Have You Earned the Right to be Lazy?

True or False: The wonderful part about retirement is that you’re allowed to sit down and eat cake.

Think about it, you’ve worked hard your whole life, you’ve looked after others, looked after yourself, at least in the basic sense. Now that you don’t have to get up early and drive to work, where’s the harm in being glued to the couch for a day if you want to be? The last time you were able to do that was probably as a teenager, and then your parents probably wouldn’t have let you sit still for as long as you wanted to.

Well, here’s the thing, sitting on the couch all day is only fun if you’ve chosen to do it, meaning you are capable of choosing to do something else, should you wish to.

And that’s where it gets tricky. If you spend many days sitting on the couch, pretty soon it’ll be all you’re able to do. And that’s when it stops being fun.

Research shows that the majority of retirees prefer to be able to live in their own homes for as long as possible, rather than moving to a care home. And the only way to maintain that level of independence is to continue to challenge the body and mind so that they don’t atrophy.

Experts give similar advice to anyone who wants to maintain a good level of health and fitness:

  • Find something that you enjoy doing, and do it every day.
  • Find a friend or group who will help motivate you on the days when the couch wants to play kidnapper
  • Take the chance to learn something new. Exercising doesn’t mean you’re signing up for the same thing every day for the rest of your life. Change it up a bit. Gardening, dancing, walking, swimming…. the list is only as short as your imagination.
  • If your activity has started to bore you, exchange it for another, but keep moving.

The benefits of staying active include feeling happier, fewer aches and pains, better sleep, all of which will contribute to better balance and lower fall risk. And, you can still enjoy sitting down and enjoying that cake. After all, you’ve certainly earned it.

A Simple Trick to Boost Your Health at Any Age

No matter how ‘healthy’ you are when it comes to diet or exercise, there is one simple habit that will improve your overall health. And the good news is

  1. It’s free
  2. It feels good
  3. Your family and friends can benefit too

It’s what scientists refer to as ‘non-noxious sensory stimulation’. Or touch, of the pleasurable kind.

Many kinds of touching all have beneficial health effects:

  • hugging
  • stroking
  • massage
  • holding hands
  • consensual sex
  • pat on the back
  • high five / fist bump

Pretty much any kind of touch that is carried out in a loving, friendly way is good for us.

Recently, there have been a number of studies to work out why this is the case. And it boils down to oxytocin, a hormone that has far reaching consequences in our bodies. 

As infants, oxytocin release is triggered during natural birth. Another dose comes with skin to skin contact after birth, and during nursing. Oxytocin is released in both mother and infant, and gives to both a long list of benefits.

Researchers have been delving deeper into what those benefits are and how they work.

Simply put, Oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love chemical’ because of the feeling of relaxed well-being it generates, gives some surprising benefits:

  • lower blood pressure
  • reduced inflammation
  • reduced cortisol
  • better gastrointestinal function, leading to better growth
  • faster healing
  • better responses to stress
  • improved mood

It turns out that Oxytocin is released into the circulatory system, as well as into the brain. The effects can last up to thirty minutes from a single dose. And after multiple doses, these effects can last for up to three weeks.

Older adults often suffer doubly from lack of Oxytocin – over time, our skin’s sensivity reduces, meaning that we need more stimulation aged 90 to produce the same effect we experienced aged 20. But many older adults live alone, and do not have access to gentle touch, from hand holding to hugging, that would brighten their lives, literally.

Research published in 2014 also discovered that the act of stroking a pet, like a cat or dog, triggered  oxytocin release in both human and pet.

So take a stand today, for your own health, and that of everyone dear to you. Reach out and touch them. Give them a hug and let them know their health is important to you.

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Is Healthy Living Too Risky?

Exercise aerobically, and you could bring on a heart attack. 

But don’t do it at all, and you risk heart disease.

Doing advanced exercises to improve your balance can put you at risk of falling, yet without them, you risk falling because your muscles are weak and respond too slowly.
Then there are all the environmental dangers: exercising outside is good for getting fresh air into lungs and absorbing Vitamin D from the sun. But sometimes that air is polluted, rather than fresh, and excessive exposure to sunlight can lead to skin cancer. And that’s before we get started on the dangers of automobile traffic for cyclists and runners.

And what about the sport specific injuries? Shin Splints for runners, Golfer’s Elbow, Tennis Elbow, Swimmer’s Ear, Plantar Faciitus. 

Wouldn’t it be safer to just stay at home and not stress the system? 

Most of us can point to relatives who drank or smoked and didn’t have gym memberships, and yet they worked out okay, some of them living into their nineties.

But modern life is not kind to the human body. By the time we retire, most of us have spent the better part of forty years seated: at desks, in cars or public transport, on sofas. We’re sitting ducks for age-related diseases.

