She got hers last week. This time they did, in fact, find a non-cancerous polyp. No worries, the doctor said. Except, much to B's dismay, she now has to go back in five years, not ten.
I have my test coming up in June. It takes three months to schedule one of these things, because there are a lot of older people around and they all seem to be lining up for this procedure.
All of this got us thinking about taking care of our health, trying to do the things that not only will allow us to live longer, but also to feel better, be more energetic, more able to do the things we want to do.
So here are some reminders. Maybe you have a few more?
1. Get Screened. Well, we just talked about one type of screening, for colorectal cancer. Presumably, we all get an annual checkup which monitors our blood pressure, cholesterol and a series of other life signs. Many of us, by this stage of our lives, have our own personal problems. I get an annual skin screening because I've had several skin moles removed over the years -- a result, I'm told, of a misspent youth with too much time at the beach. Do you get a mammogram? B hates them; but she does get one occasionally, though not as often as she probably should.
2. Get Vaccinated. Flu and pneumonia comprise the seventh leading cause of death among older Americans. We should probably all get the pneumonia vaccine at least once, and the flu vaccine every year in the fall. This year the flu season was bad. Both B and I got shots, even though we knew they were not all that effective. But neither one of us fell to the flu this winter. That's something.
3. Get some exercise. Everyone – not just seniors -- should participate in both moderate-intensity aerobic activities as well as muscle-strengthening exercise on a regular basis. B is better at this than I am. She takes the dog for a long walk almost every morning. In fact, right now while I'm sitting on my butt, she's running around the dog park. I do my knee exercises pretty regularly, and I play golf when I can, and I do some walking too, but not as conscientiously as B does.
4. Eat fruits and vegetables daily. According to the Center for Disease Control, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is linked to reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The recommended "dose" for people over age 65? Five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. That seems like a lot of food! But I have fruit every day for breakfast (plus orange juice) and B serves a vegetable (or two) every night for dinner.
5. Don't smoke. A no-brainer. But I admit I smoked when I was younger, and even kept up the filthy habit in the form of cigar smoking at our monthly poker game, well into middle age.
6. Watch your blood pressure. I used to have low blood pressure. It's gone up a little bit in the past few years. Meanwhile, the CDC says that over 60 million Americas have high blood pressure, and almost half of them do not have it under control. I guess it's not for nothing they call it the Silent Killer.
7. Get plenty of sleep. I've read that a good night's sleep helps lower blood pressure, and also bolsters your immune system, making your body better able to fight off infection. I found one study that showed people sleeping less than six hours a night have an increased risk for stroke, and a higher risk of cancer. Of course, sleeping well is easier said than done. My go-to technique is reading a book in bed at night. Puts me out every time.
8. Maintain an active social life. It seems intuitively obvious that people who enjoy a close family life, and/or plenty of friends, feel better, enjoy better health and live longer than people who are lonely and depressed. Being engaged in a community gives people a sense of connection and security -- a reason to get up in the morning and go out and do things. But my theory? I think friends and family help promote healthy behavior such as exercising, eating well, and avoiding self-destructive habits like taking drugs or drinking too much. After all, B is the one who makes me eat my spinach and broccoli. And she's the one I go dancing with. But . . .
We went dancing last night. A friend of ours brought a cooler along. He opened it up, and had a McDonald's Shamrock Shake for everyone. So much for friends helping you stay healthy. Anyway, happy St. Patrick's Day. It's only once a year.