5 Challenges of Aging & How To Better Address Them
Aging is a natural and inevitable process of life and living. However, we do our best to slow the process down, keep in the best shape and eat well. There are other facets to consider about aging and the challenges of it as we get older.
1. Chronic illness
We are afflicted by chronic illness from any age, not only when we are older. Chronic illness refers to, “long lasting conditions with persistent effects”. The Australian Government Department of Health lists eight common chronic illnesses. Some of these include back pain, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental health conditions. In Australia at least 1 in 2 (50%) have at least one of these conditions.
Chronic illness places a strain on the body’s ability to regulate, balance and harmonise, adding to the oxidative load of the body. Additionally, chronic inflammation can affect the functioning of the immune system. Whilst, chronic illness covers a range of conditions, there are some simple things you can do to help manage your health.
- Eat fresh fruit and vegetables especially dark greens: Fruits and vegetables are known for their antioxidant qualities. Having a higher antioxidant diet may offset the oxidative stress from chronic illness.
- Exercise: Whatever exercise you choose to embark on, any movement is good for your body. Activity can help the body release good feeling hormones, keep your joints mobile and may assist with weight loss.
2. Sun skin damage
The sun is a vital source of energy and helps our body produce vitamin D. But extended sun exposure for long periods of time can cause skin damage such as sunburn and premature aging. The skin can age quicker as the UV light can cause oxidative damage to skin cells and disrupt the collagen protein structure (within the skin layers).
As we age and the collagen in our skin breaks down, we naturally lose our plump, fuller, soft skin. Our skin becomes thin, easily broken and fragile. Frequent sun exposure will hasten this process.
It is always best to protect your skin from the sun if you go outside:
- Hot days: Avoid going outside during the hottest part the day ie: 10am-2pm
- Protection: Always apply a natural sunscreen to your skin
- Head wear: Use a hat and long-sleeved clothing
- Nutrition: Take a super antioxidant supplement which may reduce free radical damage forming the body. You can also increase foods that are high in antioxidants to your dies such as green, orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables
- Healing: If you do get sunburnt, allow your skin to heal and recover fully
3. Memory and cognition
Did you know that memory loss is not an evitable part of aging? The brain has the ability to repair and generate new brain cells throughout your whole life. The discovery of the brain's ability to do this is called neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. This simply means that the brain continues to repair and evolve throughout your whole life, making new neuron connections all the time.
Although, there is a condition called Age-related memory loss this does not affect everyone. It is important to look after your brain for your whole life.
Use these useful tips:
- Keep mentally active: Use your brain to solve problems such as puzzles, crossword and Sudoku games
- Learn a new hobby: Learning a new skill or hobby helps to develop new neural pathway in the brain. You can learn a new skill or hobby whatever your age!
- Vitamin B12: Often considered a nutritional vitamin for vegetarian or vegans. However, this little unsung hero helps to support the health and function of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in the synthesis of the myelin sheath, a fatty acid sleeve that helps with nerve conduction. It also helps with cognitive and nerve development. Highest sources are found in meat, eggs and milk products.
- Stay connected: We are social beings and regular contact with people can help on so many levels. Whether, it is over the phone, via an email, a letter or visiting people it is this human connection that can help keep our mind active and our thoughts moving and our minds active.
- Dehydration: The brain shrinks with age and it is important to keep hydrated as dehydration can result in fatigue, malaise, forgetfulness and confusion. As we age our thirst receptors and taste buds also become less sensitive and certain medications can reduce our ability to retain water. It is important to make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day.
4. Decreased mobility
Decreased movement can be very stressful for anybody. Long extended periods of inactivity can also result in bone and muscle loss. As we age we naturally lose muscle mass, unless of course we keep physically active and do weight-bearing exercise. Exercise can help keep our joints healthy, our muscles toned and our minds active. It is important to do a range of exercises to utilise all different types of muscles in the body. If you don’t use it, you will lose it!
Here are some top tips to keep mobile:
- Use some light hand weights to do daily lifting and strengthening exercise
- Walking is a great way to keep mobile
- Sit in a chair and do some light lifting arm and leg raises
- Do regular stretches to keep your body limber
5. Immune resistance
As we age, our immune system declines. Our body can often be slower to respond to infection, reduce the production of immune cells and our recovery time from illness is slower. Whilst there is no direct reason as to why our immune system slows as we age, some contributing factors can include poor quality sleep, chronic illness, stress, poor nutritional health and smoking and alcohol to name a few.
Let’s look at some potential options to improve your immune health as you age:
- Eat well: It is important to have a range of foods in your diet. Just think about eating the rainbow, including all colours of fruits and vegetables and with good quality clean proteins such as fish, chicken, eggs etc.
- Reduce your stress: Often we overlook how we adapt and cope with stressful situations. In the elderly, stress may not be as evident as it is in a younger person. It is important to identify any triggers and mediate your response. Deep breathing, maintain a positive outlook and make sure that you discuss your stress with someone such as family, friends or a health professional.
- Nutritional support: Vitamins and minerals are naturally sourced from fresh food. However, sometimes older people may have a smaller appetite or not eat as often and malnutrition may develop. Nutritional supplements such as vitamin C and Zinc, and herbs such as Echinacea and Elderberry may help to support immune system health.
We may not be able to stop the aging process but we can live a healthy, joyful and youthful life when we look after our body and mind. Remember, it is never too late to start!