It doesn’t have to stay that way. 

In order benefit from exercise, your body needs to leave its comfort zone. To improve your balance, you need to challenge the muscles that make you stable. But how can you do that if you’re worried about falling? 

One option might be to have a friend stand close, not touching you, but ready to help you before you fall. Or practise a one-legged stand initially holding onto the back of a sturdy chair. As your muscles get stronger, you can lift your hand off for a few seconds, then build to where you can do the exercise for a full minute without holding on at all.

Take anyone who has succeeded at anything, and ask yourself if it happened overnight. If you aspire to running the New York Marathon, there is some basic preparation and quite a bit of training that takes place if you hope to cross the finish line uninjured. 

And so it is with any level of activity. If you decide to start on something, make a plan. Think of the risks and come up with a safety net to minimise them. 

Don’t give up, there is help available. Exercise is possible at any age, and you can stack the odds in your favor. 

To get started, the National Institute for Health has some useful exercises that can help.

Medals Are Only For The Young

Young athletes get sick of hearing how short is the window for sporting excellence, and how they have to make sure they have a sensible career plan to fall back on.They may take heart then, at the 12,000 athletes over 50 years old who took part in the Senior Games this year in Minnesota. One of them was Houstonian Emma Lou ‘Scottie’ Scott. Now 81, Scottie has competed in most of the Games since 1991 when she became eligible (initially the lower age limit was 55).

It’s not about the medals

Scottie is a lifelong sports enthusiast. She started competing in volleyball at high school, won a scholarship to gain her degree in Physical Education at Sam Houston State college, and has never looked back. 

She has taught girls volleyball, basketball, badminton, tennis, swimming, archery, modern dance (which used to be part of the Physical Education curriculum for girls). She was part of the iconic group who played pick-up games at the famous Fonde Rec in Houston, showing up for practise twice a week, somehow finding the energy to do so after long days teaching up to 300 students, and coaching 30 in volleyball. 

hall of fameHer house is a shrine to sports and her sporting heroines. There is a box of medals from the Senior Games – national and regional competitions that she keeps in the hall (the rest of some 300 awards, including several from a number of Gay Games, hang off furniture or are under the bed). She was inducted into the Texas Senior Games Hall of Fame in 2007. 

The walls of the rooms are covered in signed photographs of famous players, including Kim Perrot of the Houston Comets Women’s Basketball team, and signed baseball cards from the original players in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (the inspiration for the film A League of their Own), with whom she also met.

The biggest change that she has welcomed in the world of sport is the opening of opportunity for female athletes brought about by Title IX legislation of 1972. At first it was hard to get her school students to participate in sports like basketball, so she switched to the sports that were popular with women at the time: volleyball and swimming.

Retirement means go up a gear

Once she retired, she knew she couldn’t just sit on her porch and watch the world go by. She signed up for the Senior Games immediately, qualifying that first year in Badminton, Discus, Shot-put, and Javelin in a week of competing events around Houston. When she reached the Nationals that year, however, she realised that there was no time to compete in all the sports in which she had qualified, and chose to concentrate instead on singles and doubles badminton. It has remained her passion ever since. When asked what keeps her going, she said she loves the different parts of the game, the mental as well as physical aspects of playing. And she enjoys the company of other athletes.

Find something you enjoy,” she counsels. Then just get out there and do it. “Above all, stay involved.”

Doctors have advised her that she’d benefit from both knee and hip replacement surgery, but she is putting it off as long as possible, knowing that it will compromise her mobility in the short term and admitting that her life is too busy right at the moment.

When not playing or competing, she works with an Angel Flight network who drive cancer patients from airports to their accommodation; has been a vocal advocate for mammograms for lesbians, supports her partner on the board of the Texas Ramblin’ Roses (a group of women RV enthusiasts), and is involved in the community group LOAF (Lesbians over age 50). And then if there is any time left over, there is her beloved dog – a Scottie, appropriately.


‘Senior’ is a Dirty Word

Try this experiment: ask a random group of people the following question:

If you had to identify the kind of person you are, using only 3 words, what would those words be?

I’m willing to predict that the vast majority of the answers concern their job, spare time interest, such as a sport, and perhaps a characteristic, like ‘kind’ or ‘energetic’. Some will mention religious affiliation, perhaps ethnic group or gender, some, that they are a parent. A very tiny minority will mention their age-group.

When I conducted this research myself, the only ones to fall into this latter group were people not yet 25 years old. I found that the older people were, the less they identified themselves by their age, or their relationship to family (many grandparents whom I know adore their grandchildren, did not choose ‘grandparent’ as one of their defining terms – or even ‘parent’). 

