Graceful Aging

Stave off aches and pains and other symptoms of aging by taking steps to improve your physical health at every age.

| July/ August 2017

  • Exercise with cardio, strength training and flexibility exercises such as yoga to prevent joint pain.
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  • Learning new skills, such as music, can be a way to maintain memory and brain capacity as we age.
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  • NSAID drugs help with pain, but can contribute to colon, liver or kidney damage if used long-term.
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  • As we age, skin and hair can suffer from increased dryness and sun damage.
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  • Gingko is one of several herbs that help prevent memory loss.
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  • Raw fruit such as papaya contains helpful enzymes for skin.
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  • Staying physically, mentally and socially active can keep you healthy and happy in your golden years.
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  • Physical activity is associated with improved brain function.
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  • Having an exercise partner can make physical activity fun, and keep you accountable.
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  • Exercises such as yoga can improve flexibility and keep you feeling healthy and active as you age.
    Photo by jacoblund; iStock

Most People complain about the symptoms of aging from time to time, whether it’s when we notice an uptick in the time it takes us to run a mile, or when we walk into a room and forget why we went in there in the first place. But growing older is also wonderful. Every day, month and year we’re alive is another opportunity to create new memories with our friends and families; to improve our knitting or painting or pie-baking or card-playing skills; to travel somewhere we’ve never been; or to watch our children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews grow. Yet the joys of these moments can be tempered by the ailments of growing older. Wrestling with your grandson is a little less fun when you’ve got chronic shoulder pain. And a night out with our best friends is always more fun when we feel we look our best (and don’t have to spend the whole night seeking the nearest bathroom!). The recommendations throughout this article are all backed up by research or experts in their field. We hope some of them will come in handy to make your golden years glow.

Aches and Pains

Aches and pains are a common complaint of aging, although chronic pain can afflict adults of all ages. Some of the most widely reported types of pain include joint and muscle pain. This can be caused by arthritis, but also simply because our ligaments, muscles and tendons become less pliant as we age, leading to aching and soreness. One of the best ways to combat aching joints is to commit to building and maintaining flexibility. Stephanie Siegrist, a doctor and the author of Know Your Bones: Making Sense of Arthritis Medicine, suggests the best way to manage pain is to consider ideal conditioning a three-legged stool, consisting of cardio (especially important to keep weight down, which will improve joint health); strength training (to maintain muscle density; stronger muscles also help keep ligaments and tendons aligned); and flexibility (which means daily stretching or yoga). She recommends older adults focus equal attention on all three — and never give flexibility short shrift. If back pain is a problem (lower back pain is the most commonly reported type of pain in the U.S.), focus on exercises that strengthen the core. That can include upright cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, as well as core-strengthening workouts such as Pilates and yoga. Read more about exercises appropriate for every decade on page 27. Consult with your health-care practitioner to determine whether any pain medication, supplement or technique is appropriate for you — especially if you have any significant health issues.

Herbal remedies can also offer a natural way to manage aches and pains. Unlike over-the-counter and prescription medication, many natural herbal remedies are safe to take daily over the long term. For arthritis pain, famed herbalist James Duke recommends standardized extracts of boswellia, derived from the same tree that produces frankincense. Devil’s claw, turmeric and ginger are other highly anti-inflammatory herbs that are frequently used to treat arthritis pain. Look for high-quality supplements or teas at health-food stores and follow label dosing instructions, or consult a certified herbalist or naturopathic doctor who can develop an herbal program specifically for you. Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements, as well as glucosamine and the naturally occurring methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), are also supported by research. Don’t combine MSM with blood thinners.

Finally, massage, acupuncture and water therapy (bathing or hot tubs) are all research-backed ways to help manage pain. Several types of massage are recommended to help manage pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Try combining regular professional massage with daily self-massage. Massage is also beneficial to aid in sleep, which is a problem for many arthritis sufferers. Massage can promote deep sleep, which is when the body is most able to restore. And although acupuncture is somewhat controversial, its most well-researched benefit is pain management. In a study of nearly 18,000 patients published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that acupuncture outperformed sham treatments and standard care in people suffering osteoarthritis, migraines, and chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. When it comes to bathing, opt for 20 minutes in warm (92- to 100-degree) water, and do some gentle stretching while the water is loosening your muscles.

Skin and Hair

As we age, our skin and hair can suffer from increased dryness and damage. Consider these tips to maintain your hair and skin’s youthful appearance.

For skin, an anti-aging regimen should consist of these broad approaches.

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