Hi! I’m Dr. Kathryn Collins, emergency and lifestyle medicine doctor and author of the book, How Healthy Is Your Doctor?, about self-empowerment in health. Welcome to another episode of my audio postcard series, Adventures in Aging.
Today’s topic is: “The Myth of Inevitable Decrepitude.”
Click on the button below to listen to the postcard; a written transcription follows. Enjoy!
When I talk to people about how adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle could help them live healthier and longer, I’m always surprised when some people say they aren’t sure they want to live to a ripe, old age. They fear that old age means ending up in a nursing home; or becoming senile or unable to walk or use the bathroom; or dying a painful and prolonged death from cancer or some other dreaded disease.
What these longevity pessimists don’t realize is that starting to live a healthier lifestyle now is the best way to keep yourself out of nursing homes and on your feet, and keep you from getting those diseases you don’t want to have.
Sure, our genes are programmed to lead each of us down different health roads and face different health challenges. But healthy diets and lifestyles can go a long way toward modifying and directing how those genes will manifest: toward more disease, or more health; toward an earlier death, or a later one.
The exact same diet and lifestyle strategies that can help people prevent, treat, or even reverse the most common chronic diseases, also work well to help navigate comfortably and successfully through the aging process.
For instance, what are some of the best ways to protect your memory and your brain as you age? Get more exercise and more quality sleep; eat less meat, dairy, and processed foods, and more fruits and veggies, berries, nuts and seeds, fiber, and plant-based proteins; and don’t smoke or overuse alcohol.
What are the best ways to not get cancer, or heart, lung, or immune system diseases, digestive problems, or disabling arthritis? Same answer. What are the best ways to prevent falling and breaking a hip, and possibly ending up in a nursing home? Same strategies, with an extra emphasis on moving, stretching, and strength and balance activities, like tennis, yoga, tai chi, Zumba, bicycling or (my personal favorite) stand-up paddling.
One thing that’s important to mention which can cause unnecessary and premature decrepitude in the aging population involves the use, and overuse, of prescription and over the counter drugs and supplements.
Many of these, alone or in combination, can produce serious side effects, especially in seniors, impeding memory and mental acuity, causing digestive problems with poor nutrient absorption, and much, much more.
What can you do to protect yourself? For one thing, the healthier you get now, the fewer things you’ll accumulate on your medication list over time. Since doctors tend to prescribe pills for every illness and symptom, you may want to review your own doctors’ prescribing habits, and work with them to reduce your dependence on ever more pills as you age. They may also be able to prescribe lower doses of anything you do need. And avoid taking narcotics whenever possible, especially for more than a couple of days. They’re extremely constipating, cause balance, coordination and cognition problems, are are dangerously addictive.
I’ve seen a lot of birthday cards for the 50 and older crowd that make fun of how your life, and presumably your health, will be going downhill from now on. The last card I saw even showed a person in a wheelchair, careening down that hill. Why not imagine reaching the top of a butte instead, where you get to enjoy great health, functionality, and fun, from whatever age you are, until the day you die?
My Mom was a great example of this. At age 93, she was living independently, doing water aerobics every day except Sunday; enjoying a martini every afternoon at 5; and was cooking breakfast for her newly moved in, 93-year-old boyfriend, when she just keeled over and died! Our family suspects she was having too much fun; but decrepitude? NOT!
So why assume the inevitability of serious functional decline, disease, and decrepitude as you age, if you don’t have to? I hope you’ll choose to live better, and longer, through healthier diet and lifestyle choice.
Thanks for listening! I hope you’ll join me for another Adventures in Aging segment soon! Until then, here’s to your own best health.