The Beauty of Being Outside

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

April is a special month for considering the natural world and our connection to it. Earth Day happens in April, and it may be the first month of the new year that brings enough sunshine and thawing to begin spending more time outdoors again.

In keeping with this year’s theme of contemplating life’s greater meanings, I’ve been thinking about the many gifts nature presents, and several come to mind. Forget for a moment the idea of going out to exercise, and instead, take a step outside to experience what it feels like to simply stand in a lush green area. Do you hear the sounds of birds and insects? Can you feel the warmth of the sun on your face as you turn it up to the sky with your eyes closed? Even spending a few moments outdoors brings peace.

There is joy in taking our cues from nature. Seasons do not change overnight; they transition over time. If you feel your body needs time to catch up with the mind, listen to it. Start increasing your time outdoors and in the benefits of nature by taking a 10-minute walk with a friend or reading a chapter of your book outside. Focus on how nice it is to pause and inhale fresh air rather than rushing to your next destination.

Do not be surprised if you feel compelled to spend more and more time outdoors, and don’t underestimate how doing so strengthens your mind-body connection. Mother Nature is the friend who is always happy to hear your thoughts.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Most people view running as the best way to engage in cardiovascular activity, but did you know that walking has the same benefits with hardly any of the risk for injury? More and more health care professionals and physical therapists recommend walking versus running as a healthy way to stay active throughout one’s life.

At Touchmark, there are many opportunities for walking. All communities have Touchmark Trekkers, a walking club with varying routes and outings appropriate for different seasons and abilities. Indoor walking paths get you moving without having to brave the elements, and you’re likely to run into familiar faces as you do so. Outdoor courses provide the opportunity to engage with nature and enjoy the fresh air. Some of the key benefits of regular walking include:

Improved circulation
Walking gets the blood pumping, which lowers blood pressure over time and strengthens the heart muscles, reducing the risk of heart disease.

Increased bone density
One of the lesser known benefits of walking is its effect on stopping and reversing bone density loss. A Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston) study of postmenopausal women found that 30 minutes of walking each day reduced their risk of hip fractures by 40 percent.

More socialization
Unlike running, it’s easy to hold a conversation while walking. Taking a walk with a friend or group of people is a great way to tend to both your physical and mental health.

Release of endorphins
If you’re in a lousy mood, research shows going for a walk outdoors is sure to turn it around. Walking releases endorphins: the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.

Resident Joanne McCann is an avid fan of walking. “I like to be out and active. All my life, I’ve done it. It’s easy to do, and I feel good when I do it. I go different places and I get to see different things. I walk on the Centennial Trail with the Touchmark Trekkers. I actually like to walk outdoors best, but in the winter, I walk indoors,” she says.

For those seeking adventure, check with your Health & Fitness or Life Enrichment/Wellness team members about upcoming Trekkers outings.

How to Detect the Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s

Each year, nearly 60,000 Americans and 7,000 Canadians are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As you age, the likelihood that either you or someone close to you will develop Parkinson’s greatly increases. The Touchmark community of team members and residents are very familiar with the disease and its effects on individuals living with the disease and their families. So, in honor of April being Parkinson’s Awareness Month, we’re highlighting the early warning signs that may signal either you or someone you know has Parkinson’s, and how to best help once diagnosed.

Shakiness

A slight shake or tremor through a person’s hands or head could be an early indicator of a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Shaking can also be caused by overexertion, stress, and certain medicines, so an occasional tremor shouldn’t cause immediate concern.

Hyposmia or loss of smell

Whether your family member is recovering from a cold or flu or just battling seasonal allergies, a decreased sense of smell might not warrant an extra trip to the doctor. However, if your loved one’s health is in otherwise good condition and they begin to notice a decreased ability to smell foods like bananas, lemons, onions, and cinnamon, they may be experiencing symptoms of the first stage of Parkinson’s.

