If there is one thing we all have in common, it’s that we are all concerned with healthy aging.
Each client who comes through the Aging Outreach Services doors wants to live a healthy, active and full life, no matter his or her circumstances. We are honored to work with older adults and their families. Every son wants his mom to feel great. Every daughter we meet with wants to make sure her dad gets to enjoy his retirement on the golf course or sailboat or even in his backyard enjoying the birds.
As we all work toward better health, one of the challenges is sifting through the sometimes competing ideas of what ‘healthy’ actually means. There are a lot of contradictions and misinformation, which can make for confusion about how to go about achieving optimum health. Up-to-date knowledge can help us all make better choices about our health and futures.
Here are 7 Healthy Aging Myths:
Myth #1: Weightlifting is Dangerous
Many people believe weightlifting is only for young people, which is a myth. According to the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, “Older adults who participate in strength training programs have improved self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as more muscle mass and greater bone density.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend seniors add strength training to cardiovascular exercise at least twice a week. In their outlined program, Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Adults, the CDC notes that strength training activities require little time and minimal equipment and are safe even for people with health concerns.
Not only that, strength training can also improve the symptoms of many health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, back pain, osteoporosis, and obesity.
Speak with your doctor about finding a certified trainer or physical therapist to begin a strength-based program for optimal health.
Myth #2: All weight loss is healthy.
Our society often glorifies weight loss, but losing weight after the age of 65 is often linked with increased morbidity and mortality. Weight loss after the age of 65 is often unintentional, a factor often overlooked by family members who may not immediately see weight loss as problematic. Possible reasons for unintentional weight loss include:
– some medications can change the way we experience taste and smell and can affect appetite. Other medications may increase nausea, making it difficult to eat or even to feel hungry at all. If your appetite has decreased after beginning a new medication, speak to your doctor or pharmacist regarding possible side effects of the medication and if these side effects are long-term.
– several lifestyle factors can contribute to unintentional or sudden weight loss including alcoholism, isolation, financial hardship and barriers to obtaining food (such as a recent surgery leaving a senior homebound or without energy for shopping or cooking). These social factors are often linked with psychological issues such as depression, seasonal-affective disorder or other mental health issues that may need to be addressed and which weight loss are a symptom of.
– everything from hyperthyroidism to ill-fitting dentures can affect appetite, diet and weight. Weight loss is not always a ‘good thing,’ and it can often be a symptom of a health-related issue needing medical attention.
If you notice you are losing weight unintentionally, pay attention to your lifestyle, your medication and your health. If it becomes problematic, it may be time to seek a medical opinion and dig deeper into the root cause of what isn’t always a healthy reason for celebration.
Myth #3: Vegetables are the king of calories.
We are taught, from the time we are young, to eat our vegetables. However, as we age, many doctors and nutritionists recommend a protein-rich diet to stave off illness and keep us at our healthiest.
Researchers have found that up to one third of older adults do not eat enough protein. A lack of protein is linked to age-associated loss of muscle mass and function. According to research published in Nutrients, “Protein intake greater than the recommended amounts may improve muscle health, prevent sarcopenia, and help maintain energy balance, weigh management, and cardiovascular function.”
Speak with your doctor or a registered dietician (RD) regarding optimal protein intake for your body and lifestyle.
Myth #4: Sex is over after 50.
One of the biggest myths of aging is that our sex drives come to a halt and romance dies. Nothing could be further than the truth. According to a 2018 poll, nearly half of Americans 65 years and older are sexually active, and 73% of those people are satisfied with their sex lives. There are caveats, however.
Health conditions and illness certainly play a role in decreased interest in sex, and women seem less interested and active than do men. According to the poll, 50% of men are still “very interested” in sex, while only 12% of women reported the same feeling.
Journalist and author of Over the Hill and Between the Sheets says, “Sex may be less frequent at 55 than at 35, but for a lot of people, it’s more satisfying.” With slower schedules, more time and the confidence and wisdom that comes with aging, sex later in life can be much richer.
As WebMD concludes, “A healthy sex life is not only fulfilling, but also good for other aspects of your life, including your physical health and self-esteem.”
If you find yourself in a rut, talk with your partner or even your doctor about options. Revamp your routine or your views on sex, and find new ways to explore this ageless act.
Myth #5: As we age, we need less sleep.
The recommended number of hours for persons 65 years and older is 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Surprised? We know! We so often hear that older adults need less sleep, but this is a myth based on the fact that many older adults have interrupted sleep. This doesn’t mean interrupted sleep is normal; it just means it’s common. Many older adults suffer from insomnia, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea.
In fact, research in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine notes, “Prevalence of insomnia is higher in older individuals than in the younger population.” Other medical conditions may also affect sleep such as Alzheimer’s, depression, chronic pain and issues with prostate.
Certain medications can also affect sleep. So, while sleep may be affected, and quality of sleep may be reduced as we age, this is certainly not ideal. The effects of sleep deprivation in older adults is very real. Confusion, lack of coordination, lack of energy and other health concerns that limit healthy aging.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, you might need to check your sleep patterns and schedule to see if you can make some tweaks to get more shut-eye at night (and take fewer daytime naps, for example) for better overall health as we age.
