Looking After Yourself

A Pre-requisite for Aging Well

By Richard Ryland*

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Looking after yourself is not selfish. Often The best way you can care for anyone else is by looking after yourself first and foremost.

Age Well.org considers the issues of looking after yourself. It may seem obvious how we look after ourselves as we age but as in many issues we need to regularly focus our attention on to issues which really matter.

We are what we eat

Our general health can be optimised by eating a fully balanced diet. Mankind and womenkind were developed as omnivores so in general our diet should contain a spread of all foods.

We should keep our weight down because extra weight increases the load on the heart, lungs and bone frame. There are two broad rules to losing weight to always remember, in general, diets improve weight whilst exercise improves shape. In general we lose weight more easily if we pay attention to what we eat, with a low fat, high fibre diet and we only eat when we are hungry.

Regular exercise tends to tone us up and make us look better but it also has a tendency to increase our metabolic rate assisting a reduction in weight when combined with weight reducing diet. In general we should seek to reduce our salt and sugar intake.

One thing we should bear in mind when implementing a diet and exercise plan though is that initially we might actually put on weight, rather than lose it. This can happen even when we feel we are losing the extra unsightly fat we have put on round our middle and our flabby arms seem to be diminishing. This is because we are increasing our muscle mass at the same time as we are losing fat. The weight increase is due to the fact that we are replacing fat with muscle and muscle actually weights more than fat. As the changes will increase our metabolism, however, we will eventually see the weight loss which reflects the positive changes in our physique.

Exercise Regularly

these boots were made for walking your way to health as part of looking after yourself

In general moderate exercise is good for us. About half an hour to an hour of moderate exercise causing a slight feeling of being out of breath helps the metabolism and is good for the heart. Well I like a really good workout, I like to sweat? Okay but this is not necessary for good health, moderate exercise is all that is necessary if you intend looking after yourself properly. A good, sweaty, workout is indicated when you are thinking through a stressful issue. I think jogging should be mandatory? Hmm, jogging is good for the heart but may be bad for the joints. Recommended is power walking (walking at a pace when you are slightly out of breath) or swimming gently.

One type of exercise is particularly recommended as we age and this is weight bearing exercise which helps us ward off osteoporosis. Strength training helps increase bone mass, especially spinal bone mass. This is especially true for postmenopausal women who actually experience a decrease in bone density if they do not participate in strength training activities and are therefore more at risk of fractures if they fall.

If you want to maintain your independence throughout your life, you really need to engage in some weight bearing exercise in order to keep your bones strong and protect yourself from osteoporosis. This is a very important aspect of looking after yourself as you age.

Calcium supplements can be helpful if taken in conjuction with other minerals and vitamins, but these alone will not protect you from the indignities of osteoporosis.

Are Supplements Necessary?

There is a whole industry committed to making us believe we should be taking all sorts of health supplements. In general if you are eating a well-balanced diet no supplements are necessary. If for some reason you are not eating a balanced diet or would be more comfortable taking something then a multivitamin tablet with minerals once or twice per week is all that is reasonable and necessary and is one way of looking after yourself.

Self-Examine or Monitor Yourself

Another important method of looking after yourself is self examination on a regular basis. Women should examine their breasts once per month, say, 1st of every month. The procedure is simple and takes around two minutes. Stand in front of a mirror and look to see whether the nipples and breasts are out of their normal alignment or normal presentation. With the aid of talcum powder stroke the breasts to feel for any lumps or bumps.

Look at the skin to see if there are any changes. Lumps and bumps, an orange peel like change to the skin or sudden inversion of nipples, or discharges from the nipples should be discussed immediately (that is, within a week) with a registered medical practitioner.

Early reporting almost guarantees no drastic surgery and no loss of life. Regular mammograms are good but the test only means you were OK on that day… Mankind should not ignore this paragraph above, male problems with their breasts are increasing.

In general it is worthwhile inspecting our bodies after a shower or bath for any lumps, bumps or lesions. Lumps and bumps should be discussed with your doctor within a week or fortnight (other than breasts).

Check Your Stools

Our bowel movements are worth just keeping in mind. Any changes in bowel behaviour, such as periods of constipation followed by diarrhoea, may bear investigation by a doctor. Look out for uncharacteristically dark stools which can be tested for occult blood. The use of iron supplements are an innocent reason for stools to be dark. Fresh blood in the stools can be caused by haemorrhoids. However, the sudden appearance of fresh blood in the stools should be investigated if haemorrhoids are ruled out as the cause.

Are You Drinking Enough?

Our urine should be a pale straw colour. The presence of blood in the urine should always prompt a visit to the doctor unless it is post- prostatic surgery. If the urine is dark coloured this tends to suggest you are dehydrated.

Try the “pinch test”. Pinch up a fold of skin, on the back of your hand, between your forefinger and thumb and let it go? Does the skin spring back? If the skin does not spring back and you have dark coloured urine you need to drink more.

Drink what? Drink water, alcohol tends to dehydrate. A cool beer on a hot day can really hit the spot but do not be fooled, the beer is dehydrating you. Passing urine should not be painful or burning. If the act of passing water burns or is painful seek medical advice.

Drinking Yes – But I meant water

We should limit alcohol to 3 units per day for a man and 2 units per day for a woman, which is an important addition to looking after yourself . Why the difference? There is a difference because women metabolise alcohol differently to men. If you are a women, matching a man, drink for drink, may seem bold but it is probably causing tissue damage. A unit of alcohol is a glass of wine, half pint of beer, or a small measure of spirits.

Sit Up Straight

When we sit, in the car or at home, there is a tendency to sit with the head forward. We slide down in a chair or settee, put our feet up and our head is forced forward. We may drive with the seat inclined back forcing the head to be forward. All this causes back, neck and sometimes shoulder problems. Our parents and teachers were right! We should sit up straight, stomach in, shoulders back and our back straight. When we drive it should be in a “sit up and beg” position (not reclined) and the same for eating a meal or watching television.

Best feet forward

We should keep an eye on our feet. Treat Athletes Foot immediately because it can cause long term ugly nail fungus which is difficult to clear. If you suffer from normal feet which have deformed this is due to bad choices in shoe ware. Chooseing sensible shoes is another priority in looking after yourself . In general high heels tends to cause or exacerbate back problems because high heels throw the pelvis and back out of alignment. If you suffer from corns, do not suffer, go and see a chiropodist or podiatrist.

Sleep Well

We should sleep well. To sleep well we need to go to bed at roughly the same time each day and get up at the same time each day. As we age we will tend to wake up more and sleep lighter, this is normal. If we have problems sleeping at night, we must cut out sleeping during the day. A regularly loss of sleep needs to be investigated. This may be a sign of depression and can be treated.

Count Your Blessings

Good mental health is about feeling good about yourself, sometimes referred to as “counting our blessings”. If we think good about ourselves then we feel good. How do we know when we or friends and relatives have bad mental health? The key test is functioning normally.

If someone stops going to work, stops shaving, neglecting hygiene, not cooking or eating properly etc., etc. Any sign of not functioning normally may be a sign of bad mental health and the need for medical intervention. At any one time about 40% of us have mental health issues and need assistance. If this happens to you seek help because you are no longer capable of looking after yourself

It is All about Moderation

This article is all about taking responsibility for our health monitoring and moderation. Moderation in food, drinking alcohol and exercise are all sure-fire methods of looking after yourself as you age.

age-well.org > anti-aging strategies > looking after yourself

*Richard K Ryland is a former Registered Mental Nurse, General Nurse and Nurse Teacher from the United Kingdom. Richard also holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master of Science in Nursing.

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