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Lifestyle Medicine: It’s Never Too Late to Get Healthy

Introduction

The human body is perfectly designed for long-term viability and life expectancy determined by how a person takes care of their health. It is known that life expectancy is predominantly dependent on the lifestyle that people create for themselves. With age, the human body and life change, and an elderly person needs to know what is necessary to maintain their health. There are changes in personal life, medication intake, habits, and tastes, affecting interest in healthy eating and physical activity. A rational regime is an inexhaustible source of wellness and longevity. A healthy lifestyle requires a particular effort from a person, and most people neglect its rules. Early aging is caused by insufficient attention to one’s health, including an incorrect lifestyle, unwillingness to quit smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and intemperance in food. Active longevity of an older adult is promoted by many factors summarized under healthy lifestyle medicine.

The Concept of Lifestyle Medicine

Many people suffer from stress, lack of sleep, being overweight, and various related diseases. Vast amounts of money are spent on medicines; simultaneously, medications can have several adverse side effects. However, there are also entirely free medicines that do not have side effects, which everyone can prescribe for themselves and cure one’s own body of ailments; these are lifestyle medications. Most diseases are largely preventable by changing the lifestyle, diet, and way of thinking and do not require a trip to the pharmacy. Lifestyle medicine is the application of healthy behavior for the prevention and treatment of diseases (Rippe, 2021). This is the purpose of a neuroprotective lifestyle, which is a set of correct behaviors. Such lifestyle medicine works as effectively as medications; however, it is free and completely safe.

Components of Lifestyle Medicine

The medicines prescribed without a doctor are functional nutrition, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management and positive thinking, and giving up bad habits.

Functional Nutrition

Aging is a natural process that is accompanied by physiological changes in the body. However, many experts believe that it can be influenced by healthy diet. To slow down the aging process to maintain the body’s normal functioning, it is essential to ensure proper nutrition for the elderly.

Main Principles of Healthy Nutrition of the Elderly

The leading cause of severe illnesses and deaths among the elderly is atherosclerosis; therefore, nutrition should be aimed at preventing this disease. To keep the vessels in order, older adults should try not to consume animal fats; it is better to eat fish more often because it consists of polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is also recommended to eat cottage cheese, fermented milk, and seafood, fruits, and vegetables – this reduces the amount of cholesterol (Toribio-Mateas, 2018). This kind of food does not allow it to be absorbed from the intestines back into the blood. The diet should be as diverse as possible; at the same time, it should include all the components required for the gastrointestinal tract and other body systems to function properly. Therefore, the food should be varied more often and include fish, eggs, dairy, cereals, and meat.

Raw fruits and vegetables should dominate the diet because they saturate the body with a sufficient number of mineral components. The elderly should avoid the systematic consumption of canned goods and concentrated products since vitamins are destroyed in technologically processed food. Dishes should be light because with age-related changes, the ability of digestive tract enzymes to digest worsens.

Therefore, the main emphasis should be placed on fish and milk (instead of meat) (Toribio-Mateas, 2018). It is necessary to avoid the active consumption of mushrooms, smoked products, legumes; such food slows down the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. The daily intake of food should include a sufficient number of vitamins. At the same time, it is necessary to adhere to the correct processing of such products. If cooked incorrectly, the vitamins contained in it can be destroyed.

Rules of Nutrition for The Elderly

First of all, older adults should consume as little salt as possible. Many do not have the former sensitivity to salty and bitter; for this reason, the food is often over-salted. Excessive salt content is fraught with edema, increased blood pressure (up to hypertension), and other serious ailments like a stroke; it is also a substantial load on the kidneys (Després, 2020). To avoid such situations, adding seasonings, beneficial oils from flax and olives, and herbs to the food is necessary.

In older people, the gastrointestinal tract works more slowly; in addition, salivation decreases, and less gastric juice is released. As a result, the body may lack a certain proportion of elements (say, B vitamins), as well as folic acid (Després, 2020). On this issue, it is appropriate to consult a specialist; perhaps they will prescribe food supplements and suggest introducing foods containing more fiber into the diet. These include cereals and vegetables; in the summer, older adults need to eat as much greenery as possible – these products will bring significant benefits straight from the garden.