Myth #6: Older people should avoid exercise to avoid injury.
As we age, our bodies change. Many people assume these changes mean daily exercise may actually be harmful for healthy aging. We think we’re too old, too out of shape, or too sick to exercise. We may have had previous injuries that make us cautious about future injuries. We may not know how to get back ‘in the game,’ so to speak. So, we do the worst thing we can do for our bodies; we remain inactive and hope this will protect our bodies. But inactivity is what leads to many of the symptoms we associate with aging, not necessarily aging itself.
According to Chhandra Dutta, PhD, chief of the Clinical Gerontology Branch at the National Institute on Aging, “Exercise is almost always good for people of any age.” It helps make us stronger, prevents bone less and actually guards against the fractures and falls we fear as we age. Dutta says that exercise can actually reduce the risk of falling rather than increase it, and exercise like tai chi is especially good for building strong balance.
Rather than throwing in the towel, find an exercise program that works for your body, your schedule and your stage of life. Work with a professional to develop a plan if you struggle with specific issues like balance or have had a recent surgery. Exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen the body and the mind for healthy aging and better quality of life.
Myth #7: Only women need to worry about osteoporosis, and only men need to worry about heart disease.
Many health-related illness and issues are culturally linked to certain genders. Men have heart attacks. Women struggle with osteoporosis. Women suffer with depression, and men have high blood pressure. The truth is, illnesses like these occur in both genders, and a lack of awareness can often be the difference between successfully managing an illness or struggling to keep side effects under control. In some cases, lack of awareness can result in the lack of a diagnosis at all.
The truth is that both men and women are affected by osteoporosis. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, “While men may not be as likely to have osteoporosis because they start with more bone density than women, one in five men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture.”
Heart disease is another disease often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed due to gender myths. Many believe heart attacks and disease only affect men, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly as many women die each year as men from heart disease.
Don’t let cultural myths about gender, wellness and healthy aging concerns stop you from seeking a diagnosis or speaking with your doctor about symptoms related to what may seem like a ‘male’ or ‘female’ disease or illness. And take preventative measures for all health-related illnesses, even the ones you think might apply to your partner rather than yourself.
As we all move to improve our health, keep our bodies and minds fit and enjoy the second half of our lives, we can do this by letting go of health myths. Some of these myths come from outdated-data, and some are just the kind of myths that seem to keep resurfacing every few years. They make headlines but never have any factual data to back them up. With new research and professional advice, we can make better, more informed decisions about how to live our best, healthiest lives.
That was a lot of information all at once, with research and links and a heap of suggestions. Let’s review the basic healthy aging myths as a reminder of the main points and takeaways so you can get outside, pump some iron or whip up a lovely side of salmon with dinner.
Myth: Weightlifting is dangerous for seniors.
This is not always true. In fact, weightlifting and strength training in general can be very beneficial for people of all ages.
Myth: All weight loss is healthy.
Some weight loss can be unhealthy including unintentional weight loss due to medications, depression or lifestyle changes or other health concerns. A healthy weight is not always lower on the scale.
Myth: Vegetables are the most important source of calories.
In fact, many seniors have diets lacking in protein, leading to loss of muscle-mass and function. Check with a nutritionist, doctor or other professional to ensure you are getting enough of all the calories you need.
Myth: Sex is over after 50.
Studies and research shows this is not true for many seniors, but some medical conditions, lifestyle choices and other circumstances may impact sexual activity. It might be time to have a conversation with a partner or professional about how to explore this area of a healthy lifestyle.
Myth: As we age, we need less sleep.
Sleep is as necessary for older adults as much as anyone else, but medication, lifestyle and health conditions can disrupt sleep or change sleep patterns. This does not mean, however, that we need less sleep as we age. Find out more about your sleep needs and how to best achieve optimal sleep for a good night’s rest and a great day full of energy.
Myth: Avoid exercise to steer clear of injury.
The fact is, exercise helps protect our bodies from injury! The right kinds of exercise can improve balance, make our muscles stronger and strengthen cardiovascular function, all of which make us stronger and healthier. Don’t be afraid of exercise, just be sure to do it with proper care, attention and supervision.
Men and women can worry about different diseases.
This isn’t always true. Women suffer from heart disease, and men need to pay attention to osteoporosis. Be sure to look at your entire health and wellbeing rather than believing gender myths and stereotypes about certain health conditions. It can be a life and death situation for some.
Let Us Help You Create a Customized Plan for Healthy Living
Seeking help from professionals is a great way to navigate some of our health challenges and find answers to complicated or confusing questions. Aging Life Care ™ professionals can help you create a customized plan for pursing your best health. AOS Care Management is a group of professionally trained Aging Life Care ™ professionals who can help you develop a personalized plan to fit your healthy aging needs so you are thriving today with the resources you have now.
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Life over 50 is complicated. From illnesses to general aging-related difficulties, there's a lot to learn and a lot to cope with. We understand and we're here to help answer questions and provide guidance on your options.