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From Balance to Bones: Expert Tips for Aging Gracefully

Healthy aging is a hot topic for baby boomers everywhere. Whether you're concerned about weight gain, sex drive or chronic diseases, Dr. Danielle Martin shares healthy lifestyle advice to help you age gracefully.

It's never too late to make healthier lifestyle choices. Eating a variety of healthy foods, practicing portion control and including physical activity in your daily routine can go a long way toward promoting healthy aging.

Bone Strength

Your bones are continuously changing -- new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you're young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass around age 30. With age, bones tend to shrink in size and density -- which weakens them and makes them more susceptible to fracture. As the bones in your spine compress and shrink you can lose height, become hunched over and even get a bit shorter. After age 50, you also lose your muscle mass per year if you get lazy and don't exercise all your muscles. Muscles will generally lose strength and flexibility, and you might become less coordinated or have trouble balancing.

What to do:

Eat healthy. Include plenty of calcium in your diet. The recommended dietary allowance is 1,200 milligrams a day for women after age 50 and for men after age 70. Good sources of calcium include dairy products like milk and yogurt, also almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines and soy products. Look for orange juice that is supplemented with calcium if you like orange juice. Calcium supplements are very constipating, which is why it is better to get calcium from natural sources if possible. Another interesting tip is that calcium binds to many medications including thyroid pills so women should NEVER take their thyroid pills and calcium supplements at the same time.

Pay attention to vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. For adults ages 19 to 70, the recommended daily average of vitamin D is 600 international units (IUs) a day. The recommendation increases to 800 IUs a day for adults age 71 and older. Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as tuna and sardines, egg yolks and fortified milk. Sunlight also contributes to the body's production of vitamin D.

Balance Problems

As you age it is important to make sure that you incorporate balance exercises into your daily exercise routine. Ideally a healthy exercise routine might include 30 minutes of strength training two times per week, cardio three times per week and balance training two times per week

What to do:

A great exercise is Tai Chi. It is low impact and puts minimal stress on muscles and joints, making it especially suitable if you're an older adult who otherwise may not exercise. And tai chi is appealing because it's inexpensive, requires no special equipment and can be done indoors or out, either alone or in a group. You can also do simple exercises at home such as standing behind a chair and balancing on one foot, or ask your community center about special exercise programs to increase balance to prevent falling.

Bladder Control

Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence) affects one in two women over the age of 65 but it should never be considered a normal part of aging. Cures and improvements can be obtained at all ages, even without medication or surgery. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, might contribute to incontinence if blood sugar is poorly controlled. Certain medications such as water pills may increase the risk. In men, an enlarged prostate or complications of prostate surgery can cause bladder control problems.

What to do:

The easiest thing to do is reduce your intake of caffeinated beverages, because caffeine is a bladder irritant and makes you go to the bathroom. Another way to control your bladder is to increase the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles that hold in your urine.

Pelvic floor muscle exercises are called Kegel exercises. They work for women and men. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions. If you are not sure you are doing them properly, consult a physiotherapist.

If you're overweight, losing 7-8 pounds can reduce your urinary symptoms by 50 per cent. Don't smoke. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit. Smoke-induced coughing can make bladder leakage worse.

Memory Loss

Memory loss is what frightens people most about aging. With age, you may have more trouble remembering the name of a friend or movie actor, or where you put your keys or parked your car, but as long as you remember eventually, it means you are still normal!

What to do:

The good news is that there are many things you can do to improve your memory. A heart healthy diet might benefit your brain. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss. Stay mentally active. Mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape and might keep memory loss at bay. Do crossword puzzles. Take alternate routes when driving. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn a new language. Write things down so you won't forget them. Exercise regularly.

Avoid medications that dull your brain such as sleeping pills. Sleeping pills and other sedating medications such as some antihistamines have been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 50 per cent, even if you only take them two times per week! Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, which can contribute to memory loss.

Vision and Hearing Loss

With age, you might have difficulty focusing on objects that are close up. You might become more sensitive to glare and have trouble adapting to different levels of light. Aging also can affect your eye's lens, causing clouded vision (cataracts).

What to do:

Schedule regular physical checkups. Follow your doctor's advice about glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids and other corrective devices. Make sure you have bright lights in your house to help you when you read.

Take precautions: wear sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat when you're outdoors, and use earplugs when you're around loud machinery or other loud noises.

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