Showing posts with label how to take care of an aging body. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how to take care of an aging body. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Health Self-Exams and Disease Prevention

While all of us rely on occasional visits to our physician to get an official health evaluation, the truth is that the ultimate responsibility for our health is up to us.  We are the ones who need to pay attention to our bodies and watch for any symptoms which could indicate a problem.  We are the ones who need to practice good preventive measures to keep our bodies functioning as smoothly as possible.  We are the ones who need to be able to concisely report any suspected problems to our doctors during the 15 minute annual appointment they allow us.

However, most of us have no idea what we can actually do to evaluate our health.  How do we recognize suspicious changes to our body?  How can we keep our body operating smoothly?  Start by talking to your doctor about any special self-exams or preventive measures which would be specific to your medical conditions.  In addition, you may want to take the following actions.  The suggestions below came from my healthcare provider, Kaiser Permanente, or were recommended in the August/September 2017 issue of AARP Magazine or the September 2017 issue of the AARP Bulletin.  I've pulled them all together in one location here.

Health Self-Exams

Check for Breast Cancer - Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, although it is more common in women.  Both men and women should do monthly breast self-exams while in the shower, checking for lumps, discharges, rashes or unusual changes in the breast area.

Check for Skin Cancer - Even one bad sunburn as a child could make you more vulnerable to skin cancer as an adult.  Everyone should look for changes to their skin.  In addition, run your fingers over your skin to see if there are areas where it feels different.  Check for patches which feel rough, spots of shiny pink or brown bumps with raised borders, or moles which have changed shape or color.

Check your Eyes - Has your sight suddenly changed?  Do you have blurry spots in your vision? Has your peripheral vision decreased?  Does your lower eyelid droop?  Is their a bump on your eyelid with missing eyelashes?  All of these could indicate serious problems which should be reported to your eye doctor quickly.

Check your Hair - Are you losing more hair than normal?  Everyone loses some hair every day.  However, if the rate of hair loss suddenly increases, it could indicate anemia or thyroid disease.  Also, check your scalp for signs of skin cancer.

Check your Heart - There are several self-tests you should do periodically to make sure everything is OK.  Buy a blood pressure monitor and check your pressure regularly.  Unless your doctor gives you other instructions, strive for blood pressure under 130/80.  At the same time, check your resting heart rate.  Your blood pressure monitor may do it for you, or you can do it manually by feeling your pulse in your neck or wrist.  Ideally, you should have a heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute.  If you are very fit, your resting heart rate may be slightly under 60. Report high blood pressure, an extremely high or low heart rate, or an irregular heartbeat to your doctor.

Check your Motor Skills or Ability to Move - Can you walk one meter (or 4.37 yards) at your normal pace in four seconds or less?  If not, you may want to spend more time walking, with the goal of increasing your normal walking speed.  Faster walkers tend to live longer.  You may also want to test your ability to sit on the floor and get up again.  Your goal is to be able to do that with reasonable ease and without outside help, relying on just your own hands and knees.  Being able to do that comfortably is also linked to better health.

Disease Prevention

In addition to your health self-tests, you will want to make sure you take advantage of all the preventive measures possible. Most of them are covered by Medicare or private insurance, with little or no co-pays.  Below are some which are recommended:

Get an Annual Physical - At least once a year you should see a doctor and have your blood tested for cholesterol and any abnormalities which could indicate the early stages of a variety of diseases.  The earlier an abnormality is detected, the easier it is to treat.  It is amazing how many health issues can now be detected through a simple blood test, so make sure you have yours checked at least once a year. If you have been keeping up with your health self-exams, bring your results with you when you see your doctor.  Also, write down any questions you have for your doctor so you remember to ask them during your appointment.  Between the results of your self-tests, the questions you ask, and your blood work, the results of your annual physical will be much more meaningful.

Innoculations - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), only 1/3 of people over the age of 65 have gotten the shingles shot; less than 2/3 have had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years; only 2/3 have had the pneumococcal vaccine; and only 2/3 of people between the ages of 65 and 74 received the flu vaccine last year.  These inoculations can save lives and also prevent misery.  Even if you had a shingles shot or pneumonia shot five or more years ago, you may want to ask your doctor whether or not you should get the updated, more protective versions. Most healthcare providers recommend these innoculations.  Check with yours to make sure you do not have a healthcare problem which would prevent you from getting one of these vaccines.