As a breakfast, it is advisable to use oatmeal porridge because it includes a lot of fiber, carbohydrates of complex types. The cheapest packaging of oatmeal can be bought – in this case, there is a possibility that the processing was minimal, and therefore, more valuable substances were preserved. Weakening of the sensations of the taste buds and poor appetite may also be associated with taking medications (Toribio-Mateas, 2018). If ordinary food has suddenly acquired a bland taste, this is an occasion to consult a doctor who will determine how well the prescribed medications are suitable for a person. In addition, it is crucial how the medicines are combined when taken simultaneously.

Giving Up Bad Habits and Eliminating Addictions

During their life, a person acquires several habits; some of them are absolutely harmless or even useful and serve to streamline life. Others belong to the category of bad habits and can significantly impact the duration and quality of a person’s life in old age. These include smoking, addiction to alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle, and a passion for hoarding.

The Impact of Bad Habits on The Elderly

The human body is an integral and multicomponent system; a violation of the work of one organ entails a failure in the normal functioning of all the others. By old age, natural physiological changes occur in the body– the production of hormones and immunity decreases, and metabolic processes slow down (Rippe, 2018). Therefore, bad habits can cause significant harm to health and significantly shorten the days of the elderly.

Smoking

Smoking has a direct harmful effect on the respiratory and circulatory systems. Thereby it disrupts the blood supply and oxygen saturation of all tissues and organs. Prolonged exposure to tobacco resins on the respiratory tract leads to the destruction of the villous cells of the trachea and bronchi (Pasarica & Kay, 2020). It prevents the penetration of infectious agents into the lungs, and as a result, the risk of infectious diseases increases. Also, chronic intoxication with nicotine and tobacco resins leads to chronic obstructive bronchitis, which also poisons the entire body through inflammatory reactions. Nicotine has a vasoconstrictive effect on the microcirculatory bed, increasing the risk of thrombosis and developing strokes and heart attacks.

Alcohol

Large doses of alcohol or its regular use primarily affect the functioning of the digestive tract. Alcoholic beverages directly affect the stomach walls and can cause stomach ulcers and their malignancy turning into a cancerous tumor (Bodai et al., 2018). Alcohol also harms the liver and pancreas, destroying the cells of these vital for human organs. Alcohol breakdown products have a toxic effect on the heart muscle, which increases the risk of developing a heart attack or heart rhythm problems.

With prolonged alcohol intoxication, the thin fibers of the nerves are destroyed, and sensitivity in the feet and hands is lost, spreading higher along with the limbs. The effect of alcohol on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is manifested in the destruction of neurons in the brain. It leads to the early development of encephalopathy and dementia. Also, alcohol abuse is often associated with insufficient nutrition, which can lead to exhaustion of the body and the emergence of problems with hematopoiesis (B12-deficiency anemia, folic deficiency anemia) (Bodai et al., 2018). Abnormal blood cells cannot carry out sufficient gas exchange in tissues and organs, making a person feel exhausted.

Sedentary Lifestyle

A sedentary lifestyle can also be attributed to bad habits which have a negative impact on health. The stagnation of fluids in the tissues negatively affects the brain’s activity, causing weakness and fatigue. The lack of motor activity leads to a violation of metabolic processes in the body, stagnation of blood, a tendency to form blood clots (Pot et al., 2020). It is a risk factor for the development of diabetes and obesity, and the occurrence of problems of the musculoskeletal system.

In the list of dangerous risk factors for diseases among the elderly, in the first place is not obesity but a sedentary lifestyle. Scientists from Florida found that people with an average weight and a low level of physical activity have a 30% higher risk of cardiovascular diseases than those who live more actively (Conn & Curtain, 2019). To protect the heart from diseases, older people should engage in physical activities more.

The Desire for Hoarding and Storage of Old Things

Old things tend to accumulate dirt and dust in themselves; they can be a source of bacterial microflora or be allergens. In poorly ventilated carpets, blankets, pillows, dust mites can start, which can cause various diseases of the respiratory tract. Old books are a source of book dust, which negatively affects the skin and respiratory organs (Gray et al., 2020). This does not mean that all the old things need to be thrown out. They can be a receptacle of pleasant memories for the elderly, and preserving a familiar environment is important for their psychological comfort. It is crucial to maintain a balance between keeping memorabilia and freeing up a clean and fresh space in the living room. Sometimes the passion for hoarding takes on threatening proportions (for example, storing things from the garbage dump in the house, collecting garbage), which can be a sign of a mental disorder. In this case, it is necessary to show the elderly person to a psychiatrist.

