ST. LOUIS - Little lifestyle changes can pay big dividends to aging baby boomers who want to stay vibrant, says John Morley, M.D., director of the division of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University, in a new book that outlines a 10-step program to improve quality of life as we age.
"Living well and feeling good enough to do whatever you want to do throughout your lifetime is priceless," says Morley, who is coauthor of "The Science of Staying Young."
"I suggest little changes that involve good eating, such as including dark chocolate in your diet, drinking wine, socializing and adding simple exercises that anyone can do. It's more fun than most people think. Being proactive about living well and feeling better for the rest of your life, regardless of your current chronological age, doesn't have to be a chore."
Morley, who co-directs Saint Louis University's Center for Aging Successfully, pushes those who want to stay young to add a little SPF - spontaneous physical fun -- to their lives.
He advocates fidgeting in your office chair to burn calories, spending time walking from your car to the mall rather than driving to find a close parking space, working in your garden, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going dancing once a week.
"Spontaneous physical fun is such a logical thing, and so appealing," he says.
Morley and coauthor Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Virginia, are clear that their book is not a guide to living longer. Rather it is a passport to living better, packed with practical tips to stay young, healthy and vital.
"We both fervently believe that enjoying life is far more important than adding years, particularly if those additional years are spent in poor health," Morley says.
"Quality of life is more important than quantity of days. Do you want to have more energy, be healthier, feel mentally sharper and rev up your sex drive? All of these are quality questions."
In his book, Morley blends advice for living better with a prescription to detect medical problems early, when they are most easily treated. "It's all about being proactive. Boomers like to ask questions, and we're giving some answers so they can take control of their lives," he says.
The book breaks the science of staying young into 10 steps.
- Eat a nutritious and balanced diet. Strive for four servings of fish a week and substitute fish oil capsules if you fall short. Enjoy moderate amounts of alcohol - a drink for women and at most two for men, a day. Add plenty of fruits and vegetables, enough proteins and lots of fiber to keep things running smoothly. "Thriving at any age and feeling younger and more energetic is as much about diet as it is about adequate medical interventions and adequate exercise," Morley says.
- Find ways to add physical activity into your life. In addition to moving around more by vacuuming, raking or walking your dog, aim to exercise for a half hour every day. For the best outcome, combine endurance, resistance training, balance, posture and stretching exercises. "Even if you just get out of your house and go to the mailbox, you'll function better," Morley says. "But you have to exercise as you get older along with looking for ways to add spontaneous physical fun into your life."
- Use hormone replacement therapy judiciously. Hormone therapy isn't the definitive anti-aging potion. Hormone replacements can make your life better if you have a deficiency, but won't work miracles otherwise. Morley recommends taking vitamin D, the only vitamin to act like a hormone, because it helps the body absorb calcium, which strengthens bones.
- Exercise your brain to keep your mind sharp. Tackle a Sudoku puzzle, play video games, turn off the television, practice working mental math problems, treat signs of depression that can cause memory problems, enjoy a stable marriage and become a "spiritual" person for a renewed sense of hope. "The goal of brain fitness is to prevent certain mental abilities from slowing down or reverse such changes if they have already taken place," Morley says.
- Don't lose weight after age 60. Get in shape before by combining exercise and a healthy diet to build muscle. It's healthier to be "pear-shaped" and carry extra weight in your hips than "apple-shaped" and have a larger waistline. "The good news is that as you get older, being slightly overweight may actually improve how long and well you live," Morley says. "Learn to love your slightly Rubenesque body."
- Lower your risk for heart disease. Give up smoking if you haven't already. Have your blood pressure checked and take prescribed medicine if it is high. Listen to your body and recognize the warning signs of a heart attack or sudden onset of a stroke. Don't hesitate in seeking immediate medical treatment by calling 9-1-1.
- Screen for cancer. While the single greatest risk for developing cancer is aging, you can make healthy lifestyle choices to mitigate your risk. "Whatever the cause, the importance of early detection through screening and quick treatment following detection, after considering all of your treatment options, can't be overemphasized," Morley says.
- Thicken your bones. For bone health, do moderate weight-bearing exercises, such as regular walking, to strengthen bones. Add in resistance or weight training, adequate calcium and vitamin D and medications that could include estrogen or testosterone if recommended by your doctor.
- Stay on your feet. About 95 percent of all hip fractures come from falls and account for more than 800,000 emergency room visits and more than 332,000 hospital admissions each year. Take up tai chi to improve your balance and pick your clothes up off the floor so you don't trip over them.
- Schedule a checkup. You need to know what's going on in your body so you can screen to detect problems early, prevent others from developing and get the best treatment if you have a condition.
"The process of getting older, although inevitable, can be a difficult one, both physically and mentally," Morley says. "But take heart, because you can do many things to keep yourself feeling and looking younger than you really are."
"The Science of Staying Young" is published by McGraw-Hill.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.