Difficulty sleeping

Does your spouse often keep you up, tossing and turning throughout the night? Many people with Parkinson’s experience increased movement while they sleep, and those movements are often sudden and severe. A few restless nights aren’t a cause for concern, but intense ‘acting out’ of dreams could be an early sign of the disease.

Constipation

A number of things, including dehydration, lack of fiber, or new medicine, can cause constipation. If these three causes can be safely ruled out, continued constipation may be a sign of something more serious.

Lightheadedness

Feeling an occasional rush of dizziness when standing up too quickly is common among people of all ages. The frequent feeling of vertigo or lightheadedness is often due to a sudden drop in blood pressure, also known as orthostatic hypotension. While blood pressure medication may be a cause, a doctor should be consulted, as it can be another sign of Parkinson’s disease.

Changes in speech

One of the major symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is slurred speech, but a similar indicator can help detect Parkinson’s in its early stages. People who begin to talk unusually softly or in a monotonous tone may be presenting one of the early warning signs of the disease.

Slow, stiff movements

Along with a slight tremor, moving slowly and stiffly is one of the key warning signs that someone has developed Parkinson’s. Early in the disease, this decreased range of motion likely will be limited to just one side of the body and cause some difficulty walking or initiating movements.

Cramped handwriting

The shift from regular handwriting to small, cramped letters is known as micrographia, a condition that is often linked to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

There is currently no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but recognizing the warning signs as early as possible and taking action on interventions, such as exercise and therapy, can help slow the disease process. Showing signs of one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily determine a Parkinson’s diagnosis, but it’s always best to speak with your health care provider if you begin to notice a combination of these symptoms.

If you do have a loved one with a known Parkinson’s diagnosis, there are a few precautions you can take to make sure they remain as healthy and happy as possible. It’s important to help them manage their daily medications, assist in making financial decisions regarding medical treatment, and provide daily care as you contemplate in-home care or amove to a residential community. Touchmark’s Gold Standard hospitality, award-winning Full Life Wellness & Life Enrichment Program, certified fitness professionals, and highly trained staff are available 24/7 to ensure residents receive the services they need and a full, enriched life.

While more than one million Americans and Canadians will be living with Parkinson’s by next year, it’s important to note that people with Parkinson’s can still live a full and active life, especially if diagnosed early. By familiarizing yourself with the early warning signs, many of which are noticeable up to 10 years before motor functions are severely affected, you can ensure a higher quality of life. We recommend speaking to your doctor if any of these symptoms regularly occur. In addition, our team at Touchmark is always available to answer any questions about the services we provide for families living with this increasing disease.

A Little Bit of Weight Loss Goes a Long Way

Image of an older woman and older man on stationary bikes side by side in a fitness gym.

To lose weight, it’s best to set small, achievable goals. One success leads to the next. How much weight do you need to lose? Research suggests losing as little as 5% of your starting weight will make a big difference.

Too much weight increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis looked into how much weight loss would be necessary to reduce the risk of these life-threatening conditions.

Food for Thought

Their study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, examined 40 obese volunteers who showed signs of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a pre-diabetic condition that interferes with the ability of cells to use insulin for absorbing glucose—the sugar your body makes from digesting carbohydrates. Glucose is used as energy by all the cells and organs in our bodies. If unable to get into the cells, glucose builds up in the blood and damages the lining of blood vessels. Cells become starved for energy, triggering the pancreas to produce even more insulin in an effort to help cells absorb glucose.

Blood vessel damage caused by glucose attracts plaque deposits. Left unchecked, insulin resistance ruins the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin, while the body’s cells lose their ability to use insulin. The outcome is Type 2 diabetes, which further increases the risk of heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of people with Type 2 diabetes.

5% Dividend

In the study, volunteers were assigned randomly to programs designed to either maintain their weight or to lose 5%, 10%, or 15% of their weight. Those who lost only 5% showed significant improvements in pancreatic function and the ability of cells in their body to use insulin. Those who lost slightly more showed even greater improvement.
The takeaway from the study is that if your weight has you worried about your health, take heart that losing as little as 5% of your body weight will send you on your way to a healthier future.