Regular Physical Activity

Physical activity remains one of the main factors for strengthening and preserving health and slowing down the aging process; without it, the body is more vulnerable to various diseases (Mondala & Sannidhi, 2019). Of course, the motor activity of people changes in different periods of life. For the exercises to be as practical as possible, it is worth considering the age’s peculiarities.

Benefits of Physical Activity for The Elderly

As a result of sports, the musculoskeletal system is strengthened, muscle strength indicators increase, the bones of the skeleton become more resistant to loads. When running, swimming, cycling, the oxygen supply of the body improves. Under the influence of regular training, blood circulation improves, the muscles of the whole body are strengthened, and the body’s overall health is strengthened (Mondala & Sannidhi, 2019). During physical activity, the nervous system strengthens and develops because the speed of nervous processes increases. The brain reacts faster to specific situations, quickly finds and makes decisions, and increases a person’s learning ability.

Especially relevant for the elderly is such an effect as improving the functioning of the heart and blood vessels. The influence of sports on the human body makes the heart and blood vessels more resilient; training forces all organs to work in an intensive mode. As a result of sports, the work of the respiratory organs improves (Mondala & Sannidhi, 2019). Due to the increased demand for tissues and organs for oxygen, breathing becomes more profound and more intense during physical exertion; the vital capacity of the lungs also increases.

Physical Activity After 60 Years Old

Physical culture plays a vital role in the fight for health and longevity. In old age, almost all kinds of sport are possible with the introduction of some adjustments associated with a reduced ability to perform strength and prolonged physical activity. The focus should not be on sports but the hygienic orientation of classes. Among the most common physical exercises in old age are gymnastic exercises aimed at maintaining the flexibility of the skeleton and mobility in the joints (Trilk et al., 2019). Activities for the vertebral column, neck, back in the form of flexion and extension, squats, and turns of the trunk and neck are essential for preventing salt deposition and developing osteochondrosis. Of great importance are breathing exercises with an emphasis on strengthening the exhalation, which weakens with age.

Static activities should be avoided, as well as exercises associated with holding breath, straining, and sharp, fast movements. Elderly people are more suitable for practices at a calm pace, providing even, full breathing (Trilk et al., 2019). Physical culture classes should be conducted under the supervision of a doctor in compliance with all hygienic requirements for the work and rest regime, nutrition, personal hygiene, places of physical exercise.

The most accessible kind of sport for older adults is morning gymnastics. It is used to facilitate the transition from sleep to wakefulness and as the first type of particular physical exercise recommended for health purposes. As well as morning gymnastics, walking is widely available for the elderly. This type of physical activity is helpful in its effect on the body. Running in the elderly should be used only with permission and under the supervision of a doctor (Lee et al., 2017).

Running requires a strict dosage by the state of health and physical fitness. It is carried out at a slow pace, with a gradual increase in distance. Running should be included in the central part of the lesson when the body is sufficiently prepared for more or less significant stress. If a feeling of fatigue appears during running, it is necessary to switch to walking, which restores breathing well and, when alternating with running, facilitates the development of endurance. Running at speed, as well as participating in running competitions, are contraindicated (Razavi et al., 2020). Older adults with severe cardiovascular system disorders, who have suffered a heart attack, suffering from coronary heart disease, hypertension, should not run.

Restorative Sleep

Older adults often face the problem of sleep disorders: some suffer from insomnia; others constantly wake up at night. According to statistics, every four older men and two women complain about poor sleep. Nevertheless, high-quality restorative sleep plays a significant role in the medicine of a healthy lifestyle. A full-fledged sleep ensures quality of life and makes it possible to fully realize a person’s abilities. Normalization of the night sleep helps to improve their psychosomatic state and the quality of life.

Importance of Sleep in Old Age

High-quality sleep is essential for the elderly, since at night, mainly from 23.00 to 01.00, the vital hormone melatonin is produced. It regulates circadian rhythms, stimulates the immune system, and has antioxidant properties (Harvie et al., 2019). The necessary proteins have produced during a night’s sleep that help restores the brain’s structure and prevent its aging. Thus, sleep can be used as a preventive measure against senile dementia. With a lack of sleep, the reaction and attentiveness of an older adult noticeably worsen. It is also more difficult for a person to form thoughts, and even visual impairment is threatened. Chronic lack of sleep negatively affects health and causes problems with the heart, skin, blood vessels.

