Have you ever taken a ride in a well-preserved classic automobile? The hum of the engine, the feel of the upholstery, the smoothness of the ride. It is no accident that some cars maintain their value for years and years. It takes effort. Upkeep. Regular maintenance. So it is with the physical machine we call our body. Consistent care and addressing changes can keep it running smooth well into our later years.
To start, I recommend a thorough annual physical exam by an experienced internist or family doctor. Doing so will address any health changes early on before they can really cause your motor to malfunction.
During your annual physical, your doctor will address appropriate vaccinations recommended to protect you and your loved ones.
Tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) – Every 10 years. Make sure it contains the pertussis portion to protect your grandchildren from whooping cough.
Hepatitis A/B – A series of three shots once in life. This is especially important if you plan to travel abroad.
Influenza – Annually during the autumn months for everyone. More people die of this in the United States than any other preventable illness. There is a higher dose available for those older than 65.
Herpes zoster/Shingles – Once at age 60. Your risk of getting these increases with age as does the risk of the chronic neuropathy/nerve pain that accompanies this. You don’t want shingles!
Pneumococcal – Once before age 65 for those with chronic medical conditions and once after age 65 for everyone.
Eat high-fiber whole fruits and vegetables and cut back on the animal products. Keep weight under control. Even a 5-10 percent weight loss will dramatically improve your health. Hydrate with eight or more 8-ounce glasses of water daily and minimize sweetened drinks and sodas. Don’t forget to brush and floss your teeth regularly and get routine dental checkups.
The second most common cause of death for men over 50 is cancer. Each year at your physical exam, your doctor will review your family history and may ask to do some screening tests. Here are the most common cancer recommendations.
Skin Cancer – This is the most common cancer and should be evaluated annually. Not all irregularities are cancer. Just watch for any changes and bring them to your doctor’s attention. I tell my patients to pay attention to the ABCDE’s of skin cancer:
- Asymmetry – Normal moles are symmetric. Cancers stand out from other lesions.
- Border – A mole or spot with blurry and/or jagged edges
- Color – Any change in color or more than one color in the same lesion
- Diameter – Anything greater than a pencil eraser needs to be evaluated
- Elevation – Raised above the skin or an uneven surface
Lung Cancer – This is the most lethal cancer. Don’t smoke...ever! If you do…stop!
Prostate Cancer – Get a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and physical exam annually, or as recommended by your doctor.
Colon Cancer – Get your first screening colonoscopy at age 50, then as recommended by your doctor. If you have a family member with colon cancer, you need to screen 10 years earlier.
Work, serve others and have a purpose. It seems that engagement with life is what helps prolong life. This can come from working, taking up causes, volunteering, finding a new hobby, or contributing to your family and community.
The most common cause of death for men over 50 is cardiovascular disease. I tell my patients what their vital signs mean and what labs they might need. I encourage them to start by just focusing on my four basic ‘blood recommendations’ to prevent heart disease:
- Control your blood pressure
- ontrol your blood sugar
- Control your blood cholesterol
- Take a blood thinner
As always, check with your own doctor to adapt this advice to you personally.
Get proper rest and relaxation. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night and learn to control your reactions to stress. Getting plenty of sunshine and maintaining a positive mental attitude make a difference.
Finally, if you want to focus on the single most important factor that will have the most impact on your quality of life, exercise! Turn off the screen, get off the couch, and move. You can spread it throughout the day, do it with a friend, take the stairs, walk the dog, park farther away, whatever. Get physically active for 30 to 60 minutes daily. It doesn’t have to be a difficult commitment. Just be consistent. Daily walking has been proven to have more impact on your overall health than just about anything else and is every bit as effective as vigorous exercise. The key is to just do it.
Now let’s get our physical machines in top performing condition so that we can have a smooth ride for many years to come.