SMART Goal Setting

Focus first on what you want to accomplish today. Achieving daily goals will give you the ability to meet weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. Setting SMART goals will help build your confidence to commit to the 5% target:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Rewarding
T – Timely

Unlike the general statement “losing a pound,” walking 300 minutes in the next week is specific. Instead of “walking more often,” 300 minutes a week is measurable. If 300 minutes a week is unrealistic, 150 minutes a week may be more attainable. If you don’t like to walk, perhaps riding a bike or swimming would be more rewarding. Finally, one week is the timely standard that ultimately determines whether the goal is met.

Article by Bill Jennings, ACSM-CEP, Touchmark Fitness Professional

What’s Good for the Heart is Good for the Brain

Image of two hands cupping a plastic heart.

As one of the hardest-working muscles in your body, it comes as no surprise that the human heart has a significant impact on the functionality of the body’s other organs. Your brain relies on your heart to deliver a continuous blood supply, so the healthier your heart, the lower your risk of developing dementia and heart disease.

With February being American Heart Month, it’s a great time to focus on how you can improve both your heartand your brain with just a few simple changes, including some surprises you canenjoy this season.

Stick to a healthy diet.

Eating clean, nutritious meals is one of the best things you can do for your body and your mind. Those who maintain a healthy diet typically have lower cholesterol and blood sugar levelsas well as a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Foods that are good for both brain and heart health include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meat, and fish. Limiting trans and saturated fats is another beneficial change you can make for your overall health.

Let yourself indulge.

While we still recommend moderation when it comes to sweets, letting yourself indulge in treats like dark chocolate can offer your heart some benefits. As long as the dark chocolate is high in cocoa content (and low in added sugar!),consuming it in moderation offers a good source of antioxidants, lowers yourrisk of heart disease, and increases blood flow to the brain.

Another example of an occasional heart-healthy treat is enjoying some grapes, whether as a glass of red wine or grape juice. Resveratrol, an ingredient in red grapes, has been shown to help protect blood vessels and lower your risk of heartattacks.

Get moving …

Research has shown a direct connection between fitness for the heart and fitness for the brain. All Touchmark Health & Fitness clubs andstudios have state-of-the-art equipment. The Expresso HD bike is one example.This stationary bike gives users an interactive riding experience that is funand works large muscle groups while stimulating the brain.

Resident and Club member Bill Hines discovered the bike is a good exercise alternative when he doesn’t take his road bicycle out on trails around Edmond. “I don’t want to sit somewhere and stare at the wall,” he says. “This gives me a way to feel like I’m really there. It’s neat. I can shift gears. I can steer. I can watch peoplepass me on the road and try to peddle faster to pass them up.”

A unique password allows riders to login and track their accomplishments and ride data, even allowing one torace against previous record times. There are also monthly challenges to helpkeep riders motivated.

We recommend individuals exercise for 30 – 60 minutes a day and include cardio, strength training, flexibility, and balance in their routines.

… and keep it moving.

Sitting is the new smoking, according to a study performed by the Mayo Clinic. While it may sound like an extreme claim, it holds true. After just 30 minutes of sitting, our body’s metabolism slows down by 90%, good cholesterol drops by 20%, and we become likelier to develop high blood pressure and blood sugar.

There is good news, though. Moving for just five minutes after 30 minutes of sitting can greatly improveyour health over time. This small amount of movement will help protect yourmuscles from deteriorating, increase your energy, and assist you in keeping offunwanted weight.

If you spend hours reading or looking at your computer each day, investing in a standing desk can help you stay on your feet and get your blood flowing. Transitioning to a standing desk can also reduce back and neck pain, according to Start Standing. This transition may feel uncomfortable at first, but soon, your body will be thanking you.

Maintain your friendships.

Next time a friend or family member suggests you get together, say yes. Studies show that routinely interacting with friends and loved ones can improve your physical health by strengthening your immune system and fighting off common sicknesses.

While all social interactions can improve your health, face-to-face interactions are best. After all, humans are social creatures and have always done best when interacting within a community and social setting.

