Health Tips for the Older Farmer
We are, very much, what we eat. As more and more evidence suggests, what we eat has a great effect on our risks for all sorts of diseases — from high blood pressure to colon cancer. Fiber is "in." Research suggests that increasing fiber in the diet would decrease our risk of hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and colon cancer. Fruits with pulps, vegetables with wood stems (asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) are excellent sources of fiber. Fat is "out." We need less fat in our diet as we age — no more than 30% of calories each day. Vegetable fats (except for palm and coconut oils) are generally better for us than animal fat. Visible fat should not be a part of the diet except for an occasional splurge. Also …
- Visit your dentist regularly. Healthy teeth and gums, and well-fitted dentures, allow for optimal variety in meals.
- If your diet is wrong, make corrections gradually. Trying to change too much at once is usually unsuccessful.
- See your physician if food stops tasting good; this may be a sign of a medical problem.
- Most of us don’t get enough calcium to keep our bones strong. Three servings per day of low fat dairy products or high calcium vegetables are required. If not, a calcium supplement (calcium carbonate 650 mg three times a day) is needed.
- Drink at least three glasses of water a day in addition to what you drink during meals.
- Avoid the use of salt when possible.
- Watch your weight. A 10% up or down change may indicate illness.
While older farmers may be more likely to be involved in regular exercise than non-farmers, some may still not be getting the weight-bearing, aerobic exercise that they need. The following changes have been thought to be related to aging, but are related more to inactivity:
Decreased oxygen consumption, heart output, muscle mass, red cell mass, level of immunity, calcium in bones, tolerance for sugar, and increased blood pressure, tendency to faint, cholesterol, and constipation.
If you are taking medication for heart, lung or joint disease, see your physician before starting an exercise program. Also …
- Swimming does not stress the bones as much as weight-bearing exercise (walking, cycling or rowing). Swimming is a good alternative for patients with joint problems.
- As little as twenty minutes, three times a week of weight-bearing, aerobic exercise can maintain cardiovascular fitness. More time is required at low-levels of exercise.
- Begin walking programs gently. Gradually increase strenuousness over time. Never increase speed and distance at the same time.
Exercise benefits include increased alertness, firmer muscles, more agility, more energy, better ability to cope with stress, decreased body fat, improved circulation, stronger bones, and a more efficient heart.
In healthy men and women, the brain works as well at age 90 as it does at age 20. Memory does seem to change as we age for a variety of reasons (motivation, anxiety, time it takes to locate information in our memory), but the change is not due to faulty memory itself. The key to excellent brain function includes maintenance of mentally and physically stimulating activities, remaining socially involved, and a continuing, positive attitude. Also …
- Be cautious with medications. Ask your doctor if any of your medications can be safely stopped.
- If symptoms develop, check with your physician to see if a medication may be involved.
- Over-the-counter medications can cause or aggravate problems of mental function.
- Avoid illicit drugs and consume alcohol only in moderation (1-2 oz./day).
- Avoid smoking, which causes increased levels of carbon monoxide in the blood leading to a decline in mental activity and reaction time.
- Exercise regularly. A daily walking program is probably enough.
- Eat a well balanced diet.
- Have people or animals depend on you. Being needed by and caring for others helps keep our memory and self esteem intact.
American Geriatrics Society. Complete guide to aging and health. New Jersey: Harmony Books, 1995.
Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. The Pocket Guide to Staying Healthy at 50+: PUB#04-1P001-A, 2003.