The life expectancy of the Myanmars has increased gradually during the past few decades. More and more are living beyond their seventieth birthdays and the number of those in their eighties and nineties are increasing, though there may not be many. Anyway, it would be just meaningless to live a long life if one is not healthy. Thus healthy aging is of utmost importance. This fact emphasizes the importance of taking care of ourselves as we grow older to make sure we enjoy long and healthy lives.
There are different definitions for the term “health”. Some say that health is wealth, while some viewed health as a blessing. As for us, Myanmars, we believe that health is a fortune (Arogya Pramamံ Lābhamံံ အာေရာဂ် ပရမံ လာဘံ). Everyone, young and old want to be healthy, but do they lead healthy lives? Wealth, blessing or fortune wouldn’t come on their own accord. We need to work ourselves toward those goals, especially those who are in their middle ages. When young, we took health for granted and usually didn’t pay much attention until we were in our middle ages. By then most of us started to feel the pains and aches, put on weights and were no more as active or alert physically as before. That was the time when we felt the age catching up on us.
In some countries, they are conducting awareness campaigns on healthy aging, targeted at people over fifty years of age. In the United States of America, they had designated the month of September as the National Healthy Aging Month, which is observed every year since over a decade ago. During that month they encourage adults who are fifty plus, to nurture healthy lifestyle habits that would allow them to age healthily—in mind and body. They provide inspirations and practical ideas to improve their physical, mental, social and financial well beings.
That piece of information, which I accidently stumbled upon, while surfing the Internet, prompted me to write this article. In doing so, I would have to refer to some literatures from many sources posted there. In doing so, I will mention only those that are relevant to our ways of life.
Tips for healthy aging
1. Stay active. Exercise regularly, as exercising is one of the greatest keys to physical and mental well-beings. It will make you fit enough to maintain independence and allow you to go anywhere you want and perform your activities without requiring assistance from others. Regularly exercising may prevent or even provide relief from common chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, depressions and arthritis, to name a few. The most simple and inexpensive workout would be to go walking. Should incorporate aerobic, balance and muscle strengthening in your routine. Try to find out what works best for you.
2. Watch your diet. Eat balanced and healthy diets. Foods play vital roles in healthy aging. Avoid sweet, salty and fatty foods. Too much sodium can cause hypertension and sugar could lead to diabetes and weight gain, and most fats, especially the animal fats are the main sources of cholesterols, which are bad for the health. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
3. Train your brain. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and some cognitive decline are normal part of aging. Studies show that a lifestyle that include cognitive stimulation through active learning and pursuance of a hobby, such as painting, playing a musical instrument, playing chess or puzzle games slow down the cognitive decline and also delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. So, never stop learning and always keep challenging your mind.
4. Be connected. Living alone is the strongest risk factor for loneliness. Common life changes in older adulthood, such as retirement, health issues, or loss of a spouse may lead to social isolation. Maintaining communications with family and friends, especially after a significant loss or life change could ward off isolation and would also be very helpful. Make arrangements to meet with family and friends on regular basis. Family and friends should also reach out to those who might be isolated or lonely. Do community volunteer works and stay connected with people.
5. Get enough sleep. Deprivation of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased fall risk and memory problems. Older adults need at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but are getting much less for various reasons. To avoid that situation, develop a regular schedule for bedtime, keep your bedroom dark and noise-free, avoid watching television and surfing the Internet while in bed, and stay away from caffeine late in the day.
6. Manage stress. Long term stress can damage the brain cells and lead to depression. It may also cause memory loss, fatigue and decreased ability to fight off and recover from infections. Chronic depressions can have adverse consequences. Thus we should try to reduce stress as much as possible. You can reduce stress by doing relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation. If required, should seek professional help.
7. Take precautions. Make sure your home is a safe place to move around. Furnitures and even small objects, such as the children’s toys and milk bottles lying around can cause falls and accidents to the elderlies.Try to know your way around your home that would be safe for you. Check your eyesight. There should be adequate lighting in your home. Wear footwear that have good tractions. Use supportive devices, such as canes or walking sticks, walkers and handrails fitted in the bathrooms.
8. Look after yourself. Don’t rely too much on healthcare and doctors for every ailments apart from the chronic diseases. Get yourself familiar with the basic health knowledge of the common sicknesses such as, common colds and respiratory ailments, sore throats and minor coughs, and be aware of their natural cures and remedies. Avoid injuries by following the tips given in the above paragraph. Observe your personal hygiene. Make a habit of washing your hands thoroughly after using toilets or handling dirty objects, including the currencies. Take vaccinations for influenza annually and occasionally for other epidemic diseases if there should be outbreaks.
9. Quit smoking. Smoking is hazardous to health, so to develop a healthy aging process quit smoking.
10. Refrain from over-indulgence. Over-indulgence in any activity is harmful. Eat, drink and play moderately. Here, though eating and drinking may not need explanation, playing may need to be clarified. By the term playing, it could mean various activities that involve physical exertions that consume energy. Try to conserve your energy by not over-indulging in any kind of play.
Apart from the diets and the exercises, which are necessary for physical health, mental and social well beings also play important roles in healthy aging. If I may give my opinion, based on my own experiences, mental and social well beings can be nurtured.
First, don’t go into seclusion, or in other words don’t isolate yourself as you get old. Don’t hole up at home, but go out more and socialize—meeting with old friends and making new ones. If possible, join some sort of social clubs, volunteer groups or institutions where you can meet people.
Secondly, pursue some hobbies that will keep your mind occupied and make your brain sharp. For me, I spend my time reading, Internet surfing or writing to keep my mind occupied and stimulated at the same time. I also play puzzles, such as Sudoku, scrabbles, jigsaw puzzles, chess game and other brain stimulating games to keep myself mentally sharp. The benefits I gained from these activities are surprising. My memory becomes more efficient and reduces the decline in cognitive power, which I noticed to have started to set in after my retirement. Today, in my eighties my memory has surprisingly recovered and I recalled many incidents from my past more vividly than before and forgetfulness have become almost nonexistent. I have managed to delay the onset of the Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which many of my age group are struggling with.
Thirdly, maintain a smoke-free life style; quit smoking if you are a smoker and if you are not, avoid places where there are smokers around. Lastly, but not least, never think you are getting old and don’t slow down, but keep moving and stay active, but don’t over-indulge in anything. People who are young at heart will be ever-youthful in mind and body.