Healthy Aging

The world’s oldest person — Besse Cooper — is 115. If you aspire to the century mark, a healthy lifestyle and great genetics can help. The world’s average life expectancy is 68.9 years, while American life expectancy is 78.4.

Research reveals several common denominators that contribute to longevity:

  • Practice clean living: Don’t smoke, limit alcohol use, and avoid toxins.
  • Focus on your foods: Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Stay physically active: Maintain an ideal body weight. Exercising often also will help maintain bone strength.
  • Get screenings: Visit your doctor for regular checkups and tests. Early detection and preventive care are crucial.
  • Live happy: Throughout your life remain optimistic, cherish your family and friends, and learn to manage stress.
  • Socialize: Form strong bonds with your community. Become active at church or join a social organization. Maintain a sense of purpose by keeping a busy mind and schedule.

Helpful Mother’s Day and household tips

Here’s this month’s most helpful hint: Mother’s Day is May 11. Don’t forget!

Rub Vick’s VapoRub on the bottom of your feet before hitting the sack to help that consistent cough. Be sure to wear socks, though, to keep the rub on your feet and not on your sheets.

To take the smell of onions off your hands after chopping, sprinkle salt on your hands and rub it in, then rinse.

Windex is a miracle cleaner. It will clean up your kid’s vomit, get red Kool-Aid out of your new carpet or grease off the stove, or remove anything that needs disappearing.

Take your dirty oven racks and place them in a garbage bag with paper towels soaked in ammonia. Leave them in the bag overnight, and the next morning the baked-on residue will wipe off easily with a Brillo pad.

Organize Your Health

Your health history shouldn’t be lost in the clutter. Get a handle on your family’s records with these simple tips:

Create a file for each person with name, Social Security number, birth date, and contact details, then make sure designated relatives know where and how to access hard copies and digital copies (consider an external hard drive, flash drive, or online servers like Google Health or Mayo Clinic’s Health Manager, which securely archive your medical information for free)

Keep records of all vaccinations, including those for travel abroad; be sure to note any illness you’ve had (like chicken pox) which negates the need for shots

Document your dental and vision histories, including surgeries, orthodontic care, and lens prescriptions

Record all surgeries, childbirths, hospital stays, serious injuries or sicknesses, and major tests, including results

List known allergies as well as dates and treatments for past allergic reactions

Detail current and past prescriptions

Include insurance information and advance directives like living wills or organ donation

Prepare a contact list for all physicians, pharmacists, and other providers

Insert reminders into your calendar to schedule recommended screenings (many online programs provide email notifications as well).

Aging Gracefully

While no one has found the elusive fountain of youth, you can take steps to grow older gracefully — and healthfully. Try these timeless techniques:

Quit smoking. Not only does tobacco use lead to lung cancer, emphysema, and other serious illnesses, it also causes wrinkles, discolors teeth, stains fingers and hair, and inhibits your sense of smell.

Exercise regularly. Getting 30 minutes or more each day can help you fight disease, manage your weight, and sleep better — all of which improve quality of life.

Avoid UV exposure. Too much sun can zap your skin’s youthful appearance, resulting in freckles, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity… not to mention skin damage and cancer.

In recent years, supplements like human growth hormone (HGH) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) have gotten a lot of buzz as anti-aging marvels, but they’re not right for everyone — consult your doctor first.

Tai Chi

On a nice day in the park you may notice people who appear to be doing a slow dance with nature. It’s a smooth, gentle combination of meditation, yoga and ballet called T’ai Chi. This ancient Chinese exercise may act as a modern medical remedy.

Timothy Hain, M.D., Neurologist, Northwestern University Medical School:

“T’ai Chi sort of looks like a slow dance in a way. There’s an emphasis on slowness, softness, on circular movements. And, I think, importantly, control.”

It’s the control of mind and body that has helped Chickie improve her balance. Chickie recently participated in a study at Northwestern University Medical School that showed T’ai Chi to be an effective treatment for people with mild balance disorders.

Timothy Hain, M.D.:

“These are mainly people who had troubles with walking, for example. They might be walking down the street when they came to a curb where there was suddenly a drop-off.”

Walking down the street was a series of stumbles and falls for Chickie. The problem began after she had a bike accident – a stressful experience. But her scores on balance exams improved after eight weeks of T’ai Chi classes.

Chickie, T’ai Chi Student:

“It just betters you as a person and makes you stronger. And you learn to overcome stress and problems you have. Every time you get into the position, it bounces out of your mind.”

Doctors aren’t exactly sure why T’ai Chi works for certain people. They know it builds the strength needed for steadiness and that balance improves with practice. But the real power of T’ai Chi may be in the positive energy that flows from each movement.

The T’ai Chi study at Northwestern involved 22 people who took classes for eight weeks. Patients’ scores on balance tests improved an average of 10 percent after the classes. Dr. Hain plans to include T’ai Chi classes with standard physical therapy at the rehabilitation center.

Elderly Caregivers and Stress

Have you ever noticed how your body reacts to stress? New research shows that the body’s immune system is seriously weakened by stressful events.

William’s caregiving responsibilities aren’t stressful today — but that wasn’t always the case. For seventeen years, William took care of his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Just all the things of daily living, dressing, she couldn’t do finally. Just taking care of those things.”

Doctors say everyday stresses such as caregiving can take a heavy toll on your immune system. In fact, research shows that elderly caregivers are not as likely to reap the same benefits of flu shots as elderly non-caregivers.

“Not just for the elderly, but stress in general definitely had an impact on the response to the vaccine. So the agents that these vaccines are designed to protect against, basically you might not have the full protection that you would need.”

Although William didn’t get any serious illnesses while caregiving, respiratory infections like pneumonia and flu are major causes of death among the elderly.

“It should raise the consciousness of the public about these issues so at least they’re knowledgeable about things they might pursue to make themselves less at risk for an infection or even worse.”

While you can’t always avoid stressful situations, you can avoid being stressed-out. One important factor in fighting stress is having people to turn to for support. Doctors also recommend simple lifestyle changes such as getting proper nutrition and sleep.