23 March 2013


Stop doing that .... and start doing this

The most common health mistakes the over-50s make - and how to fix them

Checking the computer at bedtime ...
A quarter of people aged over 60 have problems dropping off or staying asleep. Checking your emails or your Facebook page before going to bed are prime sleep-busters, as are too much caffeine late in the day, drinking alcohol before bedtime, not getting enough exercise and ignoring problems such as snoring or restless legs, both of which are more common as people get older.

FIX IT:  To find out how much sleep you need, check how long you sleep when you've been on holiday for a few days and have made up any deficit.  A comfortable bed and bedroom, taking time to wind down before turning in, getting up at the same time each day and avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening will help you to have a more peaceful night.

Cleaning your teeth as you did when you were a child ...
If you are still brushing your teeth the way you were taught as a child, it's time to update your technique. Poor teeth cleaning can lead to mouth inflammation, which impacts not only on gums but also general health, increasing our risk of stroke, heart disease, lung disease and type 2 diabetes.  If someone has diabetes, inflammation also makes it harder to control their blood sugar levels. 

FIX IT: Rechargeable electric and newer sonic toothbrushes are easier to use than a manual toothbrush and, according to research, can be more effective.  Regular flossing or using interproximal brushes (like little bottle brushes) between your teeth can keep gum disease at bay or, if you hands are less nimble than they were, try a newer technique such as a water flosser.  Ask your dentist or hygienist for details.

Avoiding the doctor ...
People often avoid their GP because they don't like to bother them with what they think are trivial problems, or they imagine (wrongly) that the doctor is not going to do anything anyway.  The problem is that once you hit 50, some of the symptoms that used to be benign can have more serious connotations and the earlier you can catch problems, the more  treatable they are.  What's more, the GP will take your symptoms seriously.

FIX IT: Be aware of potential 'red flag' symptoms, such as a cough that does not get better after three weeks, bleeding from the bowel or a change in bowel habits, new lumps and bumps, or in men, problems passing urine, or having to get up to pass urine several times a night.  And do take up offers of screening: for bowel cancer for everyone from 60; the triple A test for abdominal aortic aneurysm (ballooning of the body's main artery) for men from 60; and mammography and cervical screening for women.

Overdoing the tipples ...
For men aged over 40 and women past the menopause, a small amount of alcohol helps to protect against heart disease and stroke. But the key here is 'small'. Having a G&T before dinner, an extra glass of wine with your meal and perhaps a nightcap is pushing the limits - and boosting your risk of healthy problems  Overdoing it just once a month can increase the risk of heart disease threefold.  If you drink the same amount as when you were younger, it can affect you more.  In addition, alcohol can interact with physical health problems such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure or depression and/or medication. 

FIX IT: Start with a tonic water or non-alcoholic cocktail before dinner, saving the wine for your meal and sip water as well as wine at meal times to keep your unit count down.  The Government is working on changing advice about alcohol intake for older people, but meanwhile it's wise to stick within safe limits: 21 units a week for men with no more than four in any one day, 14 units a week for women with a maximum of three a day, plus at least a couple of alcohol-free days.

Harbouring regrets ...
Yearning for what was or might have been can damage your health.  In youth we may harness regret to make better decisions in the future, but when we're older - and the possibility of second chances diminishes - feeling regretful doesn't do us much good and can lead to depression.

FIX IT: Start living in the here and now.  A simple trick some psychotherapists teach is to imagine putting your regrets into a drawer and closing it.  If you really must, you can take them out occasionally and look at them.  But then put them back, close that drawer firmly and get on with your life.  Tell yourself 'If there's nothing I can do about it - let it go.'

Choosing the wrong friends ...
A recent study found that having a wide circle of friends is good for your overall health.  It seems that those with wider, more varied social networks are more likely to exercise, drink less (alcohol) and take care of their health than those who restrict their social lives to family and just a few friends.  And another thing: if a close friend has piled on the pounds, your chance of following suit increases by more than half; and if that friend is the same gender as you are, the odds are even higher.

FIX IT: People around you can influence you in ways you don't realise.  Seek out position support by joining a gym, a walking group or a dance class and make some new, healthier friends.  And if you're in with the smoking, drinking and bad-diet brigade, why not sign up together to break some of those unhealthy habits?

Giving up on your love life ...
Men can find it harder to get an erection; loss of oestrogen at the menopause can result in vaginal dryness and painful sex for women, but getting older needn't mean the end of your sex life.  Later life can bring a new-found freedom and confidence in the bedroom.  

If you have erectile problems or vaginal dryness speak to your GP, as there are medications that can help.  

Well, I think that give us plenty to think about!

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