Diana Walters: A Boomer's Ruminations - Healthy Living

  • Wednesday, April 3, 2024
  • Diana Walters
Diana Walters
Diana Walters
Most of us are aware of the things that keep us healthy. We may not follow them, but we’re aware of them. Nevertheless, an occasional review of those recommendations may give us the impetus to change. So…from Reader’s Digest on-line health magazine, The Healthy, I’m summarizing “11 Things People Who Live to 100 Have in Common.”

They stay physically active
A National Institutes of Health study reports that just 2.5 hours of moderate activity a week could extend your life by 3.4 years.

They don’t overeat
You’ll never hear a healthy 100-year-old say “I’m stuffed.” They also tend to eat with family or friends (socialization promotes healthy living.)

They eat healthy foods
They don’t eat a lot of high-fat or high-sugar foods, but eat more fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils (olive, canola, sunflower.)

They feel connected
They feel part of the community—church may provide a sense of community. If living in a retirement village or assisted living, attending group activities will provide connection.

They feel respected The culture in which they reside is one that truly respects the elderly.

They enjoy the outdoors They have purpose Whether helping with grandkids or being involved in volunteer work, if older adults feel their life has purpose, they are likely to be happier and healthier.

They stay positive
Older adults who are optimistic, who are resilient, and adapt to difficulties are likely to be healthier and to be protected from depression.
I’ve talked about most of these things in my columns, but they bear repeating. One I haven’t thought much about is the health benefits of being outdoors. The following information comes from the National Foundation for Cancer Research:

Here’s how spending time outdoors can improve one’s health:

  • More exercise!
  • While being outside is not a guarantee of being active, spending time outdoors is associated with more activity than indoor living. Activities such as strolling through the park, swimming at the beach, gardening, and bike riding increase the heart rate and get the body moving. Getting exercise is a great way to build muscle and feel good, but it can also protect against many types of cancers, including cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, kidney, and stomach. Regular exercise can prevent obesity, a risk factor for many cancers. It can also improve immune system function, control hormones related to cancer growth, and prevent high blood glucose levels of insulin.

  • The body may heal faster.
  • Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reported that spinal surgery patients experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain medications during their recoveries if they were exposed to natural light. Another study showed that the view out the window (trees vs. a brick wall) affected patient recovery. A body that is well equipped to heal itself is beneficial in all circumstances, but cancer patients may find it particularly helpful, especially if undergoing surgery.

  • Lower blood pressure and less stress
  • Walking among the trees can lower blood pressure and reduce the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Stress is an uncomfortable response to deal with, but it can be worse yet. Studies suggest that stress hormones may awaken dormant cancer cells that remain in the body after treatment, meaning there is a link between stress and cancer coming back. Additionally, cancer patients are more likely to experience stress in relation to their current situation. Reducing stress hormones can positively impact the quality of life for people diagnosed with cancer and their families.

  • Soak up Vitamin D
  • So long as the skin is protected from extended exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays (thank you, sunscreen!), the sun can nourish the body with Vitamin D which helps the body use calcium and phosphorus to make strong bones and teeth. Research suggests that women with low levels of Vitamin D have a higher risk of breast cancer. It is believed that Vitamin D plays a role in controlling normal breast cell growth and may stop breast cancer cells from growing.

  • Improved mood
  • Perhaps the most immediate benefit to spending time outdoors is a scientifically proven good mood. Researchers have found that nature simply makes us happy and decreases anxiety, depression, and anger. Tragically, cancer patients are more likely to experience these symptoms than the general population. A quick mood boost can be exceptionally beneficial to patients and their loved ones. However, it is important to remember that depression is a serious condition and should be discussed with a professional as early as possible.

    So, there you have it— good advice for aging well from a couple of respected sources. Even if you don’t want to live to be 100, you probably want to live as independently as possible for as long as possible, so look at the above list and consider whether you can make one small change toward healthier habits. I’ll start by eating more fruits and veggies. How about you?

    * * *

    Diana Walters has enjoyed a long career working with senior adults as social worker, activity director, and volunteer coordinator. She recently retired (at age 76) from paid employment and is now able to devote more time to her writing and her husband (in that order?) She has written devotionals for The Quiet Hour and Upper Room and been published in six Chicken Soup for the Soul books, but she is excited to be writing for and about her fellow Baby Boomers. She can be reached at dianalwalters@comcast.net.

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