Having a healthy heart and brain starts by committing to these changes daily. To learn more about the different health and wellness programs offered at Touchmark, visit our website, Touchmark.com. Happy Heart Month!

The Many Benefits of Pet Ownership for Older Adults

Image of an older adult with a kitten, both of whom are reaping the benefits of pet ownership.If you are a pet lover, you’ll most likely be one all of your life. Those who have owned pets know just how rewarding having a furry friend can be, and how pets quickly become members of our families.

People derive many emotional benefits from owning a pet, even more so as older adults. In this post, we’ll examine some of the best reasons why you should consider having a cat or dog (or other pet) around in retirement.

Companionship

Even if you’re an introvert, everyone needs socialization in their lives, lest we feel lonely and isolated. Though your cat or dog can’t “talk,” they are more than capable of providing friendship and loyalty. Just like humans, domestic pets have unique personalities, skills, and habits that you can treasure and enjoy.

Exercise

For most of us, the most enjoyable form of exercise is the one that doesn’t actually feel like exercise. Going on a leisurely stroll outside with your dog each day is a great way to get moving and feels completely different mentally than tracking your time on the treadmill. It’s fantastic for your dog’s health, and yours! You can exercise with a cat as well by engaging in high-energy play throughout the day.

Sense of Purpose

Being a caretaker is a big responsibility that can provide a meaningful significance in our lives. Knowing your pet depends on you for their well-being, happiness, and health is a great motivator to keep active and positive. Everyone deserves to feel needed and appreciated.

Stress Relief

Did you know that scientific research tells us that holding or petting an animal is an effective form of stress relief? Specifically, it lowers blood pressure and reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol production is the leading cause of physiological stress and anxiety. What better way to achieve serenity than to snuggle with a soft and cuddly companion?

Safety & Comfort

If you’ve grown accustomed to living with a spouse or partner, it can be challenging to maintain that sense of security after they’re gone. Though having a pet cannot replace your loved one, it can help you feel safer at night or when you’re alone. Dogs also serve as excellent deterrents for burglars if home safety is a concern for you when you’re out. Even tiny dogs sound intimidating when barking behind a closed door!

Routine

Having some things to do each day provides stability and structure from which nearly everyone benefits. Incidentally, pets best behave when they have a routine and boundaries, too. Keeping even a loose daily regimen with your pet will provide the foundation you both need to find comfort in your home life and free up your brain for more exciting activities.

New Friends & Interests

Having a pet is a hobby that you can share with others if you choose to view it as such. You may see the same people walking their pets each day, or run into familiar faces at the dog park or groomer. These days, there are groups that exist solely to participate in pet-centric activities and excursions. So if you feel like you’d like to expand your friendship circle, hop online and see if others are nearby who want to plan a pug playdate or a mastiff meetup.

In summary, life is better with friends. If you feel something is missing in your life, or you’d like it to be sweeter, consider adopting a pet today. You’ll be doing yourself and your companion a world of good!

To learn more about retirement living at Touchmark, visit our website or Facebook.

Cool Down With Summer Mocktails

With summer temperatures rising, it’s important to stay cool and hydrated. Getting enough water can be difficult sometimes; especially if you’re craving something with more flavor. A nice cocktail by the pool is a fun alternative, but the alcohol can increase the risk of dehydration. To find the best of both worlds, take a look at these fun, hydrating mocktails, or cocktails without alcohol.

  1. Watermelon Lime Punch

This delicious punch combines the hydrating power of watermelon with a refreshing hint of mint to create a tasty punch for any garden party. Just blend fresh watermelon, stir in some honey and lime juice, add mint and ice, and enjoy! For the full recipe click here.

  1. Cucumber Lime Mojito

Mojitos are a fun summer treat, but all the sugar in them can make you thirstier than when you started. This version switches out sugary syrups for cooling cucumber and a hint of citrus. In a glass, muddle cucumber slices, mint, and a dash of sugar. Fill the glass with ice, and top everything off with lime club soda. For the full recipe, click here.

