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!

This season, strive for wellness in every dimension

With changes in the weather often come changes in how we feel, whether that means feeling cold, feeling sadness, or simply feeling different than the previous week. Whatever we’re feeling, overall wellness is important for optimal health. The following tips can help us make sure our wellness is in top shape!

To improve your emotional wellness

Practice optimism. Read books that interest you, and spend time with family and friends. Manage stress by setting boundaries, laughing, smiling, and hugging.

To improve your environmental wellness

Respect resources by choosing green processes. Seek ways to spend time in natural settings through walking paths, meditation, gardening, and similar options

To improve your intellectual wellness

Read. Challenge your brain with games. Learn new skills, and share and discuss your interests with others.

To improve your occupational wellness

Pursue interests. Contribute your passion or hobby in a paid or volunteer role. Recognize the value of your contribution, and get involved in your community.

To improve your physical wellness

Engage in regular physical activity, get adequate sleep, and have regular health checkups. Get a massage, eat a variety of healthy foods, and ask your doctor which vitamins might benefit you. (These things will also help your emotional wellness!)

To improve your social wellness

Listen to and care for others. Touch, hug, and laugh. Develop and nurture close, warm friendships. Join a club or an organization.

To improve your spiritual wellness

Live with a sense of purpose, guided by personal values. Participate in group or individual faith-based activities, meditation, or mindful exercises (tai chi, Qigong, yoga).

Practice wellness every day for the healthiest you!

Focus on health all hours of the day (and night)

While being active, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet are often touted as the keys to a healthy lifestyle, the amount and quality of your sleep is just as important.

Getting enough sleep provides valuable benefits for both our minds and bodies, as it can affect our immune system, appetite, hormone levels, blood pressure, and more.

As people age, falling asleep and staying asleep can become more of a struggle, and the prevalence of insomnia rises, as well. This can be caused by changes in circadian rhythms, hormone levels, lifestyle habits, or effects from medications.

However, sleep needs remain the same throughout adulthood—seven to nine hours per night. A lack of quality sleep each night can lead to reduced productivity, daytime sleepiness, depression, increased risk of obesity, and other health concerns.

There are certain practices you can follow to help fall asleep faster and get quality sleep each night:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Do not nap for longer than 20 minutes.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping. Do not read, snack, or watch television in bed.
  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol in the evenings.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that may be keeping you awake at night, such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, and cardiovascular drugs.

Taking care of yourself at night can help your daytime hours be safer, healthier, and more enjoyable.

Proper Poise for Healthy Living

While we’re careful about what we eat and how much we sleep, sometimes we forget how important moving correctly is. As we get more active outdoors with friends and family, let’s take a moment to reflect on the importance of ergonomics—the science of human safety and capabilities—in our everyday lives.

The ways we sleep, sit, twist, bend, reach, and stand can all have lasting effects on the health of our bodies. If not practiced properly, repetitive actions can lead to overused muscles, poor posture, and eventually even injury. As we age, our muscle and bone mass naturally decrease, which can lead to stiff joints and limited mobility.

No matter what activities you’re doing, it’s important to make sure you’re safe and comfortable at all times. The following tips can provide a helpful starting point to assess your ergonomic safeguards.

  • When sitting at a computer, make sure your feet are flat on the ground, your monitor is at eye level, and your wrists are flat and straight. And be sure to sit up straight.
  • If you have to stay in one spot for a prolonged amount of time, don’t just sit—get up and walk around every hour to avoid slouching or slumping.
  • Any time you must stand for long periods of time, be sure to wear supportive footwear to 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.

By staying proactive and practicing proper posture in everyday activities, you can keep your body pain-free and healthy!

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.

Meet Jim Nelson and Marilyn Ring-Nelson

Living their “full-to-bursting” life

At Touchmark, residents experience the full life. Marilyn Ring-Nelson laughs heartily as she says, “It’s not just the ‘full’ life. It’s the ‘full-to-bursting’ life! There is so much to do here!”

Prior to living at Touchmark, Jim Nelson would have described himself as being quite content with the title “the less social one” in the family. He says, “I didn’t really enjoy meeting new people or going out much. What I didn’t expect was that changing after moving here.” Now, when Marilyn asks if he’s interested in doing an activity, Jim usually says without hesitation, “That sounds like fun!”

