Last month, we discussed diet practices to maintain good health. This month, in part 2 of the health regimen for aging adults, we are addressing not what you eat but what you do. Although this information is not FDA approved and is not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure any disease, I believe the recommendations here have sufficient scientific evidence that they need to be considered as you work to maintain or improve your overall health.
5 Minutes of Joy
Happiness makes you healthier. Although happiness is a worthwhile goal in itself, it also produces health benefits. Five minutes each day in a state of undistracted happiness improves your endorphin production, which enhances your sex drive, mental functioning, and immune response. Happiness is also linked to better heart health and increased life expectancy.
The reason for these benefits is not fully known, but the medical community in general has long known that a feeling of happiness lowers your level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Among other effects, cortisol increases your blood pressure, decreases your immune function, decreases your ability to learn and remember, and leads to weight gain. What the 5 Minutes of Joy allow you to do is release the ongoing stress and anxiety that cause cortisol to build up in your blood stream. If your 5 minutes includes laughing, even better. Not only does laughter decrease cortisol levels but also it stimulates your lymph system through diaphragm movement, thus helping your body to remove toxins!
Whether through focusing on happy memories, taking nature walks with friends, listening to music, praying or meditating, or even watching funny movies, get your 5 Minutes of Joy.
2 Every 20
Sitting down and being inactive for long periods of time is bad for you. Many people try to combat their inactive lifestyle by spending time at the gym or scheduling a period of sustained physical activity, such as walking in the mornings. These are good practices, but they are insufficient for maintaining good heart health. For a strong heart, you need to fight gravity on an ongoing basis, which means standing up and moving.
Dr. Vernikos, former NASA Life Sciences division director, has shown that sitting down for long periods is akin to being in a weightless environment (i.e., outer space). Exercising for 30 minutes daily will not produce the same benefit as getting up and moving around 30 times a day because it does not give your body the perpetual motion it needs to optimize health. Among other benefits, regular movement stimulates lymph activity, improves blood flow, maintains muscle structure, and reduces the risk and effects of diabetes type II and heart disease.
Vernikos’s recommendation: Every 20 minutes, get up and move around for 2 minutes. For example, stand up when talking on the phone, lose your TV remote control, and step out into the sunshine.
Expose Yourself to the Sun
Regardless of all the worry and concern about skin cancer, your body is designed to require sunlight. Your skin synthesizes vitamin D, an essential vitamin, from ultraviolet radiation, particularly UVB. Vitamin D3 seems to regulate the function of more than 1,000 genes that affect every cell in your body. Among other benefits, vitamin D3 improves calcium absorption (decreasing the risk and effects of osteoporosis) and immune system function. Without sufficient vitamin D3, your body is at increased risk for a wide variety of health problems.
The primary way to ensure you have enough vitamin D3, the way your body is designed to get vitamin D3, is to get sufficient sun exposure. Light-skinned people who expose 40% of their skin to sunlight for one-half hour can produce 50,000 units of vitamin D3, 10 times more than high-potency supplements and 50 times more than regular-strength supplements!
If you are worried about skin cancer, wear sunscreen. Sunscreen may limit the amount of UVB that reaches into the skin, but it may also allow you to stay in the sun longer while limiting skin damage. For those most worried about skin cancer and skin damage from excessive exposure, don’t get a lot of exposure at once. Short periods multiple times, around 10 minutes, will produce the same benefits in terms of vitamin D3 production.
Sunlight exposure has many other benefits beyond vitamin D3 production, notably melatonin production. Early morning exposure to sunlight causes the pineal gland to produce melatonin earlier in the evening. Melatonin, which is only produced in darkness, helps you sleep, fight infection, lower inflammation, and defend against cancer and the potentially harmful effects of UV radiation on the skin.
Monitor Your Health
How are you feeling today? How are you feeling today compared to a week ago? You are the one person most responsible for your health, which means you need to regularly monitor your health. Here’s the problem: people get used to their symptoms. We can become so accustomed to our aches and pains that we fail to recognize them. It can take a conscious effort. However, more than 50% of people aged 65 or greater have an undetected disease or adverse health condition.
This is where regular screenings become so important. Regular blood tests, such as for your blood sugar levels and your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels and ratios, are increasingly important as we get older. Blood oxygen levels, which can be checked at home, are important to monitor as they relate to heart and lung function and may affect cancer risks. Because inflammation is such a killer, causing or contributing to so many health problems, regular thermographic screenings for chronic inflammation will help you address problems even before they produce noticeable health symptoms.
Blood tests and thermographic screenings, both, can also check for excessive estrogen, which along with inflammation is a major contributor to breast cancer. In fact, other than the recommended comprehensive screenings, most of our clients come for thermal imaging screenings for breast cancer and prostate cancer.
As a side note regarding prostate cancer, PSA levels have questionable value: no PSA level indicates prostate cancer, and non-cancerous condition may also raise PSA levels.
Women and men, both, need to get estrogen and testosterone levels checked. Not only does estrogen contribute to weight gain in both sexes but also it increases the risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer in women. For men, it contributes to low testosterone levels. For all women, excessive testosterone may lead to insulin resistance, low levels of good cholesterol and high levels of bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity. For younger women, high testosterone levels may also result in acne and menstrual irregularity.
Blood pressure checks are important, particularly as they relate to salt intake. As people age, their ability to taste may decrease, and they compensate by adding more and more salt to their food. This can raise blood pressure because the body needs more water in the blood stream to “wash out” the excess salt.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the bottom line: be aware of yourself, how you feel, and how you act. These suggestions are only a part of maintaining health. They are easy to do, but they are often overlooked. When you approach your health consciously, you help your body do what it is designed to do: be healthy.