Tess Martin provides useful information on diet, exercise, lifestyle, medical care and social life so you can enjoy a healthy retirement.
Growing older doesn’t have to mean becoming ill. Most people over the age of sixty are well and fit. Keeping well in retirement involves taking care of your physical, emotional and psychological health. This means looking at your lifestyle and inherited family risk factors. By lifestyle I mean the choices you can make, like eating healthily, taking regular exercise, drinking moderately, stopping smoking, being able to relax, finding something fulfilling to do, and having a social network of family, friends and neighbours.
Eat well by taking the ‘Food Pyramid’ as your guide.
Anything that gets the body moving is valuable. Exercise benefits heart and lungs, muscle strength, suppleness and flexibility. Simply put, you either ‘use it or lose it’. So if you sit around most days, you will find muscles becoming flabby, joints growing stiff, and you will feel more tired. In your everyday life, there are lots of opportunities to be active through, for example, housework, gardening, climbing stairs. Playing a sport such as golf, tennis or bowls is an organized way of being active and sociable.
Walking is the cheapest and most accessible way of staying active for most people, and the good news is that even small walks offer big rewards. A twenty minute brisk walk, three times a week, has proven health benefits, while a daily walk gives us a routine, and keeps us in touch with the world. Walking with a friend is an added bonus.
Tobacco and alcohol
The workplace smoking ban has reduced the number of smokers in Ireland, who now number less than one in three. You may have tried many times to stop smoking and not succeeded, but do consider trying again.
There is help available today for people who wish to quit. Your local health centre may put you in touch with a smoking cessation officer, the Irish Cancer Society has a helpline, and your chemist may recommend a range of nicotine replacement therapies to take under guidance. Even if you have been smoking all your life, three years after you stop much of the internal damage will have been reduced.
If you – or a family member – are worried about your drinking, consider talking to your GP. You may need help to cut down, or help with a problem which is causing you to drink in a harmful way.
As far as relaxing is concerned, being active and completing or attempting a fulfilling piece of work can help you feel relaxed. You may also enjoy seeing friends, reading books, listening to music or watching television. Find out what helps you feel more peaceful, and give yourself some of this experience each day.
Even with a healthy lifestyle, as we age our chances of developing certain illnesses increase. Heart disease and cancer are Ireland’s biggest killers and, while good habits help, they may not prevent our contracting serious illness. A regular check-up – particularly if there is a family history – can alert you that something is wrong.
Women after the menopause should not ignore any breast lumps. They should go to their GP, as well as using the screening service, ‘BreastCheck’, if available in their area. Men, too, should note relevant changes. For example, if you find yourself getting up a few times during the night to urinate, visit your GP, as this could indicate a prostate problem, common in older men.
Other ills common to older age are failing eyesight and hearing. You may need glasses or stronger glasses. A hearing aid may be helpful to someone with a moderate hearing loss, and current models are small and discreet. Television hearing aids are also available, enabling you to enjoy programmes with the sound at normal pitch. People over seventy are entitled to a medical card, as are people under seventy with an illness requiring frequent GP and hospital visits. If you qualify under the Drug Refund Scheme, you pay a current maximum of €78 a month for your medicines, the remainder being borne by the health authorities. Ask your GP or chemist for details.
Loneliness can be part of growing older. Spouses, friends and colleagues may die, and our grown children may live far away. If you have been bereaved, you need time to grieve in your own way. A bereavement counsellor can help and support you when you are experiencing your loss. Ask at your parish office for details.
It may be difficult to receive help if you feel lonely and isolated. Often the thing we need most is the thing we find hardest to give ourselves. Try to be aware if you are pushing people away. Usually, there are family members, friends and neighbours who want to help you and, while their efforts may be clumsy, their intent is usually sincere. So, forgive them for not being perfect: none of us is.
Contact kills loneliness. Organized contact through clubs, groups, active retirement associations or classes is a great way of being with people without having to make all the effort yourself. If you have something in common, such as a shared interest, so much the better.
Helping others is another great way of killing loneliness. Most communities have a role for volunteers, such as shopping for a housebound neighbour. More formally, organizations such as the Samaritans actively welcome older volunteers for their maturity and the experience they bring to the role of listening.
This article first appeared in the Messenger (July 2006), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.