Lift weights and eat low-fat yogurt
Not at the same time, of course, but both are key to protecting bones, which weaken as you age. According to current estimates, about 52 million adults older than 50 suffer from osteoporosis or low bone mass.
Muscle-strengthening exercises — with weight machines or elastic bands, for example — help slow bone loss. Weight-bearing workouts, such as jogging or hiking, have similar effects. And low-fat yogurt is an excellent source of bone-building calcium (with about 310 mg in 6 ounces); so is milk (300 mg in 8 ounces) and cheese (1 ounce of mozzarella has 210 mg; cheddar, 205 mg). Collard greens, canned sardines (with bones) and fortified products, such as orange juice and some cereals, offer lots of calcium, too.
Women older than 50 should get 1,200 mg of calcium daily (50 and younger need 1,000 mg); for men age 70 and younger, the recommendation is 1,000 mg per day. Your body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. It’s naturally found in fatty fish and added to milk and other foods. Talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
Drink before you’re thirsty
Your body needs to stay hydrated to function properly, but with age, you actually lose some of your sense of thirst; plus your body doesn’t conserve water as well and some of your medications may contribute to dehydration. Sip liquids throughout the day — water is healthiest; unsweetened tea or low-fat or fat-free milk are OK too. Limit sugary soda and sweetened sports beverages; alcohol is also high in calories with few nutrients. If you do drink alcohol, limit it to one drink daily for women, two for men.
Ask before taking aspirin
We’re not talking about popping a pill to ease a headache or relieve pain — an occasional aspirin or two is safe for most adults. But many Baby Boomers self-prescribe daily baby aspirin because they think it’s healthy, says Dr. Jim Sears, co-host on The Doctors. While it’s true that taking regular low-dose aspirin has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks or stroke for certain people (and even some cancers, according to recent research), daily aspirin therapy can have serious side effects, such as an increased risk for bleeding problems and other complications.
Be cautious with certain supplements too: A new survey shows more than half of Americans think fish oil supplements can prevent heart disease, but experts at the American Heart Association say only those already diagnosed with coronary heart disease or high levels of triglycerides should consider them (with your doctor’s approval). Also, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended healthy adults not take vitamin E or beta carotene supplements to help prevent heart disease or cancer.
Get a skin check
You’ll go for a mammogram if the doctor suggests it, and you’ll willingly give stool samples to screen for colorectal cancer every couple of years, but getting to the dermatologist for an exam somehow lands at the bottom of your to-do list. It really shouldn’t — especially if you’re over 50, and even more so if you’re a man. That’s because the risk of developing skin cancer appears to increase significantly around the half-century mark, according to the American Academy of Dermatology; and rates of melanoma — the most serious form of skin cancer — are higher in older men than in women.
Other risk factors include fair skin, having many or unusual moles, a history of sunburn or excessive UV exposure, or family history of melanoma. The good news: Melanoma is almost always curable when found early. Get a full-body exam; also, become familiar with your own skin so you notice changes.
Not at all surprising that it’s good for you, but new science gives us more reasons why. In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight, improving your mood, keeping your mind sharp and reducing your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, brisk walking (as well as other types of moderate exercise) may cut a woman’s risk of stroke by 20 percent, according to research presented at this year’s American Stroke Association’s annual conference; being more active was also found to help offset some of the increased stroke risk linked with postmenopausal hormone therapy.
Data collected from another long-term study suggest that even a little walking every week appears to lower the risk of hip fractures in men older than 50. Shoot for at least 30 minutes every day, suggests co-host Dr. Travis Stork; and invite your spouse, kids or friends along for the walk to help you stay motivated and connected with loved ones. If you’re heading out solo, however, a word to the wise: don’t walk and text at the same time — researchers in Australia found doing so affects posture and balance, causing people to swerve and walk slower.
Try mindful meditation
It’s an increasingly popular relaxation technique that is based on being more present in the moment; on becoming more aware of your thoughts and emotions, but letting them pass without judgment. Research from Carnegie Mellon University found this type of meditation helped reduce feelings of loneliness among older adults, as well as lowered unhealthy levels of inflammation. And a new analysis of studies found mindful meditation also helps manage anxiety, depression and pain.
BONUS: Don’t ignore jaw pain.
It’s the symptom you’re least likely to know, according to recent survey results, but it’s one that may indicate heart attack, particularly for women. Researchers at Cleveland Clinic found only 13 percent of Americans identified jaw pain as a possible sign of heart disease. Some statistics on why that’s concerning: Heart disease remains the top health threat to men and women; more than 700,000 people in the U.S. have heart attacks each year; and the first few minutes can make the difference between life and death.
Other heart attack symptoms include chest pressure or discomfort; pain in the upper body (in one or both arms, the back, neck, or stomach, as well as jaw); shortness of breath (with or without chest pain); and breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. While the most common sign is chest pain, women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms — specifically shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, or even extreme fatigue, according to the American Heart Association. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911.
BONUS: Floss once, brush twice
Those are the basics of good oral hygiene, and the best ways to help prevent gum disease — a condition that affects about half of Americans over 30 (prevalence rates jump to 70 percent in adults 65 and older). In its mild form, gingivitis causes irritation, redness and inflammation of your gums. You may not even notice at first; in fact, as many as 75 percent of those affected don’t know they have it, adds The Doctors co-host Dr. Jennifer Ashton. But left untreated, it can progress to much more serious periodontitis and eventual tooth loss. See your dentist regularly for cleanings, usually every six to 12 months; and at home, be sure to brush in the morning and before bed, floss at least once before you brush and don’t rush — a complete cleaning with a toothbrush and floss should roughly take three to five minutes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Check your local listings for the next episode of The Doctors.