Other types of activity can also enhance flexibility and balance, two other aspects of physical fitness that tend to diminish with age. Practicing yoga or tai chi, for example, can improve flexibility, strengthen muscles around joints, and improve a person’s balance. The meditative aspects of these practices are also thought to relieve stress, improve mental focus, and possibly even help alleviate lethargy and depression. People can try out yoga or tai chi by taking classes at a local YMCA or health club, or by buying or borrowing one of the many “how to” yoga and tai chi DVDs and videotapes that are now available in stores and at the library.
Eat right. How and what you eat can make a big difference in terms of how well you age. This means, first and foremost, following your diabetes meal plan, which is designed to help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your blood glucose control, and control your blood lipid levels. Research suggests that a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods may help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. However, some older people do not get or cannot absorb all the nutrients they need from their diets. Speak with your health-care team about which dietary supplements you may need.
Get a good night’s sleep. Another key to maintaining your vitality throughout life is getting a good night’s sleep. Inadequate sleep not only can lead to feeling listless and unfocused, but it can directly affect your physical health. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to insulin resistance, which can make diabetes more difficult to control and may even raise the risk of heart disease.
Mind your medicines. Minding your medicines can go a long way toward helping you stay healthy and alert. It is important to know the potential side effects of any medicine you take. Some drugs, alone or in combination, may contribute to hypoglycemia. Some may affect your cognitive function, leaving you feeling less than alert. Make sure your doctor knows about all of the drugs you take, as well as any side effects you may be experiencing. Sometimes the problem can be solved by lowering the dose or switching medicines entirely.
Get regular checkups. Getting regular checkups can help keep minor health problems from turning into major ones. This includes regular doctor checkups, eye examinations, kidney tests, foot exams, dentist office visits, and vaccinations.
Stay mentally active. Staying physically active can help keep your mind sharp, but staying mentally active is important, too. The keys to staying mentally active are staying connected to other people socially, constantly learning new things, and making your mind work in new and different ways. Here are some ideas for giving your mind a workout:
- Learn a foreign language.
- Take a class in ballroom dancing.
- Find a new hobby.
- Do crossword puzzles or word search puzzles regularly.
- Play electronic games (including the ones on your cell phone if you have one).
- Join a book discussion group.
Give up your vices. If you smoke, stop. Smoking ages the tissues of the body, lowers your aerobic capacity, and generally robs you of vitality. If you drink more than one or two drinks a day, consider cutting back. Heavy drinking has been linked to a number of conditions you want to avoid, including cardiovascular disease, psychiatric problems such as depression, sleep problems, nerve damage, bone loss, and falls.
Vital to the end
Aging is inevitable—there is nothing you can do to turn back the clock. However, you do have some control over how you’ll spend your twilight years. By doing everything you can to take care of your body and mind, you can help stave off some of the debilitating illnesses associated with age and live a full, meaningful, and energetic life.