  1. Blackberry Lemon Spritzer

For a tangy, bubbly twist on lemonade, try this Blackberry Lemon Spritzer for your next party. Pour lemonade and lemon club soda into a pitcher. Then, mix in your blackberries; lightly muddling about half the total amount. Chill until ready to serve, and then add ice and a few more blackberries for texture. For the full recipe, click here.

  1. Pomegranate Sparkler

For those who enjoy a more tart beverage, check out this Pomegranate Sparkler. Be careful to choose the right pomegranate juice though, as many brands add a lot of extra sugar. To make this drink, mix sparkling water, pomegranate juice, and lime juice. Top with ice and enjoy! For the full recipe and others like it, click here.

  1. Raspberry Fizz

If you want to try out some more advanced mixology techniques, take a shot at this Raspberry Fizz Mocktail. In a shaker, muddle raspberries and lemon wedges. Add in ice, a dash of sugar, and—if you’re feeling adventurous—a bit of rose water. Shake well, strain into a glass with ice, and top with club soda. To get the full recipe, click here.

What are your favorite summer beverages? Let us know!

Debunking Detoxes and Cleanses

It’s summer and numerous messages we receive from the fitness, nutrition, and wellness industries have conflicting information. In particular, topics like detoxification, cleanses, hydration, and sports drinks can be confusing.

Detoxing and cleanses

A variety of detoxification (“detox”) diets and regimens, often referred to as “cleanses” or “flushes,” are suggested as a means of removing toxins from the body or losing weight.

Detox programs may involve a variety of approaches, such as:

  • Fasting
  • Consuming only juices or other liquids for several days
  • Eating a very restricted selection of foods
  • Using various dietary supplements or other commercial products
  • Emptying the colon with enemas, laxatives, or colon hydrotherapy (aka “colonic irrigation”)

At this time, there is no convincing evidence that detox or cleansing programs actually remove toxins from your body or improve your health. In most cases for healthy individuals, the body’s remarkable intrinsic detoxification system—the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and colon—work in conjunction with each other to remove harmful substances without needing any outside help.

The weight loss element of a detox diet typically results in a reduction in the intake of calories versus the “detox” itself.

From a health and safety perspective, use caution, as some of the products and procedures used in detox/cleansing programs may be harmful to your health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have taken action against several companies selling detox/cleansing products because they contained illegal or potentially harmful ingredients. If you do decide to try a detoxification or cleansing product, be sure to clear it with your physician beforehand.

The Amazing Ripple Effect of Volunteering

Not only does volunteering help those in need, but it also provides significant emotional benefits to the one doing the volunteering. In fact, researchers from the London School of Economics found that people who volunteer weekly are 16% more likely to report being “very happy” than those who do not volunteer. This difference in perceived happiness is comparable to the boost you get from having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000.

Now if that doesn’t have you wondering what work near you can be done to help others, consider that volunteering in retirement has even more significant benefits. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency for service, volunteering, and civic engagement released two studies in the last several years on their findings of older adult altruism. It found that:

  • Almost two-thirds of Senior Corps volunteers reported a decrease in feelings of isolation, and 67% of those who first reported they “often” lack companionship stated that they had improved social connections.
  • 70% of volunteers who initially reported five or more symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms at the end of the first year.
  • 63% of volunteers who initially indicated three or four symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms after one year.

So, why does volunteering have such a marvelous emotional effect on the volunteer? The reasons are many, but some at the top of the list include:

  1. Increasing social connections with others.

It’s difficult to help out in a vacuum. Chances are, almost every volunteer activity also comes with the opportunity to socialize with others. Be it nonprofit coordinators, fellow volunteers, children or youth in need, or an organization dedicated to doing good; your friend circle just got a lot bigger!

  1. Tapping into talents and hobbies.

Volunteering often requires us to use our unique skills in unconventional ways. For example, knitting hats in the winter or planting trees in the spring can bring out talents we forgot we had. Pitching in allows us to rediscover our gifts and share them with others, or find new ones altogether!

