasta and brown rice. Beyond that, just try to limit your intake of saturated fats, sugar, and salt.”
The point of exercise when you are older is primarily about maintaining cardiovascular health as well as some physical conditioning that helps prevent falls. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released updated guidelines that establish a goal of at least 150 total minutes each week of what they refer to as “moderately intense” physical activity. A brisk walk, gardening and yoga all qualify, so you don’t have to have a gym membership to meet the new standards for senior fitness.
“Staying as active as you can is the thought you want to keep in mind more than anything,” said Dr. Delane Vaughn from GraceMed’s Jardine Family Clinic. “Take the stairs, if you can, instead of the elevator. Swimming is great for strength and cardiovascular conditioning. The activities can be very short in duration as long as you are consistently doing them. You’ll find being active physically can also help with your emotional and mental well-being, too.”
The way to good health is also through your mouth.
We don’t often think about our oral health as being integral to our overall wellness, but as Dr. Cara Detmer will tell you, you can’t neglect the former without affecting the latter. “Obviously the better your hygiene, the less likely you are to lose your teeth as you age. But there’s mounting evidence that diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke can all have a connection to the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth.”
So brushing, flossing, and regular dental cleanings and checkups are just as important in your golden years as they were in your growing ones. Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover dental services, a good reason to get your care at GraceMed where the fees are more affordable and can even be adjusted depending on your household income.
Seeing your way clear to a safer, better life
Another often overlooked aspect of our health as we age is our vision. There are conditions that are out there waiting for many of us as we age like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Fortunately, we now have medical remedies for the millions of our elderly who receive these diagnoses each year.
“The problem is that too many of us don’t get our eyes examined regularly, ” said Dr. Jamie Speth from GraceMed’s Ablah Family Clinic. “So many of these eye diseases are progressive in nature, meaning the earlier we catch them, the more we can do to prevent vision loss. Good vision is so important to your safety, your independence and your ability to enjoy your life. That’s why seniors should be doing annual exams to protect their sight.
Here again, many of us don’t have coverage for eye care. But GraceMed has the optometrists in Wichita and Topeka to provide this service more affordably. As Dr. Elder pointed out, “We hope we’ve given seniors an easier way to get all the care they need within our GraceMed family of providers. Because the simpler and easier it is to take care of yourself, the more likely you’ll be able to do it.”
And hopefully, give Jeanne Louise a run for her money.
This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!