Improving health in your 50s, 60s, 70s and senior years

There is no doubt that as the decades stack up, there are many changes in your body and the environment, that will affect your health. Your metabolism slows down, there is menopause, skin problems, eyesight changes and a host of other changes.

However, there is plenty of good news too. Many of the ailments of ageing now have solutions or ways of making the changes in health less drastic or at least more comfortable. Here are some of the areas where you can expect changes, as you get further along your life journey.

Metabolism

Technically, metabolism is the rate at which your body converts food into energy and your basal metabolic rate or BMR is the calories used for bodily functions. Everybody has a different rate, but an often-quoted statistic is that your metabolism slows down around 5% every 10 years. The reduction is related to muscle size and the number of cells in your organs.

The Good News:

As a less active body burns less calories, you can increase activity to burn up more calories, reduce the intake by simply eating smaller portions, not eating empty carbs, and also look at doing weight training to build up that muscle size which will increase your metabolic rate. There is also some evidence to suggest that Chilli peppers, ginger, and turmeric have some effect on increasing metabolism – sounds like “bring on the curry” – all three are key ingredients in North Indian food.

Menopause

This is of course the big one for every woman. Pre-menopause and menopause can continue for a number of years and there are a myriad of symptoms caused by the hormonal changes in the female body. These can include anxiety, weight gain, hot flushes, mood swings and so on – in fact there are commonly believed to be some 35 to 40 common symptoms. The process is different for everybody and fortunately not everybody suffers from all the symptoms. The very lucky women suffer no symptoms at all.

The Good news:

There have been many advances in both hormone replacement therapy and natural remedies that alleviate the symptoms of menopause to varying degrees. Some are effective for one lot of symptoms but not others, so experimentation in this period of life  seems to be a common occurrence. And yes- our old favourite – exercise. Regular exercise will help to reduce depression and anxiety both of which are very common symptoms of menopause.

Immunity

Your immune system gets less active with age, increasing your vulnerability to infections and disease in general. Your body reacts less efficiently to threats from antigens, even those your body may have battled very effectively in the past.

The Good news:

Well there is an ironic piece of good news. Because your body is less efficient in its immune reactions, you will sometimes find that symptoms of some allergies you may have had when you were younger, suddenly disappear.

Heart

The heart walls thicken and the valves in your heart get a little stiffer, increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.

The Good news:

Deaths from heart disease have decreased globally. In Australia, the decrease has been some 70% since the 1970s. Part of the improvement is because of improved treatment and partly because of improved prevention. The good news is that you can take control of the prevention side, through appropriate exercise routines and eating right.

Bones, Joints and Muscles

Taken together your muscles, bones and joints are known as the musculoskeletal system and this is one area that really starts to show problems in your older years. This is understandable because it is essentially a mechanical system and with all things mechanical there is wear and tear with usage.  There can also be a reduction in bone density and in muscle strength and size. Some of the serious implications are enumerated on the Better Health Channel of the Victorian government as follows:

  • Osteoarthritis – the cartilage within the joint breaks down, causing pain and stiffness
  • Osteomalacia – the bones become soft, due to problems with the metabolism of vitamin D
  • Osteoporosis – the bones lose mass and become brittle. Fractures are more likely
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – inflammation of the joints
  • Muscle weakness and pain The possibility of falls and injury is also increased because of changed posture and balance.

The Good news:

Exercise helps in a variety of sometimes surprising ways. With exercise the rate of bone loss is reduced and you may even be able to make bones stronger. Muscle mass of course is a clear example of the benefits of exercise for your musculoskeletal system. Stretching is great for muscle flexibility – think yoga and tai chi. In extreme cases there is joint replacement, but a newer therapy that may be effective for some is stem cell therapy

“With exercise the rate of bone loss is reduced and you may even be able to make bones stronger.”

Eyesight

Due to the hardening of the lenses in your eyes, you may find it harder to focus on close objects, so reading becomes harder, night vision can be a problem and you could develop cataracts.

The Good news: There are excellent corrective lenses in glasses and contact lenses. Cataract removal is a common procedure, usually uncomplicated and in many cases improves other eyesight problems as well

Hearing

About one third of over 65s have hearing problems of one sort or another that result in reduced hearing. Hearing loss can have a greater impact than the obvious one of reduced communication – it can also lead to depression, loneliness and social withdrawal with all the accompanying health implications.

The Good news:

There is a plethora of hearing aids. Cost can be an issue and generally the more invisible an aid the more expensive it will be. Other items that assist are directional microphones that boost  sound coming  towards you, telephone switches that cut out background noise and even screen telephones that can translate voice to text for you at very impressive speeds.

Teeth, gums and mouth

Oral health problems are not really related to one’s age, except that the accumulation of oral health problems of course comes to a peak in older age. The prevalence of tooth decay, gum disease, dry mouth and oral cancer is higher than for the population as a whole.

The Good news:

In 1979, 60% of older people had no natural teeth. By 2019 this is expected to drop to 20% – that’s great news of course, but for those unlucky enough to be in the 20%, dentures, crowns and tooth implants have progressed in both techniques and the materials used to make these options give you something pretty close to the real thing.

Cosmetic changes

There are plenty of these which affect individuals differently post mid-life – skin blemishes, wrinkles, bags under the eyes, thinning lips, whitening hair, hair loss, yellowing teeth and so on. Although sometimes these issues can be related to other health issues.

The Good news:

Being largely cosmetic problems, they tend to have little direct health impact when compared to some of the other items we just talked about, but they can cause significant psychological problems or be symptoms of more serious underlying health issues. The Good news – Where symptoms such as hair loss or skin blemishes are purely cosmetic and not related to other health issues, there are many solutions available from fillers, colouring agents, whitening agents, local removal of blemishes and so on Wow that looks like a horrendous list of downside effects of aging on your health. These issues of course have been with us since the beginning of the human race, but the good news really is that never before have there been  so many remedies and never before have we understood that simple things such as exercise can have a terrific impact. In fact two things – eating age appropriately and doing sensible, focused exercise, could make you feel and be healthier than you were when you were 40!

 Live Well Club & O50s 

Australian Over 50s Living & Lifestyle Guide

 

The information in this article is general in nature and does not constitute advice you should consult your medical practitioner before taking any health related action.

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