Breathing toward a better life

Breath is essential to life. Each person will take about half a billion breaths in their lifetime, most of which are taken without thinking. But focusing on the breath and bringing awareness to it can be a valuable tool in connecting the mind and body.

Our thoughts are connected to our breath, and can be used to influence the way the body behaves through simple exercises. A deep breath tells the body to calm down and encourages full oxygen exchange to keep the heartbeat steady.

For example, stressful thoughts trigger the release of “fight or flight” hormones that then increase blood pressure and heart rate and constrict blood vessels. Deep breathing can reverse this response by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to organs and muscles, thus reducing the damage caused by stress.

The benefits of a regular practice of deep breathing can include:

  • Reduce anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Lower/stabilize blood pressure
  • Increase energy levels
  • Relax muscles

Practicing deep breathing doesn’t have to be complicated. To try, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Breathe in through the nose, slowly, allowing the chest and abdomen to expand. Then breathe out slowly through the nose or mouth.

You may find it comforting to close your eyes or even to focus on a word or phrase to help you relax. Many also combine deep breathing with practices that promote it, including meditation, yoga, tai chi, or repetitive prayer.

A daily practice of deep breathing is one of the most effective tools for enhancing your health and producing long-term benefits. Try to practice for 15 – 20 minutes each day. Over time, these techniques can become more natural for your body and breathing will be more effective.

An active mind is a healthy mind

As we age, we often think about a decline in physical health and how we can work to keep our bodies active. But just as important as maintaining physical health is the health of our brains.

When we’re young, we are continuously learning. At some point in life, we often become primarily users of mastered skills and abilities and no longer engage our brains to acquire new abilities.  Most of what we do are things we are familiar with. We apply skills unthinkingly and tend to look for non-stressful paths to things. But this can be detrimental to our mental health.

A lack of challenging activities combined with the gradual shrinking of the brain’s volume with age can lead to brain cell damage and an acceleration of natural cognitive decline.

Fortunately, many of the ways we work to keep our bodies healthy also apply to enhancing brain health. These include staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular mental and social activity.

According to a clinical trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this combination is proven to slow cognitive decline. Slowing this decline can help keep memory language skills, perception, reasoning, and judgment strong—plus keeps brain cells healthy to fight off dementia.

Activities that challenge the brain are key. This can include reading the news and discussing it with others, learning a new skill, taking a class, or playing stimulating games. Helpful online resources for keeping your brain active can be found at the following sites:

  • brainhq.com
  • happy-neuron.com

Additional steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age include controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding excessive smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that while occasional memory lapses are normal, significant memory loss is not a regular part of aging, and any cognitive changes noted should be discussed with your doctor.

Preparing for flu season

The seasonal flu is a viral infection affecting the nose, throat, and lungs, and with the change in seasons, it’s essential to take preventative steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

For many, the flu is a serious nuisance—and for some, it can develop into a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Those at the highest risk for serious flu complications include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under the age of 5
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • People with health conditions such as asthma or diabetes

The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine. Flu vaccines may be administered as a shot or a nasal spray and are available at many different locations, such as your doctor’s office, clinic, pharmacy, or employer. They are covered under the Affordable Care Act as well as Medicare Part B.

In addition to the flu vaccine, listed below are other steps you can take to help prevent the seasonal flu.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • If you do get sick, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever has subsided.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Practice general good health habits, such as cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at home, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.

Taking action to prevent the flu can help ensure you have the best season ever!

Is it time for a change?

Getting older and entering retirement age often means having more time to spend on activities we enjoy and having the free time to travel and spend time with friends and family. But it also means that we need to be aware of how our bodies are changing, and that our need for care will likely increase.

As the adult child of an older adult, it can be difficult knowing when it’s time step in and help a loved one increase their level of care. However, there are things to be aware of that can help you know when it may be time to intervene.

