Have you sat at the bedside of your loved ones in a hospital or nursing facility feeling helpless and frustrated? How many of us have heard our loved ones say the following? “I press the call light and wait forever. I am in pain…..I lost my dentures…. I cannot find my robe….. My rosary beads are gone…. The alarm goes off every time I try to get out of bed on my own…” If you don’t want this for your future, now may be the time to think about preserving your good health.
It’s a good idea to plan ahead, establish good health habits early in life, and consider what will happen to your body and mind if you fail to pay attention to them.
We know our cars won’t run without gas, and if the oil isn’t changed regularly, we’ll have car trouble. Somehow we don’t make the same connections with our bodies as we do with our cars. Preserving good health has become a major challenge for Americans and a huge moneymaker in this country. Yet the solution is so simple: eat right (gas up the car), exercise (oil for the car) and stay engaged in life (it’s you that drives the car). When we don’t do this, many of us are caught off guard, surprised, or even frightened when something goes wrong – our back gives out, our blood sugar rises abnormally, our joints hurt, or we feel depressed. Since the MacArthur Foundation studies of aging were done in the 1980s, we now know that lifestyle and environment have far more impact on our health than genetics.
Unlike our cars, we can’t trade in our bodies for new ones, so we need to develop good habits to preserve our health. We are also living longer – much longer. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) there were well over 70,000 people 100 years of age or older, living in the U.S. in 2014. By the year 2050 the projected figure is over 800,000. A major concern for older adults is quality of life – living out our lives as healthy as possible and not being dependent on others. Unlike some societies where families are expected to take care of their elders, our solution, as an independent society, is often placement in nursing care facilities. Unfortunately, it’s a place most people want to avoid. Although there are quality nursing facilities, few places are better than home. Data collected by the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has addressed the trend of large private investment groups purchasing public nursing homes. Some of these facilities have been investigated and CMS has discovered that they are making profits at the expense of the clients by drastically cutting back nursing staff and allowing shortcuts to safety regulations. The complex corporate structures are so convoluted that it has become difficult to determine which part of the organization is legally responsible for the health regulations and the care of the patients. Meanwhile, there are limited choices for the care of the elderly in this country. It is also expensive and causing serious economic challenges with families.
Since our bodies don’t come with warranties, a good solution to successful aging is preventative health practices. A popular trend in studies of centenarians has given us clues to the “secrets of a long and prosperous life” (After the Okinawa Centenarian Study, the National Institute of Health, the U.S. National Institute on Aging, and Harvard’s Long Life Family Study –to name a few – have followed suit). Preventative healthcare entails a balance of our mind, body and soul. Basically, the body wants good food to keep its engines running, a balance of rest and physical activity, and no intake of toxins such as nicotine or harmful chemicals. The body’s frame and inner organs cannot tolerate too much weight; it causes strain on the systems. Our mind needs a balance of relaxation and stimulation in order to function well cognitively and to preserve memory. Our spirits need to seek inspiration, live a life of hope and confidence and be future oriented. We’ve known about the mind-body connection and its relationship to good health, but there has been a revival of what is called “psychospiritual health.” It goes back to the ancient Greeks: Plato even advocated that physical exercise helped to develop the spiritual side. We are also social beings, so we need connections with others and a community. In summary, we’re healthiest when we are engaged in life, physically, mentally and spiritually.
The solutions are simple. According to the outcomes of many studies on successful aging, we benefit most from a “modest” approach to life.