And yet, companies and government agencies talk to and about ‘Seniors’ and ‘Baby-Boomers’ as if they are an homogenous group with the same aspirations, fears and experiences. I may be a 40-something mother of 2, but if I came across someone marketing a product to me in those terms, I’d be pretty sure to run a hundred miles in the opposite direction because those are not the things by which I choose to define myself.

So if you want me to choose your product, you’d better pay attention to that. And when companies talk to 30 and 40 year olds, most of them realize this and refine the pitch. Why then, do we expect people to lay down their individuality at the doorstep of a particular decade?

We recently participated in National Falls Prevention and Awareness Week (#FPAD15), lead by the National Council on Aging, and other agencies. Here in Houston, there have been a few well-attended events connecting users of community centers with advice on exercise programs and home safety. But the response from the press and a number of ‘senior’ living establishments has been somewhat underwhelming.

I wonder how much of that is because the help is being broadcast on the wrong channels? Perhaps if we used more positive language we might gain more interest, and therefore be able to help more people. We should be using labels like #ageDisgracefully or #DontLeaveitTotheKids for the adventurous set, #golfersDoitStanding (change the sport as appropriate), #brainsloveoxygen for culture vultures, and so on.

People of all ages hate being told where they are weak. It’s time to celebrate how we are strong, and how to stay that way. 

People Who Inspire Us #1

Charlie is 67. A former military and commercial pilot, he confesses he still loves adrenaline sports. We met when iShoe conducted some balance testing in the community.

“I stay healthy because I want to keep snow skiing and scuba diving. Fitness is important to me,” he told me in the humid heat that was already building in central Houston.
 Dressed in workout clothes and a cap, fresh from a recent yoga class, he bristles with energy, his eyes alive and twinkling as we ask him to repeat the shot, try a different angle, speak to the camera.
 He was a high school athlete, a member of the relay team that broke a record. And although, like most of us, sport didn’t develop into a career for him, unlike most of us, he never slowed down either.
 He credits some of his dedication to staying in shape to his experience in the military, and then to the six-monthly physicals he had to undergo as a commercial airline pilot, but for the most part he lives by his mantra that to be a useful member of society he believes in being strong physically, mentally and financially.
 “What kind of a role model would I be to my son if I sat around all day and couldn’t do anything any more?” he asks. He still goes running with his son, who, in his 30s, doesn’t finish far ahead of his father, even now.
 But even Charlie, with his weight lifting regime and sprinting fitness, which are evident in his lean, muscled physique, has had to adapt some of his training as the years have passed. He still trains hard, but not every day, taking rest days so his body can recover.
 He has also realised recently that while he is strong, he is not flexible, so he started following his wife into her yoga class, an exercise he admits to finding difficult. He keeps at it because he’s determined to improve his flexibility, and reduce his risk of injury.
 “You gotta keep active,” he says. “I feel strongly about this. People need to do more, to keep themselves healthy and independent.”
 His energy and enthusiasm are infectious.  After our filming stops and we say our goodbyes, I find myself setting tougher targets for my own fitness. And going some way to achieving them too.

If you’ve ever had the flu …

…it won’t surprise you to know that it can seriously affect your balance. 

But did you know that even a mild cold will also have a detrimental effect?

We all know the symptoms that come with a cold: poor sleep, fatigue, difficulty concentrating. All these also affect balance. iShoe’s Director of Marketing, Andrea Case-Rogers, reports her first encounter with a balance test occurred “while recovering from a chest cold. I scored four out of ten on the scale, which worried me as I’d just seen a couple of sixty year-olds score 6’s”. When she was back to normal health, she measured herself again and scored a more comfortable 7/10.

Is there anything that you can do to boost your balance when you’re sick?

  • Concentrate on drinking enough liquid and eating well – which should also help your body fight off the cold.
  • Distraction is dangerous: give yourself extra time to complete tasks so that you’re not rushing or having to multi-task at a time when your mind is already distracted.
  • Be aware that taking cold medication can also impair your balance.
  • Try to get some gentle exercise to maintain flexibility in your joints and muscles.
  • Take a cat nap, or go to bed earlier if possible, to allow your body to rest, even if sleep itself is difficult.

Above all, recognize that at this time you are more vulnerable to falling and injuring yourself. By being more mindful, you can help prevent an accident.

Does exercise work?

Every day we read articles extolling the benefits of exercise, how even a little a day can make the difference between battling a host of problems, and living into healthy old age. But how do you know if it’s working? If you’re not doing exercise for weight loss, or for specific sport training, how do you measure whether it’s actually doing you any good?

I have to be honest and say that I get stuck in a rut with my exercise. For months, I simply go through the motions, following the instructor, or repeating the same old routine on my own. I can’t be sure that I feel much stronger. So is it actually doing me any good?

