The Work of Wellness: How to Improve Health as a 55+ Year-Old Man
“Dr. Ehly, I don’t want to live a longer life, I just want to make sure that when I die, I die healthier!” said a new 85-year-old patient during our first visit. I told him that it was possible, but it would require work. Healthy aging is not an oxymoron. It’s about extending healthspan—how to live well longer.
Comfort is our enemy. If you only do what is comfortable—meaning you eat whatever you want, avoid physical activity and never challenge yourself—then you wake up the next day weaker, older and fatter. It takes work to be well! It requires daily effort and mindfulness, a willingness to get uncomfortable, step outside of your comfort zones and say yes to things that you normally wouldn’t. Over time, however, seeking the joy of feeling stronger, more rested, mentally clear and vibrant far outpaces the fleeting happiness that being comfortable brings.
Healthy aging starts with food.
Nutrition science is political, territorial and contentious. However, few will disagree with the importance of eating real food—the unprocessed produce and meat found along the perimeter of the grocery store. The impact of eliminating packaged and processed products and simple sugars can be profound on your health. As for the best macronutrient ratios of your food (the amount of carbohydrates, fats and proteins that you eat), this varies from person to person. It also depends on many other factors like interest in losing or gaining weight, physical activity level and the presence of medical conditions like diabetes or seizure disorder. Additionally, not eating is important. A growing number of studies fully support calorie restriction in the form of periodic and/or intermittent fasting to promote longevity. Your AdventHealth provider or nutritionist can help you navigate this.
Exercise never stops being important.
On another note, we were designed to move—to lift heavy objects occasionally, light things frequently, run, jump, push, pull, squat, lunge. Why not avoid the conveniences of close parking, take the stairs or remain standing when you can? I like to reference the term sarcopenia, a Greek word stemming from two parts: sarx, or “flesh,” and penia, “poverty.” Sarcopenia describes the frailty and muscle wasting caused by aging, and it is completely avoidable. But again, it takes work. Exercise is the main intervention here. Resting an injury is not always the best care option; attack your inabilities with a personal trainer, physical therapist and doctor.
But adequate rest keeps you strong.
Recovery is another critical piece of improving your healthspan. Shooting for 7-9 hours of sleep a night is a good starting point. It’s irrefutable that poor sleep is linked to a weakened immune system, elevated blood pressure, weight gain and inferior cognitive function (diminished concentration, compromised creativity and risk of dementia). You certainly want to alert your doctor if you repeatedly awaken unrefreshed or have a partner who notices that you excessively snore or periodically stop breathing in your sleep. The consequences of sleep apnea can be more severe than limiting the number of hours you sleep.
Recovery should be active as well. Yoga, massage and meditation promote flexibility, strength, mind-body awareness, stress reduction, improved sleep, injury prevention and a myriad of other benefits. Consider downloading a voice-guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm. You can increase well-being and peace in your life with only 10 minutes of daily guided meditation.
Don’t skip out on preventive care.
While clean eating, exercise and attention to recovery typically manage the lifestyle illnesses that run rampant in our community, there’s still work to be done with your medical provider to screen for and manage additional risks that are a consequence of your family history, genetics and environment.
By 55 years of age, you should have already had your first colonoscopy or stool cancer testing. If you’ve smoked in the past 15 years or have smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 or more years, annual lung cancer screening is imperative. An annual physical exam with assessment of your cholesterol and metabolism is prudent along with conversation about prostate cancer risk and screening. Tetanus, shingles and whooping cough are fully avoidable; immunize against them. Also, take the opportunity to tend to issues that persist despite your self-care efforts, including erectile dysfunction (ED), fatigue, depression, anxiety and excessive stress.
Speaking of ED…
Over 50% of men above the age of 55 experience some degree of ED. While it could be a signal of underlying cardiovascular disease, it oftentimes is not. The coexistence of depression, excess stress and anxiety cannot be overlooked. As men are known to be reluctant to discuss these sensitive topics, let the statistics of the prevalence of this suffering help you start a dialogue with your health care provider. The potential remedies are as numerous as the causes. Silence serves no one. You’re normal. Get help.
Avoid risky behaviors.
The last bit of work is to avoid doing stupid stuff. While this is self-evident, occasionally maturity is used as an exemption from the obligation to wear a helmet, fasten a seatbelt, use the crosswalk and avoid even minimally texting while driving. At no age is it too late to stop smoking or drinking alcohol to excess. Don’t go it alone. Let your AdventHealth provider share resources.
Again, it takes work to be well. The momentary comfort of eating poorly, avoiding physical activity, under or over-sleeping and not confronting injurious behaviors is easy. Joy over the age of 55 is found in the energy, calm, mental clarity and physical vigor that is the result of daily self-care. Get to work! Let us help. If you’re in need of a primary care physician, MyHealthKC can match you with the right doctor for you. Find your match today by taking this survey.