Although the incidence of cigarette smoking naturally declines with age, those who continue to smoke should be aware of the numerous advantages of quitting. In as little as 20 minutes, blood pressure, pulse and body temperature all return to normal. Eight hours later, oxygen levels in the blood rise. After a day, the chance of a heart attack decreases. In five years, the risk of lung cancer falls to about half and in five more years lung cancer risk almost parallels that of a never-smoker (11). All these changes occur no matter what your age when you quit.
Frailty in the older person can't be totally blamed on aging. At least some weakness occurs because of physical inactivity. A regular exercise program not only decreases the risk of chronic illness, but can help prevent early death. Those who begin exercising later in life can slow or even reverse organ deterioration.
When elderly individuals exercise, they reap a number of health rewards. Aside from fighting chronic diseases, their heart is stronger, muscles are more fit and flexible, mood is enhanced, and falls and fractures are less frequent. While exercise alone probably doesn't significantly extend life beyond 80 years old, it can improve your quality of life (12,13).
Myth #5: As long as I maintain the eating habits I had when I was younger, I'll stay healthy.
Perhaps one of the biggest fallacies of good health is that nutritional needs don't change with age. Just as children and teens have different dietary requirements than adults, so do the elderly differ in their needs from younger individuals.
Experts are still arguing about what and if diet needs change with age. Because of this it's estimated that anywhere between 0 and 40 percent of the independent elderly are nutritionally deficient. A number of factors feed into poor dietary intake. Chronic diseases, both physical and mental, can cause nutritional problems. Various medications can impair nutrient availability or discourage eating due to loss of appetite. If you wear ill-fitting dentures, pain can prevent you from eating. Elderly who live alone may feel isolated and uninterested in eating.
But even if you are older and healthy, the very process of aging alters your metabolism and physiology. Stomach acid declines, thus affecting some nutrient absorption. Many older people feel full quicker because of an increased sensitivity to the satiety peptide, cholecystokinin octapeptide. Aging also dampens the body's appetite center, and consequently eating. Finally, it's suspected that an older palate doesn't detect those tastes that drive us to the dinner table: salt and sweet (14).
Aging is inevitable. Poor health is not. Regular exercise, nutritious eating (appropriate for your age) and a lucky roll of the genetic dice can help you to age with grace and good health.
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- Douglass CW et al. Oral health status of the elderly. New England Journal of Gerontology 1993;48(2):M39-M46.
- Glass RT. The infected toothbrush, the infected denture, and transmission of disease: a review. Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry. 1992;13(8):592-9.
- MacFarlane GD, Herzberg MC, Wolff LF, Hardie NA. Refractory periodontitis associated with abnormal polymorphonuclear leukocyte phagocytosis and cigarette smoking. Journal of Periodontology 1992;63(11):908-13.
- Chandra RK. Effect of vitamin and trace-element supplementation on immune responses and infection in elderly subjects. The Lancet 1992;340:1124-27.
- Harding JJ. Cigarette smoking and risk of cataracts (letter). Journal of the American Medical Association 1993;269(6):747.
- Ornish D et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lancet 1990;336:129-133.
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- Leis HP. The relationship of diet to cancer, cardiovascular disease and longevity. Internal Surgery 1991;76:1-5.
- Novello AC. Surgeon General's report on the health benefits of smoking cessation. Public Health Reports 1990;105(6):545-48.
- Timmreck TC, Randolph F. Smoking cessation: clinical steps to improve compliance. Geriatrics 1993;48(4):63-70.
- Shephard RJ. Exercise and aging: extending independence in older adults. Geriatrics 1993;48(5):61-64.
- Rooney EM. Exercise for older patients: why it's worth your effort. Geriatrics 1993;48(11):68-77.
- Silver AJ. The malnourished older patient: when and how to intervene. Geriatrics 1993;48(7):70-74.