When visiting your loved one, try to be aware of these possible indicators:
    • Physical changes like sudden weight loss, bruises, or reduced personal grooming
    • Increased difficulty with everyday activities like cooking, bathing, and dressing
    • Risky behavior like poor medication management, keeping old/spoiled food in the refrigerator, inability to care for a pet, or hiding falls
    • Emotional changes such as unusual or unexplained depression, stress, or anxiety; a lack of enthusiasm for normal activities; and less contact with friends and family
    • Cognitive changes like forgetting names of familiar people; not paying bills; dents in the car; unopened mail or packages; and difficulty remembering to shop, cook, or eat

If you determine that extra help is needed, an inclusive care community can often be the best solution. With this type of care, only the level of help that is needed is provided, but as the need becomes greater over time, the level of care is also increased. This is the ideal solution for people wishing to “age in place.”

Being the healthiest we can and living happy, satisfied lives requires comfort and certainty in the health care we receive. By monitoring the health of our loved ones, we can make sure these concerns are provided for as early as possible!

 

Seven Dimensions for Full Living

As we age, experts agree it is essential that we stay physically active. But many don’t realize there are several other factors that add up to healthy wholeness. In fact, living a full and satisfied life means overall “wellness,” which is defined by more than physical well-being.

In 1976, Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, developed a six-dimensional model for achieving wellness. According to Dr. Hettler’s model, by focusing on and balancing each of these factors, a more complete form of wellness could be achieved.

In the years since Dr. Hettler made his discovery, a variety of organizations, from universities to health care professionals, have adopted these dimensions. And in the years following, a seventh dimension has been added.

The seven dimensions of wellness are:

  • Emotional: Being aware of feelings and coping with challenges in a respectful way signals emotional wellness and helps create a balance in life.
  • Physical: Healthy lifestyle choices can help maintain or improve health and function.
  • Spiritual: Living with a sense of purpose in life and being guided by personal values is key to our well-being and connection to the larger world and others.
  • Occupational: Utilizing our skills and passion, while cultivating personal satisfaction, is valuable to both society and the individual.
  • Intellectual: Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities is a proven approach to maintaining cognitive function.
  • Social: Positive social support has a protective influence on our health and well-being.
  • Environmental: Living with a greater awareness of the world allows us to begin to make environmentally friendly choices.

The dimensions in action

At Touchmark, the seven dimensions of wellness are an essential part of the Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program™. This award-winning program identifies people’s strengths, skills, needs, interests, and goals to help them lead happy, healthy, and full lives.

By focusing on each dimension, individuals become aware of the dimensions’ interconnectedness and how they contribute to overall health. And the dimensions can be applied in multiple ways to nearly every area of daily activity. For example, going on a hike with friends combines aspects of the physical, social, and environmental, but may also involve the spiritual, emotional, and even the occupational and intellectual, depending on conversations, thoughts, and experiences. The same dimensions may interact in a variety of ways when we go on a picnic, play a game of pickleball, or visit a museum.

Touchmark’s Health & Fitness Club can help by offering residents a firm foundation in the physical that can be easily added onto with other elements like the mental, in classes like yoga, and the social, intellectual, and more in group fitness classes and other group activities in the heated pool.

In order to provide a plethora of opportunities for these kinds of interdimensional crossovers, Touchmark uses its Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program and the seven dimensions to craft daily diverse and creative events and activities that often go beyond what some might expect from a retirement community.

“Residents may find themselves on a seven-day train trip through California, digging in at our old-fashioned clam bake, or enjoying the sights of Touchmark’s annual Father’s Day Weekend Classic Car Show,” says Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village Executive Director Matthew Hoskin. “By carefully listening to what people are interested in, we’re able to offer residents a lifestyle that’s not only fun, enriching, and engaging, but also includes all the elements of wellness.”

Touchmark believes that a full life is available to anyone—no matter one’s age—and its Full Life program ensures all residents have the unique tools, opportunities, and community support to bring their personal vision to life.

Gratitude goes a long way

Giving back and expressing gratitude are synonymous with this time of year—it’s only natural to look back on all we’ve been thankful for over the past several months as we look forward to the start of a new year. As we gather together over the holidays, we can share these feelings with loved ones and give thanks to each other.

Showing gratitude can be as simple as giving someone a compliment, sharing a meal with a loved one, or trying to see the positives in a bad situation. More formal ways to give back might include volunteering at a local food bank, becoming a mentor, making a charitable donation, or teaching a class.