A calm, high-quality sleep allows to restore the cells of the central nervous system; it is powerful prevention of many diseases, strengthens the immune system. During sleep, wounds and burns heal much faster; a full-fledged sleep allows the brain to renovate the chemical, emotional reserve of nerve cells, especially during the slow sleep phase. In many developed countries, sleep treatment is widely used for adequate recovery, activation of nerve cells neurons (Katz et al., 2019). It is believed that the benefit of sleep is in the psychoanalytic ability of a person to heal or find the right solution in a dream.

Directly in the sleep process, the human brain is busy diagnosing all body systems, self-healing mechanisms are triggered. Doctors have noticed that people who constantly get enough sleep are twice as likely to suffer from chronic diseases (Vodovotz et al., 2020). During the rest period, blood pressure and hormonal metabolism are normalized, blood sugar levels are stabilized. Insomnia is the cause of numerous diseases; frequent early awakenings indicate hormonal problems. If a person cannot fall asleep for half an hour, then the reason for this phenomenon is emotional tension or stress.

The benefits of sleep, of course, are beyond doubt, but somnologists believe that sleeping too long is also harmful. Sleeping for 10 hours for an older adult is dangerous for the possibility of a violation of biorhythms, a decrease in the energy tone of the body (Katz et al., 2019). This can also lead to depression, apathy, headaches; that is why it is necessary to observe the norm of sleep, which is approximately 6 or 8 hours.

Prevention of Sleep Disorders in The Elderly

Sleep disorders in the elderly and senile age can be prevented if the person follows several rules to establish a healthy sleep. As mentioned above, the diet should be monitored; the evening meal should be made more accessible and moved away from falling asleep for 2-3 hours (Kelly et al., 2019). In addition, it is necessary to reduce the use of beverages containing caffeine, to skip them in the afternoon. It would help if the elderly person also refrained from drinking alcohol, nicotine, and other stimulants. For a comfortable and safe sleep, orthopedic pillows and a mattress should be used. In addition, it is worth regularly ventilating the bedroom before going to bed, even in the winter season.

Compliance with the Sleep Regime for The Elderly

In elderly people, especially those suffering from various diseases, sleep should take at least 7-8 hours. And in case of the exhaustion of the body or a long-term illness it should make up to 9-10 hours (Pasarica et al., 2021). Lack of night sleep negatively affects the general condition of the body, exacerbates diseases, and affects the mood of the elderly. At night it is necessary to maintain the air temperature in the room from 18 to 23 degrees with a humidity of at least 50% (Muscato et al., 2018). Comfort remains an essential factor affecting the quality of sleep of an older adult. An uncomfortable bed, a heavy blanket, and excessively hot, dry air often cause insomnia, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing.

It is necessary to choose a comfortable bed with a relatively hard mattress. At the same time, it is advisable to use a warm but not heavy blanket and choose bed linen made of natural fabrics. If possible, wellness procedures and walks in the fresh air should be arranged before going to bed, and the room should be ventilated as often as possible. Special diapers should be used in case of nocturnal incontinence of an elderly person. In case of sleep disorders, the intake of medications should be monitored carefully.

Stress Management

It is impossible to imagine the everyday life of a modern person without stress. Elderly people, due to emotional and psychological instability, fall into the risk group for being among the most stressed people.

The Concept of Stress

First of all, stress is a natural reaction of a healthy body to its mental and physical costs. Psychologists say that properly worked out stress benefits the body; it can be mild or intense depending on the degree of shock (Morton, 2018). Stress is a general reaction of the body to the impact of various factors (for example, shock, hypothermia, infection, death of a loved one, loss of work) that disrupt its balance.

The primary function of stress is an adaptation to the changed environmental conditions. Thus, an emotional reaction is only part of the body’s overall response to a stressor. The factors that cause stress can be both harmful and positive (wedding, moving, new job). What matters is that they lead to changes in an elderly person’s life at one level or another. Psychological stressors are characterized by the person: stress is caused not by the situation itself but by how a person subjectively evaluates it and perceives it.

Physical Consequences of Stress

Physical stress affects all body systems, including muscles, heart and blood vessels, respiratory, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems. A prolonged state of stress can lead to a breakdown of adaptive mechanisms and the development of chronic pathologies — hypertension, coronary heart disease, immunodeficiency, depression, and other health problems (Harvie et al., 2019). The influence of severe stress on the nervous system can cause neuroses, depression, and apathy. During stress, a person loses many nerve cells, the brain works in an enhanced mode, and the endocrine glands produce an excessive amount of hormones that regulate psychological stress (glucocorticoids).

