For Mother’s Day
It’s that time of year when we think of our mothers and reflect upon the gift of life we’ve been given. Indeed, it is the very reason we are on this earth. What makes us unique and one of a kind is in our genes or genetic make up.
It is why family members look alike. It is also why some diseases such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease run in certain families. These genes are the ones we are born with and cannot change. As a physician, when we assess an individual’s risk for chronic diseases, we take that genetic makeup, that family history into account.
Our genetic make up is a gift from our mothers (and dad’s too), it is not modifiable. There is a no return policy! However, it is often the modifiable risks, the ones we can change, that will make the biggest difference in our lives. For we all want not only to live longer, but also, to live those years in an active and healthy lifestyle, independent and with all our cognitive abilities.
While you may feel those years are some time down the road, it is never too late or too early to start thinking about healthy aging and what that means. It is time to make adjustments in your lifestyle so that you can live a longer and healthier life and act as a role model to your family.
Here are a few healthy aging strategies I counsel my patients to practice
- Eat a healthy diet of calcium rich foods such as leafy greens and dairy products or soy-based products if you are averse to dairy. Calcium from food products is ideal and we aim for 1200 mg per day from all sources. If you are eating well, you may be getting enough calcium in your diet and supplements are not needed. Generally speaking, we all need Vitamin D supplements as we get little direct sunlight in North America and that is the common source of Vitamin D. Take Vitamin D daily–400-1000 IU’s for adults under 50 and 800-2000 IU for adults over 50. That is a must!
- Eat Healthy. Follow the Mediterranean Diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits legumes and lean meats. Women who eat more vegetables experience less risk of cognitive decline than their peers who eat fewer vegetables. The rate of cognitive declines the lowest in women who eat the most cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens. And there is a positive correlation between BMI (body mass index) and the rate of cognitive decline
- Exercise. Use weight-bearing exercises that use your body weight such as walking, running, weight lifting to help to strengthen both bones and muscles, as well as improving your balance. Exercise with purpose. Running up and down the stairs doing laundry is not the same. You need to exercise to raise your heart rate a minimum of three to five times a week for at least thirty minutes to get the most benefit.
- Stay Socially Connected. It is important to stay socially active and connected with your friends and family. Doing Sudoku at home alone might be a good brain exercise, but it is not the same as being with people. Research shows that individuals who are socially connected live longer have stimulation to protect brain aging and overall have a better quality of life.
- Reduce Stress—Practice Mindful Meditation. While some stress can be a good thing and helps the brain cope with life- threatening situations, too much stress is harmful. If the stress is long term, it can raise the levels of cortisol, leading to weight gain. Chronic unrelenting stress, ages our telomeres, those caps that protect our cells. Mindful meditation and other activities that reduce stress has shown benefits such as an increase in the flow of oxygen rich blood to your brain. It is not only helpful to reduce stress for your emotional well being, it actually has a measurable physical impact.
So on this Mother’s Day and throughout the year, make a promise to yourself and your loved ones to stay healthy and follow the strategies I’ve outlined above. Taking care of yourself is not selfish, it is selfless as you will be there to take care of the ones you love…..and that’s the best gift of all.
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