By: Dr. Salvatore Lacagnina
Is healthy aging just the absence of disease? Certainly not!
Healthy aging allows a person to age in such a way that he/she is able to do all the things in life that makes one happy. That might be playing on the floor with the grandchildren or trekking up a steep mountain in North Carolina or walking for miles on a European vacation or being able to make love to your spouse. If one ages without disease, that is great but only if the individual is as functional as they would like to be. Healthy aging is about being functional and treating all chronic illnesses and diseases early and comprehensively.
Let’s think about when healthy aging begins. I believe it begins in childhood as we learn from our parents and those around us how to be healthy or not. If we see our family members eating fatty foods, sitting around watching hours of TV and not doing any exercise to stay fit and trim, then we will learn these behaviors and most likely emulate these as we get older.
Conversely, if we see our parents going out for a brisk walk in the evening, preparing healthy foods to eat and enjoy with the family, maintaining a near-normal weight and talking about other ways to stay healthy, we will most likely take on these characteristics and behave in a healthier way.
Healthy aging starts in childhood and progresses as we get older. Hopefully in elementary school and high school you learned about healthy nutrition and the importance of regular exercise. In college this education should progress even further.
I recently gave a talk at Florida Gulf Coast University to a group of students in the Civic Engagement class. This was a wonderful interactive discussion and it was obvious to me that these very intelligent young men and women were very knowledgeable about ways to stay healthy. They knew about the hazards of eating meats produced in the USA that are laced with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and bacteria. They understood the importance of regular physical activity. We talked about stress management and the importance of quality sleep. These students inspired me to talk more about these topics and to continue to spread the word about health care reform, which starts with each and every one of us individually.
As we can see, the foundation for healthy living starts early and relies on healthy nutrition and regular exercise. Next we can discuss the importance of a wellness examination, screening tests and immunizations and how they affect healthy aging. A wellness exam is an assessment of one’s health at the present time and takes into account risk factors for chronic illnesses and cancers. The wellness exam should include a health risk assessment and a test to see how physically functional you are. At the Wellness Center in Cape Coral and Fort Myers many of the members take a test called a Body Age Assessment. This test gives a fitness age that compares to the person’s chronologic age. It is very motivating when you find out that your fitness age is years less than your chronologic age, and the converse is also true!
Screening blood tests can check for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a host of other chronic illnesses as well as some cancers. Other useful tests include a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer; mammograms to screen for breast cancer; Pap smears for cervical cancer; a prostate exam and blood test to look for signs of prostate cancer.
Immunizations are also a part of healthy aging. In the pediatric population, children get many immunizations over the course of their early years; and as we get older we need to rely on an annual flu shot, a pneumonia vaccine, shingles vaccine and now even a shot for whooping cough (pertussis) since this illness is on the rise.
Let us not forget about taking care of the mind as we get older. It is so important to learn and do different things daily to decrease the risk of dementia and there are many programs that you can do on the computer to keep the mind active and sharp.
Treating all the chronic illnesses (high blood pressure, diabetes, heart and vascular disease) and cancers early and comprehensively is most important to healthy aging. I discussed in my article from Nov. 1 how important it is to get comprehensive and coordinated health care when you have a chronic illness or a cancer. Also treating an acute illness early is important since we do not want things to get out of hand, as they say. There are many campaigns that promote the importance of calling 911 if you are experiencing chest pain or signs of a stroke. Minutes count when the heart or brain are in jeopardy. You can learn more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and a brain attack by reading more information on these topics on the American Heart Association website (heart.org).
In summary, healthy aging begins in childhood and if you focus on the recommendations listed above, you will undoubtedly live a longer, more productive and happier life. Begin today to take the best care of your body and brain and it will take care of you and allow you to live the life you dream about.
By: Connie, Spa Director: Visit Stevenswood.com: promotes a healthy life style with amenities for our guests which include: A fitness room with an infrared sauna, jacuzzi hot tubs, eco-friendly spa for massages and facials, nearby walking trails, and a Zagat rated restaurant – given top award/recognition.