Get recommended screening tests - If your doctor recommends you get a mammogram, colonoscopy, or other screening test, be sure to follow their recommendation.  Colonoscopies can actually prevent many cases of colon cancer, since doctors remove precancerous polyps when they perform the procedure.  Screening tests can catch cancer and other diseases early and make them easier to treat.

Follow your heathcare providers' instructions for maintaining your health - This could mean losing weight, following a special diet, stopping smoking, cutting back on alcohol, getting more exercise or making other recommended lifestyle changes. Simple changes can improve both the quality and length of your life.

While taking the above steps cannot guarantee you will have perfect health for your entire life, they do increase your odds of leading a healthier and longer life.  They also make you an active participant in maintaining your health.  Ultimately, you are the person who knows your body best and you are the one responsible for seeing that it gets the best care possible.

If you are interested in learning more about common health issues affecting baby boomers, retirement planning, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Baby Boomer Body Maintenance Plan

The majority of Baby Boomers are looking forward to living longer than previous generations.  In fact, I have read that if you are healthy at age 65, the average person can look forward to living well into their 80's. Information about increasing our longevity seem to be everywhere.

Unfortunately, the longer we live, the more likely we are to deal with some of the difficulties of having an aging body ... poor eyesight, deafness, hair loss, weight gain, osteoporosis, heart disease and, perhaps the biggest worry of all, mental decline.

With a little forethought and "maintenance," however, most people will be able to minimize these problems or, at the very least, postpone them longer than they may have thought possible.

You might be surprised to know that our body actually starts to decline long before we realize it.  As a result, you are never too young to begin taking better care of it.  The longer you can postpone health issues, the more likely it is that you will enjoy good health when you reach your 70's and 80's.

As a result, it was with great interest that I read an article titled "Stretch Your Timeline" in the March 2, 2015 issue of "Time" magazine.  In this article, they explained when different systems in our body begin to break down and how to slow down the process.  Below I have summarized their findings so we can all create our own personal body maintenance plan.

How to Maintain Your Body

Skin - I was shocked to learn that the collagen and elastin in our body begin to decline at a rate of about 1% a year starting at age 18.  Every teenager who is considering cooking herself in the sun or in a tanning salon should know about this.  In addition to protecting your skin with sunscreen, no one should start smoking if they hope to have nice skin later in life.  One worrisome issue that "Time" pointed out is that apparently some compact fluorescent light bulbs can also damage the skin.

Lungs - We begin to lose about 1% of our lung function per year starting at age 30.  Exercise will slow down the process and, although "Time" didn't specifically mention this, I'm sure this is another reason to avoid smoking.

Bones - By age 35, our bone mass begins to decline at a rate of 1% a year.  Weight bearing exercise, including jumping up and down, can help maintain your bone mass.

Muscles - Once again, exercise can come to the rescue and slow down the muscle loss that is common after the age of 40.

Eyes - Another part of our body that begins to decline at age 40 are our eyes.  Smoking speeds this up, as well as sun exposure.  Don't smoke and wear good quality sunglasses whenever you are outside, even on an overcast day.

Kidneys - Around age 50, your kidney function will start to decline.  People who drink plenty of fluids are less likely to experience as much kidney decline ... so drink water every day.

Gut - By age 60, our gut starts to absorb fewer nutrients.  As a result, it becomes even more important that you begin to make sure you are eating nutrient dense, healthy foods and avoid empty calories.  Discuss with your doctor any vitamin shortages that come up in your blood work, and find out if you should be taking extra Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, or other vitamins and minerals.

Ears - Another issue that develops in our 60's is hearing loss.  In fact, one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have measurable hearing loss.  I was shocked that there does not seem to be much you can do to avoid it, other than avoiding loud music and other loud sounds.

Heart - Heart disease usually begins to appear around the mid-60's.  However, it actually started back in our 20's or 30's, when our peak aerobic capacity began to decline at about 10% per decade.  While "Time" didn't mention anything specific to do in order to postpone the decline in the aerobic capacity of our hearts, we know that exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating healthy are all ways to extend the life expectancy of our heart.

Brain - If we do everything else, but lose our cognitive function, there is almost no point to having a healthy body.  Fortunately, the same activities that keep the rest of our body healthy will also benefit our brain ... avoid smoking, get exercise, and eat a healthy diet.  In addition, we need to keep our brain active by engaging in social activities and doing things that stimulate our brain ... playing games, working puzzles, or learning a foreign language are all good ideas.

If you want to learn more about how to take care of your aging body, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article.  They will connect you with hundreds of additional articles on medical information for Baby Boomers, where to retire, family relationships, travel and more.

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