6Things You Should Know About Healthy Aging

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Physician Ajaz Shawl is affiliated with St. Joseph’s Physicians Internal Medicine.
Physician Ajaz Shawl is affiliated with St. Joseph’s Physicians Internal Medicine.

Aging is never fun. But it doesn’t have to be incredibly painful either. There are various pieces of advice that are designed to assist seniors in enjoying some of the best years of their life. In order to be healthy, happy and entertained during their golden years, there are certain precautions to take. Physician Ajaz Shawl, a faculty member for St. Joseph’s Family Medicine Residency in Syracuse, talks about six factors that cause problems for seniors.

“Aging can take a toll on you but the good thing is there are ways to slow down the process,” said Shawl, who has been a practicing physician for more than two decades. “If you can avoid some unhealthy habits, you have an opportunity to live a longer, healthier, more pain-free life.”

1 Arthritis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone or both. As a result, bones become weak and may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, osteoarthritis is the most common chronic condition of the joints, affecting about 27 million Americans. It can affect any joint, but it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers and the bases of the thumb and big toe and can cause severe arthritis pain.

“Arthritis is something that can truly impact your quality of life,” said Shawl. “That is one of the reasons why we tell our seniors that they must maintain an active lifestyle and healthy eating. You don’t have to be heavy for you to have problems with your bones. Long term arthritis can cause various other health problems.”

2 Heart disease

In the United States, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack. You can greatly reduce your risk for CAD through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year — that’s one in every four deaths, according to the CDC. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

“The good thing now is that our lifespans have increased over the past few decades where people have the ability to live past 85 years old more regularly than before,” said Shawl. “However, if you slip into high blood pressure and cholesterol, you are more likely to get a stroke and heart attack. You can even start having problems in your kidneys that can lead to problems in other areas in our body. You have to be very careful because once you begin to have heart problems, it is very difficult to get back 100 percent to your former life.”

3 Cancer

As an older adult, cancer treatment can be more challenging or complicated. This is because older adults are more likely to have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Even when you are healthy, your body will most likely respond differently to treatment than a younger person’s. For example, serious side effects from chemotherapy are more likely.

However, Shawl focuses on preventable cancers such as colon, prostate and lung as well as some early detection cancers like breast cancer.

“Some of these cancers are some of the most preventable when you think about it,” said Shawl. “Most lung cancer cases are from people smoking cigarettes, colon cancer is one that if you get your routine colonoscopies any issues can be spotted and treated immediately. Even with breast cancer, if you receive your yearly mammograms then early detection can save your life.”

Shawl said it all goes back to having a relationship with a primary care physician who can remind patients about your routine exams.

4 Chronic bronchitis

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory asthma and some forms of bronchiectasis. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness. Many people mistake their increased breathlessness and coughing as a normal part of aging. In the early stages of the disease, you may not notice the symptoms. COPD can develop for years without noticeable shortness of breath.

“If left untreated it can grow to pneumonia,” said Shawl. “Pneumonia is one of the most common causes of death in seniors.”

5 Dementia and Diabetes

There have been some studies that link health-related issues to dementia. Whether that is high blood pressure or diabetes, it can cause problems in your vascular system which can lead to dementia or other memory-related problems later in life.

“One thing that I would tell all my patients is that the body is interconnected. There are so many ailments that are tied to each other,” Shawl added. “That is why the best advice is to eat right, exercise and maintain as healthy a lifestyle as you can.”

6 Falls

As people start to age, falling becomes one of the biggest health casualties in their lives. Whether that is because they lack a strong core to keep balance or are unaware of too many home hazards, it can be the beginning of a health downfall. Shawl said there are more than 2.5 million people suffering from hip fractures after the age of 65.