Time for the next chapter

Married for 35 years, Jim and Marilyn enjoy walking and traveling, and they are avid readers and book lovers! Before their love of books turned into love for one another, Jim had lived in Reno. For years, he was a political reporter and sports editor for the Reno Evening Gazette. He was also a driver for the Washoe County Library’s Bookmobile.

Marilyn, meanwhile, had built a 33-year career working as a librarian at the Seattle Public Library. She managed the Bookmobile department in her last 15 years prior to retirement.

It was in that role that Marilyn interviewed Jim for a job. He initially turned down the offer, opting instead to ask Marilyn out on a date. Eventually, he started working at the library, holding several positions including Branch Clerical Supervisor, Library Associate, and Bookmobile Driver.

Two years ago on the road home after attending her eighth-grade school reunion, the couple looked at each other and said, “We don’t want to go back to Seattle.” Getting places took longer because of increased traffic. “This made getting together with friends or enjoying an evening at a restaurant or concert more difficult, says Marilyn, who was born and raised in Spokane.

Unlike some older adults who relocate to be closer to family (often grandchildren), Jim and Marilyn moved to Touchmark in Spokane, even though their family, which includes four children, three grandchildren, and a great-grandson, are still living on the west side of the state.

Jim says they researched several retirement communities; once they visited Touchmark, “We simply knew. This is where we want to be.”

Jumping into new adventures

As Marilyn puts it, “The day we arrived, we plunged into life here at Touchmark, because we didn’t have any other distractions. We didn’t know anyone, so we were kind of forced to do activities to meet people.”

They love the mix of social opportunities they have enjoyed. The list is lengthy and includes the Ping-Pong® Tournament, Mardi Gras, numerous restaurant outings, Happy Hour, exercise classes, the workout room, shopping trips, and a day excursion to Palouse Falls, to name just a few. Every Thursday, both enjoy attending Cottage Coffee Hour with other cottage residents. Typically, the men and women separate into groups, with each chatting about their interests. This fall, they’ll take part in their boldest social activity to date: a trip to Cape Cod with others from Touchmark. The couple couldn’t be more excited!

Social cheerleaders

Marilyn is the more outgoing of the pair, but it was Jim who attended Touchmark’s annual Harvest Festival, where residents line the hallways to pass out candy to hundreds of neighborhood kids in costume and help at a mini carnival. Jim loved it so much, he says, “I’m insisting Marilyn joins me this year!”

The enthusiasm the pair have for their lives at Touchmark is infectious. Jim admits moving felt a bit risky, but says it all worked out. “In our day-to-day life here, we wake up happy. We both look forward to almost everything there is to do here. We’ll try everything!”

Marilyn nods in agreement, adding, “There’s something to do almost all the time!”

Traveling Smart with Parkinson’s disease

With the change from winter into spring upon us, many of us start to feel the itch of the “travel bug.” But if you’re traveling with Parkinson’s, there is a lot more preparation required. Whether you’re traveling alone or with a companion, each individual needs to know how important it is for a person with Parkinson’s disease to anticipate the difficulties that may arise while away from home.

Planning ahead for seamless travel

When beginning to plan a trip, you first need to decide which mode of transportation will best meet your needs. Plane, train, or automobile? Does each mode of transportation offer the accessibility you need, or extra time to board

If you are going to fly, be sure to look up the TSA special procedures, which can help reduce stress and anxiety through the screening process, or consider enrolling in the TSA PreCheck program. You can print out a TSA notification card that describes your medical condition. There’s no need to explain your specific condition. Once you state that you have special needs or require extra time to board a plane, that’s all you have to say.

If you have a DBS (deep brain stimulation), ask your doctor to write a note to allow you to bypass electronic security and undergo other security checks instead. Part of the screening process can be done while sitting so you don’t fatigue as quickly.

Consider taking a wheelchair through the airport. Airport terminals are large and can be confusing to navigate, leading to a potential increase in stress levels. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when planning your trip and plan to arrive early so you have plenty of time and don’t have to rush.

Make sure that you pack three different sets of medications in three different bags to ensure that you will always have your medications in case a bag or two gets lost. Medications should be brought in their original labeled bottles. Liquid medications can go over the three-ounce fluid limit but should be packed separately from other fluids.

