Start a Healthy Routine
The following are some recommendations by physicians at Rush of things you can do — and shouldn’t do — on a regular basis to maintain your health.
Get your daily dose of vitamin D. Keeping bones strong as you age requires more than just getting enough calcium. Make sure you’re also getting the recommended daily allowance — 800 international units — of vitamin D, which helps the bones absorb calcium. You can get 400 international units by taking a multivitamin every day. Supplement that by eating foods rich in vitamin D, including salmon, mackerel and vitamin D-fortified cereals and milk, or by going outside without sunscreen for six or seven minutes each day to get a small dose of natural vitamin D from the sun (If you’re going to be outside longer than 10 minutes, be sure to apply sunscreen to protect your skin from too much sun exposure).
Exercise to protect your bones. Taking a brisk 30-minute walk three or more days a week and working out with weights can help prevent bone density loss as you age. “The key is to take preventive steps to avoid osteoporosis down the road,” says Charlotte Harris, MD, a rheumatologist at Rush, “and it’s never too late to make regular exercise part of your life.”
Practice good oral hygiene. Spend a minimum of two minutes to brush your teeth twice a day — and don’t forget the dental floss. Daily flossing and brushing of teeth not only help prevent cavities but may keep other diseases at bay as well. Experts suspect that bacteria-producing dental plaque, which leads to gum inflammation, can result in or exacerbate heart disease. Although the exact mechanism of why this occurs is not clear, a connection has also been found between poor periodontal health and stroke, diabetes, premature births and low birth weights. “It’s also a good idea to take a three-hour break between eating foods that contain sugar,” says Joel Augustin, MD, a family medicine physician at Rush.
Have fun to help de-stress. Experts recommend regular exercise, meditation and breathing techniques to reduce stress, but even something as simple as listening to soothing music, reading a good book, soaking in a hot tub or playing with your pet can help you relax. “Spending just 30 minutes a day doing something you enjoy can go a long way toward beating the stressors of everyday life,” says cardiologist Annabelle Volgman, MD, director of the Rush Heart Center for Women. That’s advice you should take to heart because prolonged stress can cause or exacerbate a number of health problems — some serious — including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and obesity.
A little red wine is fine. Recent studies have shown that the powerful antioxidants found in red wine protect against heart disease, colon cancer, anxiety and depression. So unless there is a medical reason why you shouldn’t imbibe, go ahead and enjoy that glass of merlot with your nightly meal — you can even toast to your good health.
But don’t drink excessively. Just as a small amount of red wine has health benefits, too much alcohol — even red wine — can cause a variety of health problems, including liver and kidney disease and cancer. Women, in particular, need to be careful about alcohol consumption. “Women are at higher overall risk of liver problems than men, so they are more likely to experience liver problems from smaller amounts of alcohol,” says Carline Quander, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush. “They simply shouldn’t drink as much as men.” For a healthy man, two drinks a day is not likely to do harm; women, on the other hand, should limit themselves to one daily drink.
Don’t skip the seatbelt — ever. Even if you’re driving only a short distance or are in a parking lot, take a few seconds to fasten your safety belt, which prevents you from being tossed around the car or thrown from it in the event of a crash. Most cars these days are equipped with air bags, but these lifesaving features are designed to work with safety belts; according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, air bags alone are only 42 percent effective in providing protection.
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