By Dr. Patsi Krakoff, author War on Aging
Dr. Patsi Krakoff is a retired psychologist with 30 years’ experience in behaviour modification and health and wellness coaching. She is a life-long writer having been published in Paris, France where she lived for 20 years. She founded Content for Coaches, a writing service providing leadership articles for executive coaches. War on Aging was written with her husband Robert Krakoff to help healthy seniors live longer through better exercise and nutrition.
6 Health Habits to Learn Before Turning 60
In my 70s, I have become a health nut. I’m always talking about better health habits for seniors. While others my age are remodeling kitchens and becoming gourmet cooks, I talk about the latest trends in diets, cardio workouts and high intensity interval training.
I’m not sure anybody listens anymore, and I don’t mind, as long as they keep inviting me to lunch. I try not to talk too much about nutrition when they do.
I wasn’t always this way. Like other women my age, I spent a lot of my life indulging on junk food and desserts, then yo-yo dieting to keep the weight off. My idea of working out was shopping all three floors of Nordstrom’s with a credit card.
Genes Aren’t Everything
I was lucky in some ways. I was blessed with small bones and a thin frame, meaning I could pass for healthy even when carrying 20 unnecessary pounds. It wasn’t until I turned 50 that I realized I was aging. I woke up in pain with a collapsed disk and an irregular heart rhythm.
The doctors prescribed medications and surgery. They explained, “You’re just getting old. Not to worry.”
I was angry and wanted to prove them wrong, only they were right. A hard look at my family history ruined it: everyone in my immediate family ̶ mother, father, sister ̶ died in their 50s and 60s. I was 64 at the time. It was time to tackle my health.
Behold, the Way Forward
I wasn’t on the Road to Damascus, but I imagined a shining white light pointing in the direction of the gym. I would go forth and sweat. I wasn’t ready to fast, but I’d throw out all junk food.
Today, at 74, I’ve settled into a life of exercise, good nutrition, and a commitment to healthy habits. I no longer struggle to keep these goals; it’s a way of life.
It didn’t happen overnight, it took persistence. I came to terms with aging and the fact that̶̶ like most seniors ̶I don’t have time left to get it right. Life and health are not a dress rehearsal.
Advice to a 50-Year-Old
The other day a friend asked me what she should tell her daughter ̶ who’s turning 50 ̶ and who isn’t taking good care of herself.
The midlife years are especially hard for working parents who are perpetually out of time and energy. But here’s what health habits I wish I had learned earlier in my own life.
- Eat for health. Good eating habits will ensure you avoid some of the diseases of aging, or at least slow them down (heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and dementia.) Starting in midlife, your cells don’t perform as well, meaning they become sensitive to the wrong foods and need more of the good stuff: vitamins, proteins and minerals. Cut down on portions and lose excess weight for good. It’s easier to attain a healthy weight in your 40s and 50s than in your 70s.
- Increase your exercise. Do more of what you love, be it sports, dance, yoga, Pilates, etc. Be consistent, never give up, even when sick or injured. The body can always do something while rehabbing. Include time for recovery and stretching and balance. The more you develop muscles at 40 and 50, the better you will look and feel at 70. And the easier an exercise habit will be as you turn 60 and 70.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. Remember to get 7-9 hours each night. Your brain needs it to preserve memory functions. Insomnia can lead to obesity, heart disease and dementia. The high rates of cognitive impairment in seniors can be diminished by attention to brain health in your 50s and 60s.
- Manage stress and emotions: Pay attention to moods and reach out to friends and others when needed. Nearly every 50-year-old has stress from family, relationships, work, and money periodically. Without stress management tools, it’s easy to let anger or sadness take a hold of you. Those tools will be essential to meeting the challenges of old age.
- Maintain good relationships and social connections. Stay in touch with loved ones and cultivate close friends. You’ll need them more than ever as you age. Social relationships contribute to good health and mental acuity.
- Find a sense of purpose. Don’t let others dictate what you ‘should’ be doing. Find your passion and focus time and energy doing what you love. While we can’t ignore the pressures of making a living and working, cultivate what you enjoy most. Prepare for the day when you will have more time for what you love.
You are never too young to get healthy. Start now in midlife, and you’ll be ahead of the game as you become a senior. You will look and feel ten years younger, and truly enjoy those golden years.