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50 Tips for Staying Well

Provided by Hebrew SeniorLife

1. Take Care of Your Eyes

It's no secret that as we age, we have an increased risk of eye problems that can affect our lifestyle and independence. While we all lose some vision as we get older, glaucoma, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are among the most common eye disorders among older adults.

Mark Kuperwaser, MD, chief ophthalmologist at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, suggests the following tips for maintaining eye health as you age:

  • At age 40, have a full eye exam that assesses vision in each eye, screens for glaucoma, and checks for retinal damage.
  • Depending on the findings of your initial screening, have an annual screening for glaucoma or other eye diseases.
  • Eat a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and take a multivitamin that contains vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E, and zinc to help prevent the development or progression of macular degeneration, the leading cause of uncorrectable vision loss among seniors.
  • Protect your eyes from the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays by wearing UV-rated sunglasses.
  • Have your eyes checked annually if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of retinal problems, or have suffered eye trauma.
  • Before going to sleep at night, apply a hot-water compress to the eyes for five minutes to flush out bacterial waste and congealed eye secretions that can cause eye surface disease.

In addition, says Dr. Kuperwaser, you should see an eye specialist anytime you notice visual disturbances, redness in one or both eyes, swelling or pain in the eyes, or worsening vision.

2. Have a Hearing Screening if Hearing Loss is Suspected

Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic health conditions in the United States, affecting people of all ages. Advancing age is the number-one reason for hearing loss.

While no formal guidelines exist for hearing screenings, Leesa Burke, M.A., F.A.A.A., an audiologist at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, recommends an initial screening at age 50. If no problem is detected, another screening should be conducted in five years. If a problem is found, annual testing is recommended.

If you can answer "yes" to two or more of the following, you should have a hearing test:

  • Others tell you the TV is too loud.
  • You feel you can hear, but understanding all the words is a problem.
  • You have difficulty following conversation in a crowd or noisy environment.
  • You think that people are mumbling.
  • You frequently ask for repetition or ask another person what was said.
  • You feel that others are talking too quietly.

Although most hearing loss doesn't cause true physical symptoms, says Ms. Burke, it does impact social relationships, emotional health, and overall well-being. Discovering and treating hearing loss can significantly decrease those effects.

3. Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise can help prevent or delay the onset of certain diseases, help control chronic illnesses, and make people feel better and enjoy life more.

Just about anyone, at any age, can exercise to improve their health. In fact, research conducted at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center has shown that exercise influences heart, bone and mental health in seniors.

Evelyn O'Neill, manager of Get Up & Go, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center's outpatient exercise program, recommends the following tips for maintaining good health:

Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

  • Do endurance exercises (aerobics) for a minimum of 30 minutes at least three times a week-every day if possible.
  • If you prefer, divide 30-minute workouts into shorter sessions of not less than 10 minutes each when beginning an exercise program.
  • Include balance exercises to prevent falls and stretching exercises to help keep you limber and flexible.
  • Do strength-training exercises at least twice a week on non-consecutive days to allow time for your muscles to recover and repair themselves.
  • Exercise all major muscle groups to maintain strength and function.
  • Unless limited by your doctor, drink plenty of water before and after exercising.
  • Vary your routine so you don't become bored (and thus more likely to stop exercising).

And, says Ms. O'Neill, exercise shouldn't be a chore. Have fun!

4. Maintain Flexibility by Stretching

Flexibility is defined as the range of motion within a joint. Poor flexibility is the cause of many muscular and skeletal problems.

Maintaining good flexibility is a great way to stay mobile and independent, says Maureen Connerty, program manager in the Center for Lifelong Fitness at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. It also protects against sprains and strains of joints and muscles; prevents or limits more serious injury due to slips and falls; improves balance; helps to relieve the discomfort of arthritis; and relaxes tense muscles.

Ms. Connerty says that following these stretching tips can help you maintain flexibility:

Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

  • Do large muscle warm-ups, such as brisk walking, for 5-10 minutes before stretching.
  • Stretch slowly and smoothly; don't bounce or jerk while stretching; gently stretch to the point of tension and hold; don't strain by pushing too far.
  • Hold your stretch for 10 - 30 seconds; concentrate on lengthening the muscle you're stretching.
  • Breathe normally; don't hold your breath.
  • Stretch daily or at least three times a week.

A well-balanced program of cardiovascular and resistance training, with components of flexibility training, says Ms. Connerty, are key elements to good health.

5. Eat a Healthful Diet

More than 40 different nutrients are required for good health, and no one food supplies them all. Eating a balanced, healthful diet is essential, especially as you get older.

Nutrition specialists at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center offer the following tips to ensure a healthful diet:

  • Eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods daily.
  • Enjoy plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables; five servings a day may help prevent cancer and reduce your risk for obesity, heart disease and hypertension.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight; check with your doctor or registered dietitian for a weight management plan.
  • Eat moderate portions, especially when dining out.
  • Eat regular meals; skipping meals can lead to overeating at the next meal.
  • Reduce, don't eliminate, foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar.
  • Balance food choices over time; if you miss out on a food group one day, make up for it the next day.
  • Know your diet pitfalls; keep a food diary to track what you eat.
  • Make diet changes gradually and set realistic goals.

According to registered dietitians at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, all foods should be eaten in moderation, never in excess-especially "junk food."

6. Take a Daily Multivitamin

Vitamins are necessary for many of the body's processes. A multivitamin tablet or capsule is a combination of vitamins. Some multivitamins contain minerals, as well.

Vitamin tablets are not a substitute for a healthful, balanced diet, but rather a supplement that ensures you receive the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals. It is important to read labels carefully and choose what is right for you.