Ingraining these habits in our everyday lives helps make these feelings more prominent and can encourage others to follow our lead. In addition to helping others feel a sense of purpose and appreciated, giving to others benefits the giver, as well.

It can help:

  • Increase self-esteem
  • Stimulate the release of endorphins similar to the “high” that comes from exercise
  • Gain a new perspective and take your mind off of everyday concerns
  • Grow as a person and develop new skills and knowledge

This month, consider the ways in which you can show your appreciation for those who make your life a little brighter each day. Spread kindness, express your feelings, and enhance self-worth for yourself and others!

The Hidden Dangers of Depression

hands_shutterstock_176258786Although not often discussed, depression in older adults is common—affecting about six million Americans over the age of 65. It’s a serious condition that can easily be overlooked by both loved ones and medical professionals.

Depression later in life often accompanies other medical conditions, which can make it difficult to identify. The condition may be expressed through physical symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, or loss of appetite, all of which can be easily attributed to other factors. Other symptoms of depression may include aches and pains, loss of interest in hobbies, and a lack of motivation.

It may also be difficult to distinguish between depression and grief, which may be caused by the death of a spouse or friends. Grief is natural, but when it persists and includes feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or even suicide, it may actually be depression.

In older adults, depression can develop as a result of a serious health condition, such as a stroke, heart disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s—and can also increase a person’s risk of developing certain conditions. It’s important to recognize depression as a separate issue and treat it as such.

Staying aware, active, and engaged

There are certain steps you can take to minimize the effects of depression, especially for those who may be at a higher risk.

  • Walking for 30 minutes three times a week or other types of regular exercise can be even more effective than medication in treating depression.
  • Consider taking folic acid and B12 supplements, as deficiencies can increase the risk of depression in older adults—but check with your doctor first.
  • Review medication side effects with your doctor, as symptoms of depression may be a known effect.
  • Socialize regularly. Spending time face-to-face with friends and loved ones offers support.
  • Maintain a healthy diet of foods that provide nourishment and energy.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark at night and get enough sleep.

If symptoms of depression persist, your doctor can determine the best treatment approach, which might include medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, or a combination of treatments. Be sure to vocalize your concerns if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. Seek help and don’t be embarrassed.

Staying safe and healthy through ergonomics

couplejumpingWhile we often consider safety risks for certain activities we partake in, other risk factors for everyday tasks are a bit less obvious. Ergonomics is the science of human safety and capabilities in the workplace and at home.

As part of National Safety Month in June, take time to evaluate how you can keep yourself safe and secure in all that you do.

Ergonomics affects so many aspects of our daily lives—including how we sit, sleep, stand, lift, and reach. If not practiced properly, repetitive actions can lead to overused muscles, poor posture, and eventually to injury. As we age, our muscle and bone mass naturally decreases, which can lead to stiff joints and limited mobility.

No matter what activities you partake in at home, at work, or anywhere else, it’s important to make sure you’re safe and comfortable at all times. The following tips can provide a helpful starting point to assessing your ergonomic safety.

  • When sitting at a computer, make sure to keep feet flat on the ground, position monitor at eye level, and keep wrists flat and straight. Sit up straight—even the most expensive chair won’t protect you from creating tension in the neck and back without proper form.
  • If you’re sitting in one spot for a prolonged amount of time, take breaks to get up and walk around every hour to avoid slouching or slumping. Tighten and relax your abdominal muscles a few times in a row to improve core strength and keep your back safe.
  • Wear supportive footwear, especially when standing. Supportive shoes help maintain the body’s center of gravity and alignment of the spine.
  • When lifting something from the ground, bend only at the knees and hips, keep the object close to your body, and avoid twisting while lifting.
  • Get regular aerobic exercise—such as running, walking, or swimming—to help the muscles of the back stay strong and promote good posture.
  • Aside from posture and proper bodily techniques, proper lighting is important to keep eyes healthy and reduce the risk for eye strain. Position lighting to avoid glare on screens and use task lighting as needed.

Staying proactive and practicing proper techniques in everyday activities can be the difference in staying safe and healthy!