Accordingly, when the body has managed to relieve tension and overcome the disease, it goes into economy mode due to the subsequent economic production of endorphin and oxytocin. The consequences of the stress can include experiencing isolation, apathy, and irritability. Stress can also affect the musculoskeletal system: during that state, the body causes an excessive amount of glucocorticoids that do not have time to be absorbed. After relieving tension, they seem to wander through the body, bringing it only harm. They contribute to the breakdown of nucleic acids, thereby weakening the muscles and causing the risk of dystrophy.

Also, the consequence of constant chronic stress can be osteoporosis; this disease is prevalent among elderly women. Those absorbed glucocorticoids interfere with the absorption of calcium which leads to thinning of the bone tissue (Morton, 2018). It can have stress and consequences for the skin, such as preventing fibroblasts’ (connective tissue cells) renewal. This leads to the fact that the skin becomes sensitive to irritants, minor wounds heal worse, and acne and inflammation appear more often.

Positive Thinking

Components of Positive Thinking

With positive thinking, positive emotions accumulate, an elderly person is seized with inspiration, a cheerful mood, confidence and joy. Health, appearance, mood, emotions and feelings depend on the quality of thoughts (Morton, 2018). The first component of positive thinking is positive beliefs or affirmations, which are statements emphasizing what a person wants to have (abilities, skills, qualities, and attitudes).

The next component is a positive attitude of a person that helps to overcome difficulties. The ability to adjust oneself correctly is embodied in the manifestation of emotions of joy, interest in a life-affirming mood. Joy sharpens the sensitivity to the world, allows one to admire and enjoy it. A joyful person sees the world in its beauty and harmony, which determines the involvement, belonging of the individual to the surrounding reality. The last component is actual positive thinking, which allows people to accept the world around them and new opportunities. A person with a positive mindset is constantly open to experiment, open to receiving further information, and is in constant development.

Impact of Positive Thinking on The Elderly

Positive thinking can radically change a person’s existence: it allows them to be an active, active subject of cultural processes. The desire to change oneself develops the inner culture of a person, revives the culture of communication, ethical interaction of elderly people. The concept of positive thinking is present as a basic attitude in all cultures of the world. The traditional system of organizing the positive rhythm of life, sleep, and nutrition, worked out over the centuries, was aimed at providing an individual with emotional comfort and prolonging their life.

Ways to Develop Positive Thinking

The physical and spiritual states are interrelated: the depressed state generates self-doubt, apathy, amorphousness. Heavy thoughts appear, which negatively affects the health and condition of the older adult’s body. Therefore, it is necessary to turn to positive thinking since it helps cope more easily with problems and obstacles, and anxiety. Elderly people should get into the habit of working through past events and situations at the end of each day, pronouncing positive moments. They should also do things that bring joy and inspire them more often (hobbies and creativity, watching favorite movies, walking). In addition, they should smile more often: it improves the mood.

It would help if an elderly person also tried to control their speech, replacing negative words with strong and positive ones. To save a considerable amount of mental energy and maintain an internal harmonious state for older adults, they should stop reading newspapers and watching the news on TV. Very soon, they will notice that the mood for positive thinking has significantly increased. It would help if they decided to stop complaining, and expressing dissatisfaction with what is happening; this will reduce negative emotions to a minimum.

Communication with optimists can strengthen the mood for positive thinking; their positive emotions can lift other people’s spirits. A great way to be filled with positive emotions is spending time in nature or with loved ones. It would help if elderly people also tried to control their thoughts immediately changing the negative thoughts into something pleasant; this will strengthen the mood for positive thinking.

Conclusion

Many of us think that after a certain age it is too late to change our behaviors, especially when it comes to our health and wellness. We believe we must live with our current state of health and regimen of prescribed medicine. Lifestyle Medicine shows that we can reduce the risk of disease and increase our quality of health by our lifestyle choices.

References

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OctoStudy. "Lifestyle Medicine: It’s Never Too Late to Get Healthy." October 27, 2022. https://octostudy.com/lifestyle-medicine-its-never-too-late-to-get-healthy/.

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OctoStudy. 2022. "Lifestyle Medicine: It’s Never Too Late to Get Healthy." October 27, 2022. https://octostudy.com/lifestyle-medicine-its-never-too-late-to-get-healthy/.

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