• April 28, 2021
  • Posted by General Electric Credit Union
  • 6 read

Help Make Your Later Years Healthy Years

Many people are striving for longevity, but it’s important to try and make those additional years healthy years. Aging well is dependent on several factors. Some, like your genes, can’t be changed. On the flip side, your lifestyle, habits, and environment can change several times throughout your life.

Whether you’re starting to plan for retirement or the idea of leaving the workforce has yet to cross your mind, you should understand why a healthy lifestyle is important and how to achieve it.

The heart, brain connection

The brain is the control center of the body. In this control center is a network of 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons.1 Signs travel through the brain and form memories, thoughts, and feelings. This is why individuals with Alzheimer’s disease may have issues with memory, as the disease destroys neurons.

What you do to protect your heart can also help your brain operate its best. In fact, having high cholesterol mid-life may be strongly linked to cognitive decline later on.2 To understand this relationship, you must understand how these organs work together.

The heart and brain communicate in several ways, such as through your immune system or hormones. Your brain also depends on oxygen and adequate blood flow to do its job. In fact, every time your heart beats about 25% of the blood goes to your brain.3

Cardiovascular factors are just one known risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Others include age, genetics, and head injury. Therapies for Alzheimer’s disease can treat symptoms, but they can’t cure, prevent, or slow the progression of the disease.

With this said, a healthy lifestyle can both benefit your heart and potentially help ward off the disease.

4 best ways to take care of your mind and heart as you age

1. Physical health and exercise

Cardiovascular activity may reduce your risk of cognitive decline. Take part in regular and vigorous exercise to increase blood flow and get your heart rate up.

If you’ve had trouble sticking to an exercise routine in the past, don’t put off making changes! Forcing yourself to go for a run when you don’t like doing so isn’t sustainable.

Opt for an activity you enjoy, like dancing to music or going for walks in the park. Ask friends and family to join if you need additional support or motivation.

Be mindful of any aches or pains you currently have and enlist modified workouts when appropriate. If you’re unsure how your body will react to a new activity, start small and build endurance. Just the fact you’re getting active is amazing!

In addition, it’s always wise to run changes in your routine by a doctor. Depending on your overall health and fitness, they may advise against an activity and offer alternatives. Or, they could give you further guidance to exercise safely.

Reel in bad habits. Breathing in cigarette smoke exposes your blood supply to chemicals. This contaminated blood pumps through your body and can damage the heart and blood vessels. Ask family and friends to hold you accountable – you’ll have even more people to celebrate with once you kick the habit!

Many people love sipping a glass of wine alongside dinner. A drink now and then won’t hurt you, but it’s important to avoid drinking in excess. Ask your doctor what daily alcohol intake is appropriate based on your age, sex, and health history. Chronic excessive drinking may lead to high blood pressure, or even heart failure.5

If you find yourself dozing off in the middle of the day, you may not be getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. Rest has a myriad of impacts on the body, including the heart and brain. Sleep deprivation is linked to atherosclerosis, AKA the narrowing and hardening of arteries.4 In addition, people who regularly don’t sleep the recommended amount score lower on tests of mental function.5

Counting sheep isn’t the only remedy! Put away electronics before bed. Exposure to blue light can make it harder to fall asleep and lower the quality of sleep. Enlist activities like controlled breathing or meditation to relax before bed. Or, ask your doctor about medication or treatment options if appropriate.

Speaking of doctors, it’s a good idea to schedule regular appointments with yours to monitor for issues related to blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Annual exams will help you be proactive about your health and potentially catch issues before they have a chance to worsen.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Depression and heart disease is sometimes referred to as a two-way street because having a heart episode may lead to depression – 40% of people who experience a heart attack meet the criteria for major depressive disorder – but depression may also lead to the development of heart disease.6

Stress hormones like cortisol, which plays a role in both anxiety and depression, increase the risk of heart problems. There are many ways to address anxiety and depression symptoms.

Therapy can help you address symptoms and give you an opportunity to talk through things. Medication also helps many people struggling with anxiety and depression and can be combined with therapy for treatment.

2. Diet and nutrition

Nutritious food is fuel for the brain. A diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and more may reduce your risk of certain diseases. If you’re unsure where to start, consult with a doctor or dietitian to learn more. In the 1960s the Mediterranean diet was popularized because countries in the Mediterranean, namely Greece and Italy, saw fewer deaths related to coronary heart disease.

Today, this diet of daily fruits and vegetables and weekly intake of fish and legumes remains popular and is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.7 The best way to work more fruits and vegetables into your diet is to plan ahead. Work out your meals for the week and have ingredients in your fridge so you don’t feel tempted to eat out. Cut up vegetables like cucumbers and celery and refrigerate them in a container so you always have a healthy snack to munch on.

Avoid saturated and trans fats, processed foods, excessive amounts of sugar, and deep-fried food. It’s also recommended to lower your intake of salt. Incorporate different spices and seasonings like garlic, paprika, and cumin to keep food flavorful.

3. Cognitive activity

Getting active can apply to both your body and your brain. No, this doesn’t mean cranial jumping jacks! Exercising your brain can come in the form of learning a new skill or reading books and articles to challenge and inspire you. In fact, studies suggest doing crossword puzzles can slow the decline of memory in seniors.8 Keeping your mind active forms new connections among brain cells and encourages blood flow to the brain.

4. Social engagement

Social engagement is crucial for everyone, but even more so for seniors in or nearing retirement. Remaining both socially and mentally active may support brain health and possibly delay the onset of dementia.9 Be intentional about scheduling time to see friends and family. Make it a reoccurring event. You can do something new each time or commit to an activity, like playing board games or eating dinner together.

No matter how obscure your hobbies may seem, there are likely others in your community who enjoy the same thing. Whether it’s bird watching, riding rollercoasters, or writing, there are many groups or clubs to join. Check out the Meetup or Nextdoor™ apps on your device to learn about groups in your area. Having a common interest is a great foundation for a friendship!

Staying engaged in the community offers you an opportunity to maintain your skills. Consider volunteer work at an organization with a mission you feel passionate about. If you’re retired, you may be able to use skills you haven’t been able to in years, such as editing resumes at a local college or taking care of plants in a community garden. You will likely meet others who are equally as passionate about giving back.

Maintain your physical, mental, and financial health as you approach retirement so you can enjoy your golden years to the fullest extent. GECU is here for you in every stage of life. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, visit training.alz.org for a free online education program.

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