Research accommodations to relieve stress

Be sure to inquire about specific accommodations ahead of time. For instance, if you use a wheelchair or other mobility aid, confirm that your hotel room is wheelchair accessible and request a room near the elevator or on the first floor. Inquire about special accommodations that most hotels will offer at no extra charge, such as shower seats. If you’ll be sightseeing, confirm ahead of time whether the sites you want to visit offer wheelchair rentals and are wheelchair accessible.

If you are driving, ask about parking for your car. Many facilities offer complimentary or discounted parking if you display a “handicapped” sign. If you are driving to your destination, look for valet parking opportunities at restaurants, hotels, etc.

Once you have finalized your travel plans, keep them organized by carrying a printed itinerary, complete with emergency contact information or program them into your cell phone or iPad. Either print or send a copy of your travel plans to a friend or relative who is not going on the trip. It is imperative to always carry a cell phone with you and make sure that numbers and contacts are preprogrammed in your phone. If you are traveling overseas, be sure to have the address and contact information for the US Embassy. It is wise to have your passport with you at all times or locked in a hotel safe.

Getting ready for the trip

Make sure you get a good night’s sleep before leaving on your trip. Keep your sightseeing schedule flexible, and build in mini-rests and one nap every day. Don’t try to pack your day too full of activities. This will only make you more tired and increase the risk of Parkinson’s flare-ups, which can lead to an unpleasant trip.

Making a packing list ahead of time can reduce anxiety over forgetting something. As your trip gets near, start packing slowly so you don’t get stressed about the process or forget something because you are in a rush. Sort out your outfits complete with socks, undergarments, and shoes. Include Parkinson’s-friendly clothing and accessories, such as wrinkle-free items, pants with elastic waistbands, or shirts that can be pulled over the head or with snap closures. Avoid clothing with buttons if possible, as it can complicate the dressing process. Pack needed assistive equipment (such as a walker), and always take a cane or walking stick, making certain your name is labeled on each item.

Staying healthy on the go

It is important to stay well hydrated, avoid caffeine, and eat salty snacks if you have postural hypotension. Wearing support stockings while traveling can also help reduce symptoms of postural hypotension.

Bring a bottle of water for taking pills as well as a light snack, if needed, to prevent nausea. Many worry that they will drink too much and then have to use the bathroom frequently, but changing positions frequently and stretching is important while traveling long distances, so use the bathroom as an opportunity to move around. Try to avoid drinking too much alcohol.

If you run into a situation where you are without medication, call your doctor’s office and ask them to send an electronic prescription to a local pharmacy. You should always travel with an updated list of your medications, the dosages, scheduled times for dosing as well as your allergies. This information will also be essential if you end up visiting a doctor’s office or emergency room while traveling. The National Parkinson’s Foundation created an Aware in Care Kit that is available through their website and is designed to help those with Parkinson’s disease receive the best possible care during a hospital stay.

Talk to your doctor before going on vacation to get tips on adjusting dosages if you are changing time zones; you may need to increase or decrease dosing of medication. You should avoid doing any type of medication changes two weeks before leaving for your vacation, as you don’t know how your body will react to the change.

Traveling does not have to end when Parkinson’s advances. By taking time to plan everything in advance, you can focus on having fun!

 

Lead an enriched life this year!

At the start of a new year, we look ahead at what’s to come and consider what we’d like to change from the year before. What do you want to accomplish this year?

No matter your age or situation, it’s never too late to make a change—and there are many simple things we can all do to enhance our personal wellness and feel good today and every day!

While working toward making a change, it can often be valuable to think of our goal as a habit we wish to permanently incorporate into our lifestyle, rather than something with a specific end mark.

Here are a few ideas to consider incorporating into your daily routine:

  • Drink a full glass of water first thing each morning. Get hydrated and get a fresh start.
  • Set a mantra or plan for each day. Begin your day with a goal in mind, no matter how small or simple it may be.
  • Move as much as you can. Set a timer to move around or at least change position every 30 to 60 minutes each day.
  • Do a good deed for someone else. When someone does a good deed for you, instead of paying them back, pay it forward. A selfless act feels good to giver and recipient, and can help inspire kindness in others, as well!

Cultivating a general sense of wellness can help us feel our best and have more energy to spend on what makes us happy. Focusing on ourselves throughout the year means that we can approach each new milestone with confidence.