An ancient Chinese proverb says, “One disease, long life; no disease, short life.” For many women, diabetes is that one disease that, perhaps ironically, leads to a longer, healthier life. That’s because a big part of the treatment for diabetes is adopting a healthy lifestyle: following a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, not smoking, drinking only in moderation, finding ways to cope with stress and simply paying attention to one’s body. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle gets no less important with age. In fact, it may get more important, since diabetes is a progressive disease. Here are our top 10 health tips for women over 65 who want to take charge of their health and stay healthy, strong and independent in the years to come.
1. Eat right
If you don’t already follow a meal plan, work with a dietitian to design one that helps you achieve your blood glucose goals, lowers your risk of complications, and includes foods that you like to eat. If you have Medicare Part B, some sessions with a dietitian are covered with a physician’s referral. You may receive up to three hours with a dietitian in your first year of nutrition therapy and two hours each subsequent year.
The American Diabetes Association recommends eating a variety of high-fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables to get the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need to maintain your overall health. A diet that’s low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium will help you keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels in a healthy range and thus lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and other complications.
A particular concern for women is preventing osteoporosis. As we get older, we gradually begin to lose bone mass. Estrogen helps to maintain bone mass, so after menopause, women can begin to lose bone very rapidly, and this bone loss can lead to osteoporosis. To slow bone loss, women must get an adequate amount of calcium, a mineral the body uses to build bone. The National Institutes of Health recommend that women get between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day, depending on their age and whether they are pregnant or lactating. Some calcium-rich foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, collard greens, fortified orange juice and fortified soy products. If you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, you may consider taking supplements.
For your body to be able to absorb calcium properly, you also need to get an adequate amount of vitamin D. For many women, the easiest way to get vitamin D is to get some sun — the body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, for people in northern climates, the sun may not be strong enough, and there’s evidence that our bodies don’t produce vitamin D from sunlight as easily when we get older. It’s a good idea to try to get your vitamin D from food sources such as fortified milk. But if you don’t drink milk, vitamin D supplements are available; aim for 600–800 international units (IU) a day. Some calcium supplements have vitamin D in them, but you don’t need to take calcium and vitamin D at the same time to get the benefits.
2. Be the captain of your team
If your health care is the ship, you are the skipper; your primary-care physician and the rest of your health-care team are there to help out and make recommendations, but ultimately it’s you who decides what course to steer. Take charge of your medical care in the following ways:
- Remember that you provide most of your care. You’re the one who’s responsible for taking your insulin or oral diabetes medicine, monitoring your blood glucose, carrying out your physical activity plan and deciding what foods to eat. But you can only do it if you know how, so make education a priority. Ask your health-care providers questions, take diabetes education classes, participate in a support group that brings in expert speakers — do whatever it takes to keep yourself informed and knowledgeable about your diabetes care.
- Communicate with your health-care team about what works and what doesn’t in your diabetes care plan. Treatments that work for one person may not work for another, and the only way your health-care team will know if your treatment is working for you is if you tell them. If the medicines you use are causing unpleasant side effects, say so, and ask what can be done about it. If your meal plan leaves you feeling unsatisfied, ask your dietitian to help you work in more foods that you like. Remember, you’re the best judge of how you feel.
- Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Skipping doctor visits, exams or tests to save money could end up costing you a bundle in the future. If you let a problem go undetected and untreated, it can become more difficult and more expensive to treat later. Take all the recommended preventive care measures now, and attend to small problems before they become big problems.
- Trust your common sense and don’t buy into unfounded diabetes treatments. If a product or treatment sounds too good to be true, odds are it is. Be wary of “breakthrough,” “miracle” or “secret” cures and remedies. Don’t trust products that claim to cure a wide variety of ailments or promise instant, effortless results. If you hear about an alternative product or method that sounds interesting, talk to your doctor before you try it to find out whether it’s safe, effective, and appropriate for you and to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the treatment you’re currently using. If your doctor thinks the therapy is safe and worth trying, he’ll help you work it into your current diabetes plan. Whatever you do, don’t abandon your current treatment plan to pursue an unproven alternative.