The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says avoidable behaviors like cigarette use, poor diet and lack of exercise are the underlying cause of half of the deaths in the United States. A new study finds it's never too late to gain health benefits by knocking off such bad habits.
During a five-year study, researchers tested the walking speeds of 2,000 people who either smoke, were smokers, or had never smoked. Current smokers walked more slowly than those who had stopped. The findings will be presented next week at the American Geriatrics Society's Annual Meeting.
The results suggest that even at an older age, changing bad habits such as smoking can positively impact a senior's health later in life. Study leader Alison Moore of the American Geriatrics Society this week suggested five bad habits that should be halted if you wish to live longer.
Keeping physically active is integral to keeping the heart, mind and bones healthy. For some seniors, physical restrictions make exercise a challenge, but there are still small ways to incorporate physical activity into a daily routine, such as parking further away from the store to get in a short walk. And, programs such as yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi can help with balance and weight loss and can be adapted to all levels of physical ability, Moore said.
While it's not yet clear what role exercise plays in weight loss, it is soundly proven to pack a host of health benefits, including helping to keep the mind sharp. [Read: Bad Habits and Why We Can't Stop]
The majority of seniors are on multiple medications and sometimes find it difficult or too bothersome to remember when and which medications to take each day. As a result, some seniors "adjust" their daily medication routine without talking to their physicians, Moore notes. To help keep medications organized and alleviate frustration, seniors should use weekly or monthly pill boxes and have a family member or friend help them fill pill boxes on a regular basis or make a color coded chart to help keep track of their pills and the times they need to be taken, she said.
As people age, they often slow down and feel like they can't do as much as they did when they were young. While physical activity sometimes becomes restricted due to health ailments, that doesn't mean the brain needs to slow down. There are a variety of activities seniors can do to keep their minds focused and sharp, including word puzzles, interactive games, joining a book club or participating in other social and volunteer activities, Moore said.
Smoking and excessive alcohol intake is proven to have negative health effects on a person at any age, but seniors who smoke and drink regularly increase their chances of more advanced medical problems. The effects of many medications are altered when mixed with alcohol, which can pose serious health risks, especially for seniors taking multiple medications, Moore said.
Smoking, like obesity, will also curb your sex life.
Excess weight can cause multiple health problems and complications, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke, Moore said. We'd like to add that it can cause reduced sex desire. Substituting good carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, wheat bread, brown rice) for bad carbohydrates (white potatoes, white bread, white rice) and adding lean proteins, while limiting foods with high fat and sugar contents, will help seniors maintain a healthy weight, she said.
Not bad advice for Junior, either.