ETERNAL youth. In an increasingly ageist society, the pursuit of youth has be-come the Holy Grail. But now that 50 actually is the new 30, how do we continue to feel fit and healthy in our older years?
Well, the first thing to do is maintain a healthy weight. I would say that, I hear you grumble – but with most of us gaining a stone a decade, and heart disease being the number one killer of both men and women, a normal BMI is incredibly important.
Central obesity – 'middle aged spread' – is very closely linked to heart disease, which can affect men from their 40s and women from the age of 65. Reduce your risk by keeping your cholesterol low and, if you smoke, stop right now – today. Obesity, like age itself, also increases your risk of almost all cancers – which are the other big killer – so maintaining a healthy weight is key if you're hoping for longevity.
The other main reason weight is so important is the effect obesity has on your joints. Osteoarthritis, 'wear and tear arthritis', which plagues many older people, is accelerated enormously by carrying extra weight. This results in chronic pain, often in the weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees, and over time causes immobility as walking upstairs or even a short distance on the flat becomes difficult. Aside from the pain, the real problem is that immobility constrains people's ability to live independently. So, preserving your mobility is vital if you want to remain in your own home, on your own terms, in your later years.
It's harder to maintain weight or lose weight when you're older, but it's not impossible. The hard part is that, much like sleep, we require less food than we did in our younger years. So, if you continue to eat like a 30-year-old when you're 60, you will see the pounds go on.
Keeping up physical activity and watching your diet becomes more important than ever for an older person, and isn't something you should ever give up on. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking or jogging also helps to prevent osteoporosis and should be combined with a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D for optimum bone health.
Mental activity is the other thing I would encourage people to pursue in their later years. It's like keeping any other part of you active. Brainpower used doing crosswords, reading books or newspapers and playing games of strategy, such as bridge or chess, is protective against Alzheimer's disease – something which is on the rise owing to the fact that we're living longer. Keeping your mind sharp reduces the risks of dementia.
The final thing I would advise any older or ageing person to do is to socialise. Ageing can be very isolating. Many of us will lose friends and family along the way and we can feel our horizons and our social outlets narrowing. It's easy for old age to be a lonely time and hard on our mental health. Doing things that stimulate us and engage us with our communities is really important. Join a club. Get out for a walk. Arrange to meet people – old friends and new – to make sure you don't end up cut off and feeling alone, and so that you have someone to call on, should the need arise.
Ageing can be liberating. We move beyond the constraints of youth. Our families are launched and generally we are under less financial strain than the early years. But your real wealth is your health. Look after it. Invest in it. It'll pay you back in spades.
Sunday Indo Living