  1. Increasing the value of your time.

This may sound wacky, but a study from Wharton College found that people who give more of their time feel as though they have more of it and that it means more overall. Regular volunteers reported they felt more confident and useful in their lives, and that they can more easily conquer new tasks.

  1. Sharing of intergenerational knowledge.

What better way to share all you’ve learned over the years than to teach it to someone younger and with less experience? It’s no secret that grandparents and grandchildren bring immense joy to one another, but that joy can be felt between nonrelatives as well. Youth get the benefit of learned wisdom, and retirees earn a chance to view things from the younger generation’s perspective.

Now that summer is in full swing and the days feel longer than ever, take the time to look for ways that you can become more involved in your community. A great place to start is VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit organization that helps you find local volunteer opportunities all over the United States (and in some other countries). When you give more, everything feels better.

Meet Steve Minich

“I can now live the principle of paying it forward.”

What difference can an hour make? For Touchmark resident Steve Minich, donating an hour of his time to help others gives him the greatest joy. “Some people can retire and be OK. I’m not one of those people … I need a purpose,” explains Steve of his decision to move to Touchmark more than three years ago.

“I had a busy career working for the same company for 47 years. I couldn’t just turn the switch off and not be helpful.” Steve welcomes Touchmark’s Full Life and regularly embraces the seven dimensions of wellness, including Occupational/Vocational. This dimension is defined as “determining and achieving personal and occupational interests through meaningful activities, including lifespan occupations, learning new skills, volunteering, and developing new interests/hobbies.”

The rewards of volunteering

Steve is willing to lend a hand wherever and whenever he can, whether it is helping with an event, program, or cause. “I volunteer, because it helps my mental and physical health.”

Volunteering is new to Steve, who says his career and schedule prevented him from being able to volunteer his time to organizations. “I worked odd hours, which meant I was at work when many civic groups were having meetings or events. But here, I can help out whenever I want. I can now live the principle of paying it forward.”

That desire to help has led Steve to new opportunities. He is the Vice President of the Resident Council and serves on the Dining Services Committee. He has learned new games and skills so he can help fulfill a need in his community. For example, the bridge group was short a player, so Steve learned to play the game; now he can stand in when needed. He also taught himself to play mahjong so that group could continue.

“Steve volunteers for everything,” says Life Enrichment/Wellness Director Nanette Whitman-Holmes, “and if he doesn’t know how to help, he will find a way to learn.”

Supporting the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s is an activity that’s especially meaningful. “I like to work the booth and interact with the participants. It is a great feeling when someone donates $100, and we get to ring the bell and celebrate that person’s contribution to an important cause.”

Making others “feel good”

Another favorite event to help with is Touchmark’s annual Dick Morgan Memorial Easter Egg Hunt. “I help sort the eggs, fill the eggs, hide the eggs … anything that needs doing, I do.”

Giving blood donations is another way Steve helps others. A donor early in life—he started giving blood in high school when a fellow student developed leukemia—Steve appreciates that he can donate at Touchmark during the regular community events held on-site.

As he says, “Helping others gives me a good feeling, a personal satisfaction that what I do matters to someone else.”

In fact, Steve doesn’t just go the extra mile to help others—he believes in going 25 miles. Despite not having volunteered during his working years, Steve strove to make his work matter. “At Food Services of America, we were encouraged to go the extra 25 miles to make a difference. I was always looking for ways to make processes more efficient and cost-effective for my employer.” Upon his retirement, Steve was presented with all 12 of Food Service of America Founder Tom Stewart’s principle coins. “I just broke down. Very few employees ever earn one of the coins, so to get all 12 was truly an honor.”

That desire to make a difference in the lives of others is deeply ingrained in Steve. “Helping people gives me great satisfaction. I appreciate Nanette and the other staff’s work ethic and enthusiasm and passion for giving every resident at Touchmark access to the Full Life. And I like to be part of that and enrich others’ lives.”