Aging is inevitable and so, too, are changes in our health. Each year comes with its own wellness considerations and challenges as we grow older. But by giving our bodies and minds the attention they deserve, it’s possible to lead a long and vibrant life.
To help navigate our health in the decades ahead, Grayson Magazine spoke with Family Medicine Physician Jim Tarpley of TexomaCare Denison and Nurse Practitioner Michelle Triche of Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center.
30s & 40s
Broadly speaking, those in their 30s and 40s enjoy good health. The body is generally strong and the risk of illness or death by disease remains relatively low.
“It’s a good time, even if you feel healthy, just to get a checkup and baseline labs,” Triche says. “That way we know that everything is functioning the way it should be, that you are in fact healthy, and we can go from there.”
But Tarpley says the overall feelings of wellness many experience during these decades shouldn’t lull them into less healthy habits and lifestyles. A lack of physical activity and ingesting too much fast food, salt or sugar can all chip away at one’s well-being and slowly but surely turn into more permanent patterns.
“Most people think, ‘Well, I can kick the can down the road and start exercising or trying to eat better later. I’m still pretty bulletproof and I don’t need to address this while I’m in my 30s and 40s,’” Tarpley says. “But what happens is that people start to get tired more easily, their joints start to hurt more and it becomes a vicious circle where they can’t exercise because it hurts.”
Women’s wellness becomes particularly important in the 30s and 40s, and medical professionals emphasize the need for pelvic exams and breast cancer screenings.
“Mammogram quality and the technologies they have now can detect much smaller lesions than they did even just five years ago,” says Tarpley. “It’s made for enormous impacts on detection and survivability rates.”
The 30s and 40s are also a busy time for professionals and young families, so the demographic is encouraged to limit feelings of stress whenever possible and speak up if experiencing any symptoms of depression.
50s & 60s
Regular physical activity across all ages is key to a healthy life, but many Americans struggle to incorporate exercise in their daily routines as they become older and naturally experience increased feelings of tiredness.
“We see less than five percent of the general public above age 50 doing any type of meaningful exercise,” Tarpley says. “You’ve got to fight that fatiguability, because becoming sedentary is an independent risk factor for heart disease and a recipe for obesity.”
Everyone should have a colonoscopy by the time they turn 51, but men and women both have gender-specific health matters to address during these decades.
Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but in some cases, menopause may not occur until a woman is in her 60s. With the loss of estrogen, Triche says women’s bones begin to weaken and they must make sure they’re getting the rights nutrients to maintain skeletal strength.
“Because of that, it’s important that we have a diet that includes enough calcium and Vitamin D. You need both to build bone,” Triche says. “We also start looking for osteoporosis with bone density screenings.”
As for men, Tarpley says “we start quizzing men on their urinary habits at night. If you’re having to get up more, that could be a red flag. But there are also demographics like African-American men who are more prone to prostate cancer at younger ages, so in some cases we should start that screening before 50.”
The 50s and 60s are also crucial times for preventing infections. Suggested vaccinations include those for pneumonia, shingles and the flu.
“A very sad statistic that doesn’t get a lot of attention is that the flu outbreak just two years ago killed more than 80,000 Americans above the age of 65,” Tarpley says.
70s & above
While we might not move as fast at age 70 as we once did, our movement remains important to our health. Even short walks around the neighborhood or around the house can prove beneficial. But older individuals must also take care not to fall. Broken hips, a common injury from falling, are difficult to recover from and can significantly limit one’s independence. Tarpley says at this age, it’s important to sit down with a doctor or medical professional and take part in a fall-risk assessment.
“We ask about hand rails inside the home, whether you’ve got throw rugs that could be tripped over, and replacing thick carpets with linoleum and other (flooring),” Tarpley says. “We recommend putting small night lights out that illuminate the way on a nighttime trip to the bathroom. We also talk about whether their shower or tub is accessible and safe to get in and out of.”
Cognitive decline is natural and takes place over the course of our lives, but becomes more noticeable as we reach old age. It’s not uncommon to forget small details, but neuro-degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia may also begin to appear in some individuals.
“Maybe someone has misplaced the keys, left a stove burner (on), gotten lost or is mixed up on what day it is,” says Tarpley. “It can be very subtle, so it’s important that we all try to identify and address those things early.”
Older individuals can help keep their minds sharp by challenging themselves regularly. Ways to do so include staying social, reading, playing puzzles and strategy games and even learning a new language.
Interactions with pharmacists, doctors and medical personnel may all become more common during these years, so those age 70 and beyond are encouraged to ask questions if they’re unsure about an aspect of their care or enlist the help of a younger relative.
Whether young or old, Tarpley and Triche say it’s never too late to make a positive change in one’s self care. But the earlier healthy habits get started, like eating well, exercising and seeking out preventative care, the more time we’ll have to reap the benefits.
“We want you to live a long and healthy life,” Triche says.