Midweek Motivator: 'We’re Not Getting Any Younger - Practical Tips for Healthy Aging'
Following these tips on sleep, memory, and preventative care won’t actually stop the process of aging, but perhaps it’ll help you feel younger.
There are many perks to aging, such as the culmination of a growing family, the joy of a hard-earned retirement, and financial freedoms that can accompany a lifetime of financial planning.
However, aging can also be associated with some bothersome consequences. Many concerns I hear from patients as they age include difficulties getting a restful night of sleep, worries about changes in memory, and frustrations about the frequency of doctor visits.
While these concerns can seem overwhelming, there are practical and effective ways to address them at home and improve overall health as one ages.
One of the most common worries I hear from patients in my clinic sounds a lot like this, “Doctor, I just don’t sleep like I used to.” This is true! Studies do, in fact, show that our sleep patterns change as we age.
We tend to get sleepy earlier in the evening, take longer to fall asleep at bedtime, and wake up more frequently throughout the night. These changes to our sleep pattern can certainly cause us to wake up in the morning feeling unrested and fatigued. Unfortunately, this tiring cycle can lead to the development of poor sleep habits and insomnia.
While new or sudden insomnia should be evaluated by a medical professional, refocusing efforts on proper sleep habits at home can significantly improve the quality of sleep as one ages.
Proper sleep habits include aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends), eliminating the use of screens in the bedroom (including TVs, cell phones, tablets), and avoiding naps and caffeine after the noon hour.
Studies also show that consuming alcohol before bed significantly decreases sleep quality, regardless of age. If these healthy sleep habits are followed regularly, sleep quality can be improved even more effectively than using medication for sleep (and without any negative side effects)!
In addition to sleep concerns, many of my patients fear forgetfulness as they age. It should be noted that some degree of forgetfulness is normal with aging, such as forgetting the day of the week and taking longer to learn new tasks or hobbies. However, the forgetfulness associated with dementia tends to be much more severe, such as getting lost in familiar places, forgetting the names of close family members, and being unable to complete normal tasks of daily living, like cooking.
Dementia can be caused by many factors, including small injuries that occur to the brain throughout the course of a lifetime, but it can also be largely genetic. There are currently no medications or supplements that are proven to prevent dementia, so it is important to be very wary of advertisements about supplements that claim to improve memory.
There are, however, mental exercises that can be practiced to help sharpen the mind. My favorite mental exercise is practicing daily gratitude; I often recommend this to patients, as it is easy to do and is a great way to end the day as part of a bedtime routine.
Practicing daily gratitude includes writing down, perhaps in a journal, three very specific things you are grateful for at the end of your day. Examples include enjoying a good cup of coffee with friends, dedicated time spent doing a favorite hobby, or even something as simple as gratefulness for a car starter or a warm garage on a cold day!
Practicing daily gratitude has been shown to improve memory, preserve youthfulness, prevent depression, and increase life expectancy!
Lastly, many patients become frustrated at the increasing number of doctor visits as one ages. The frequency of visits with your doctor largely depends on the number and complexity of your medical conditions.
Regardless, a point should be made once a year to have a visit with your doctor solely dedicated to discussing screening tests for cancers and other life threatening diseases. Ensuring proper “preventative health care” can help you lead a longer, fuller life.
Following these tips on sleep, memory, and preventative care won’t actually stop the process of aging (as much we’d love for it to be that easy!), but perhaps it’ll help you feel younger! And remember, if you have concerns associated with aging, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor to dive in and discuss.
Crow Wing Energized is a grassroots movement dedicated to improving the health and wellness of Crow Wing County residents through a focus on Healthy Choices, Mental Fitness, Workplace Wellness, and Community Connections. For more information about free resources, volunteering, classes and events, go to https://crowwingenergized.org/ . The Dispatch partnered with Crow Wing Energized for a regular column Midweek Motivator to help motivate health and wellness in the community.