Clinical dietitians at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center offer the following tips concerning multivitamins:

  • A basic, standard multivitamin is fine; a multivitamin that claims 1,000 percent of RDAs is excessive and, in some case, may be harmful.
  • Choose a multivitamin that is USP (United States Pharmacopeia) approved to ensure that it has been laboratory tested and found to be effective and safe.
  • Generic multivitamins are just as effective as brand names, and most contain 100 percent of the RDAs.
  • Take your multivitamin with food so your body absorbs it more effectively.
  • Create a routine for taking your multivitamin (for example, at breakfast) so you don't forget.
  • If you are over 65, extra supplementation with calcium and vitamins D and B-12 may be helpful.

Taking a multivitamin doesn't make up for a poor diet. Eating a healthful diet will provide most of the vitamins and minerals your body needs on a daily basis.

7. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Being overweight or underweight can cause serious health risks. By maintaining a healthy body weight, your risk for certain diseases, including diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, may decrease. A healthy body weight is a key to a healthy life.

Several ways exist to determine a healthy weight for your body. The easiest is looking in the mirror at your body fat (especially where it is located) and muscle tone. A technical measurement is Body Mass Index, or BMI, which compares your weight to your height. Your doctor can help you determine a healthy body weight.

Susan Kalish, M.D., a geriatrician at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, recommends the following ways to maintain a healthy body weight:

  • Eat an assortment of foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and poultry.
  • Notice what and how often you eat.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat sensible portions.
  • If you need to lose or gain weight, do so gradually.
  • Be dedicated about losing, gaining or maintaining weight based on your individual situation.

Also, says Dr. Kalish, seek the advice of a registered dietitian or physician when you need trustworthy, accurate, timely and practical information on maintaining a healthy body weight or other nutrition issues.

8. Get Enough Calcium to Keep Your Bones Healthy

Calcium is a mineral in the body that makes up bones, keeps them strong, and is essential for a healthy life. Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your teeth and bones, while the rest (about 1 percent) is found in your blood and soft tissues.

If you don't get enough calcium from your diet, your body automatically takes the calcium it needs from your bones. If this continues over a period of years, bones become weak, which can lead to osteoporosis and fractures.

Nutrition specialists at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, recommend the following ways to ensure that you are receiving enough calcium:

  • Eat two to three daily servings of dairy products (preferably low-fat milk, cheese or yogurt), which contain the most available form of calcium in the food supply.
  • Eat green, leafy vegetables, including broccoli and kale, which can contribute to your calcium requirement.
  • Choose calcium-fortified orange juice, cereals and bread.
  • Take a calcium supplement as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Calcium citrate is a preferred form of calcium because it is usually better absorbed by the body, but other forms of calcium can be used, as well.
  • If you need to take 1,000 mg or 1,200 mg of calcium supplements, take it in divided doses for better absorption.

Most adults need 1,200 mg of calcium per day, according to registered dietitians at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. Pregnant or lactating women, teenagers, and adults over 65 may need more.

9. Keep Fully Hydrated

Next to oxygen, water is the important nutrient your body needs to function properly. Water, which makes up nearly 70 percent of the human body, plays a vital role in nearly every bodily function, including regulating temperature, carrying nutrients throughout the body, improving the digestive process, and eliminating waste.

Without proper fluid intake, the body becomes dehydrated. Untreated severe dehydration can lead to seizures, permanent brain damage, and even death. Seniors need to take special precautions because their thirst mechanism is not as sensitive as that of younger people.

Nutrition specialists at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center recommend the following tips for getting enough fluid during the day:

  1. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid every day.
  2. Limit caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, which are diuretics and increase your body's fluid needs.
  3. Drink throughout the day, not only when you are thirsty.
  4. Carry a water bottle with you when you leave the house.
  5. Drink water before, during and after physical exercise to offset the fluid your body loses through perspiration.
  6. Keep track of your fluid intake throughout the day to ensure you stay properly hydrated.

In addition, think about the types of fluids you like to drink and have them available in the house.

10. Visit the Dentist on a Regular Basis

The Surgeon General issued a report in 2000 stating that the nation's oral health is the best it has ever been and that oral health is essential to general health and well-being. He also said that there are safe and effective measures to prevent the two most common oral diseases: dental caries (cavities) and periodontal disease (gum disease).

Joseph Calabrese, DMD, director of dental medicine at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, says the following are good ways for maintaining oral health:

  • Visit the dentist every three to six months to maintain the overall health of your teeth and mouth and provide for early detection of precancerous or cancerous lesions.
  • Practice good oral hygiene, including careful brushing at least twice a day and daily flossing.
  • Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste to protect against dental decay.
  • Avoid tobacco products, which increase your risk for periodontal disease, oral and throat cancers, and oral fungal infections.
  • Limit alcohol consumption (excessive consumption is a risk factor for oral and throat cancers).
  • Seek professional care if you have sudden changes in your sense of taste or smell or if you notice any changes to your teeth or gums.

Regular dental exams are crucial to the prevention of tooth decay, gum disease, and other dental disorders, as well as the detection of oral cancers, says Dr. Calabrese. Many times, a dentist or hygienist can detect a problem before a patient is even aware of it.

Read the rest of Hebrew SeniorLife's tips for healthy aging »

Above content provided by Hebrew SeniorLife in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted July 2012

Contact Information

Division of Gerontology
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Lowry Medical Office Building #1B (West Campus)
110 Francis Street
Boston, MA 02215
617-632-8696

Contact Information

Hebrew Senior Life
1200 Centre Street
Boston, MA 02131
617-363-8000