Aging well

Published 4:53 pm Wednesday, October 6, 2010

By Lauren Wicks

There is no way around it – everyone grows older.

With age come great experience, memories and wisdom.

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But with age, also comes wear and tear on the body’s bones, muscles and functions.

“Most of us do not feel or even believe we are going to get old,” said Dr. Liliya Balabanova, who works at the Sentara PACE (Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) office. “(People think) we are going to live forever and be as healthy and strong as we are today. As people age, they can expect to do today what they did yesterday, but on a different level.”

Aging is a normal, inevitable process, Balabanova stressed, but it is one that can be eased through smart decisions made today.

“Maintenance is the most important part of growing older,” Balabanova said. And preventative measures such as annual exams, correct testing and timely immunizations can make massive differences in the ease of growing older, she added.

By adhering to routine exams and checkups, patients will benefit from early detection of major disease or illness, and they will be kept up to date on exercises, medicines or activities they can use to stay healthy.

“If you have a car, you change the oil; you take it to the shop,” Balabanova said. “This is exactly the same for the human body.”

But it’s not just about more visits to the doctor’s office.

Both Balabanova and Dr. Phillip Snider, medical director for the Bon Secours Metabolic Program, advised that healthy living today pays off tomorrow.

“Don’t let yourself get out of shape,” Snider said. “On average, we lose about 1.5 pounds of muscle and gain about two pounds of fat every decade after 35-years-old. The number one reason people have to go to a nursing home is because they can’t get up off the toilet, couch, out of bed, etc. Lower body strength is vital.”

Snider added that a recent study showed that runners stay out of nursing homes 16 years longer than do non-exercisers.

While keeping active, Balabanova said people can still take part in the activities they enjoy today, but they need to be aware that as their bodies change, so should the intensity of their workouts.

“We do need to limit any workout they are currently doing,” Balabanova said. “Lifting weights may be adjusted to the strength and age of the individual. As you grow older, keep adjusting to your age to keep living strong.”

Balabanova said that as bodies grow older, there are normal decreases in vision, hearing, bone density and muscle mass, and the bodies become more susceptible to infection and disease. However, she added, if people are vigilant about looking for the changes in their bodies, then simple adjustments can be made in daily life to make those changes easier to integrate in daily life.

“We have to be prepared for these things and be aware,” Balabanova said. “We need to maintain our bodies and our minds, and we just need to adjust and not be afraid of aging. People should remain positive at all times and focus on enjoying life.”

Snider agreed.

“(As you get older), you have experience about how your body and your mind works,” Snider said. “You can pace yourself on how much sleep your body requires, how much stress you can handle, etc. Picture the old guy making the younger guy run all over the tennis court because he knows where to place the shots. With age comes wisdom.”