"How we react to works of art depends on who we are, where we are standing and when we encounter them." -- Margaret MacMillan, "War: How Conflict Shaped Us"

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Few Reminders About Your Health

     It's amazing how fast the calendar pages flip over, especially when you're talking about a certain physical test, one that shall remain unnamed, which everyone is supposed to endure periodically after age 50. The doctor found a polyp in me on the first go 'round. So I have to go every five years. But B, because of her preternatural good health, had a ten year reprieve after her last test. Still, the calendar rolls around, and so it's time for both B and me to undergo this particular humiliation.

     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.


Olga said...

I had clean results in 2005 and 2015. I kind of think that by 2025 I won't really care what might be lurking up there. But my diet does get cleaner and cleaner and I eat mostly vegetables and fruits with enough protein to keep me active. You're right the days do fly by faster than we want them to sometimes.

retirementreflections said...

HI, Tom - These are all excellent reminders. I actively do all of the above except I never get a flu shot. I know that I should but..... Both Richard and I escaped having the flu this year (sans shot). Lucky I know. I will definitely think about it for next year! :)

DJan said...

I have had the pneumonia shots and get a flu shot every year. I sure don't want that! Shingles shots are also something to consider. I do all the things you suggest for health, and nobody looks forward to going to bed more than me! It might take me as long as ten minutes to fall asleep. :-)

Anonymous said...

All good reminders. I can check off all of them except getting a good night's sleep. I, like you, read before bedtime and fall asleep pretty easily. The trouble is that I wake up around 2:30 or 3:00 then toss and turn. I had hoped that pattern would go away after I retired and didn't have so much on my mind that was troubling. Unfortunately, it appears to be a well-entrenched habit.

Jeanette Lewis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have colitis so I get colonoscopies as often as possible. The best way to prevent colon cancer is by removing polyps before they become tumors.

Tom said...

Yeah, shingles shot, definitely. I got mine two years ago. I too sometimes wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. and can't get back to sleep. If I'm awake for more than 20 min. or so I get up and start reading again. Usually works. But DJan you're absolutely right. Nothing helps you sleep better than getting some exercise during the day.

David @ iretiredyoung said...

Good advice, and I'm glad to see that I ticked most of the items on the list.

I follow a number of financial independence blogs, where managing or reducing cost is a often visited topic. But sometimes it's worth spending a bit of cash. Your post has reminded me that I should make an appointment for a medical. There's no point in working hard and saving for an early retirement if we don't give ourselves the best chance of good health to enjoy it.

Catherine said...

In the UK we are offered tests for bowel cancer by post every 5 years. This involves taking small smear tests from three consecutive bowel movements and putting on a special card. The card is sent back in a prepaid envelope for screening. This may not be a pleasant thing to do but it is absolutely vital IMHO. My brother died of colorectal cancer three years ago at the age of 59. Any small embarrassment is well worth getting over.
I also decided to start getting an annual immunisation against influenza. Again this is offered free on the NHS to everyone over 65 and those at special high risk, ie previous heart or lung disease, cancer etc.

Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond said...

Hi Tom all great advice and exactly the way I live my life.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I walk 5 miles a day and stay away from processed foods. Got my flu shot and shingles. My doctors gives me an at home test and if I pass, I don't have to go through the colonoscopy. It's messy but a lot more comfortable.

Still the Lucky Few said...

Great reminders! Nice to see your readers are taking excellent care of their health as well!

Anonymous said...

I would add "avoid the sun unless protected" and "avoid daily or excessive alcohol". Both have lead to early deaths of several friends.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who's interested, BigPharma has produced another new shot for shingles that allegedly is far more effective, and for longer, then the shingles vaccine that people have been getting up until now (which provides pretty limited protection). Here's a link to CDC information re: the new vaccine https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/25/health/cdc-new-shingles-vaccine/index.html

There is of course, very little information regarding side effects. Whoever gets the vaccine in the first few years, gets to be the guinea pigs.

Does Medicare pay for an annual preventive appointment? My current health insurance does not. I've been told I need a full blood panel (which includes the two types of cholesterol, LDL & HDL) only every five years. I am not old enough to be eligible for Medicare, and am not sure that it will be around or of much use by the time I am (in 3 years) given the current new budget, which has plenty of billions for "guns" but very little for "butter" for the non-wealthy.