It turns out that doing a balance test would tell me. The reason is that many things affect your balance, and one of the simplest to improve is muscle strength and flexibility – especially for your core muscles and muscles in your legs and ankles. For elderly people, consider whether you shuffle, rather than lifting your feet properly when you walk. If you do, it may be a sign that you could benefit from strength exercises. But even if you walk normally, take walks as a form of exercise, you could be compensating for a weakness in one muscle area or another.

Perhaps your ankles are not particularly flexible, the thought of standing on one leg makes you break out in a sweat. As humans, our bodies adapt to the strains we put on them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are strong.

In order to improve muscle strength, the exercises you do should challenge you. Panting and sweating is normal when your muscles are working hard at any age, and using different muscle groups to the ones we use every day makes a big difference in overall fitness too. Believe it or not, it is still possible to improve your strength, no matter how old you are. Speaking to a fitness instructor can help you pinpoint which exercises are safe for you and will help you the most to boost your balance and put a spring back in your step.

For further information, you may find the exercises published by the National Institute for Health useful: nihseniorhealth.gov

Diet Tips To Keep You On Your Feet

It’s not enough to avoid stepping on banana skins. The food you put in your body can make you fall over too. 

An important component of any healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition can also help you improve your balance in both the short- and long-term.

Although the link between nutrition and physical balance is not as clear as the connection between exercise and balance, here are six nutrition-focused tips to help optimize your physical balance and reduce the dangers of falling:

  • Eat regular, well-balanced meals: In one study, researchers found that fasting reduced people’s ability to balance on one leg, along with other declines in common balance measures. Eating at regular intervals can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of other side effects which can lead to falling.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption: While alcohol clearly has a short-term effect on physical ability—stumbling and slower motor skills, to name a few—chronic alcohol consumption can also damage your physical abilities. Ataxia, a loss of balance and coordination, is one condition that can result from nerve damage and vitamin B deficiency after long-term alcohol abuse.
  • Increase calcium levels: Getting enough calcium through eating whole foods or taking supplements can help improve your bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. This can help minimize the likelihood of a debilitating fracture in the case of a fall.
  • Add a vitamin D supplement: Vitamin D improves muscle strength and balance, and some studies have shown it also has a positive effect on neural coordination and the signals in your brain that control muscle movement.
  • Increase protein intake: Do you know the recommended amount of protein you should be consuming for your height, weight, age and activity level? Older adults should be particularly careful in monitoring their protein intake, particularly if your goal is to build muscle through fall prevention exercises. Getting enough protein is important to the muscle-building process, which can in turn help you achieve better balance.
  • Drink water: You know it’s good for you for a number of reasons, but did you know that being dehydrated stresses your body, which makes it more difficult to balance? The National Institute of Health advises adults drink 8-13 glasses of liquid (ideally water, but juice, tea, coffee, soup also count) per day to stay hydrated.

Sleep Your Way to Better Balance

Did you know people who sleep for less than 5 hours a night increase their risk of having a fall by 50%?
Or that elderly men who suffer from poor sleep also walk more slowly and have lower grip strength compared to those who sleep well?
Or that elderly women who sleep poorly are slower to get out of a chair and into a standing position?
In numerous studies on sleep and health in adults over 65, researchers have found that those who sleep well suffer fewer other health problems than those who have insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns.
Poor sleep affects balance in 3 ways:

  1. It makes you tired during the day, so you are likely to be less alert. You may not notice your cat curled up on the rug, until you trip over it.
  2. Your reaction times become slower, so you need more time between noticing something that may trip you up, and being able to take avoiding action (step around the cat, for example).
  3. Daytime sleepiness also makes you less motivated to take your exercise class or go for a walk. But without daily exercise, you’ll lose the strength in your muscles and any stiffness will increase, which means your balance will become worse.

So what can you do to improve your sleep quality? 
Sometimes having a nap during the day can help catch up on one night of disrupted sleep, but if poor sleep is an every night problem for you, it might be worth reviewing your sleep habits

The following are known to help people sleep better:

  • Try to keep to the same routine, always going to bed and getting up at the same time each day 
  • Have a warm milky drink or a banana shortly before bedtime
  • Don’t drink caffeinated drinks in the afternoon or evening
  • Don’t drink alcohol: it might make you feel sleepy to start with, but it disrupts sleep quality
  • Don’t eat very large or spicy meals late at night
  • Take some exercise, even a walk, each day
  • Don’t watch television or use a computer as part of your night time routine, as the screen will stimulate your brain, not relax it
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool, ideally 60-67 degrees
  • Listen to some relaxing music before bed
  • Read or listen to an audio book before bed
  • Think about changing your pillow or mattress if they are no longer comfortable and supporting

Further information, including regarding foods that can help promote sleep can be found from the National Sleep Foundation.