Ageing is an inevitable part of living. As we age, many physical and psychological changes affect our overall health and these vary from person to person.
The general myth is that as you age, you become more fragile and that this is unavoidable. This is most certainly not the case. There are always things we can do to help keep healthy in our older years and these changes can slow down or even prevent certain health conditions from developing.
The term “fragile” is defined as not “strong or sturdy; delicate and vulnerable” and is most often used to describe older ladies. One particular age-related health issue that supports this description would be osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease that weakens and thins the bones which makes them fragile and more likely to break and is becoming increasingly common. It is much more prevalent in women than men due to the menopause directly affecting hormone balances and this directly affects bone density. It is important to prevent osteoporosis as we age as 75% of fractures due to osteoporosis occur in people aged 65 and over.
There are several things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis:
1) Do regular, weight bearing physical activity.
The lack of regular exercise will result in loss of bone and muscle, so adults who are inactive are more likely to have a hip fracture than those who are more active. Adults should aim to do at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise every week. Weight bearing and resistance training are a particularly great way of improving bone density and helping to prevent osteoporosis.
2) Eat plenty of calcium and Vitamin D containing foods.
Your diet is very important and the nutrients we get from the food we consume will affect how strong our body is. Eat plenty of dairy, seeds, eggs, oily fish, protein, fruit and vegetables. Additionally, try to get at least 15-minutes of sun exposure per day to increase your Vitamin D intake. As we know in the UK, such sun exposure is not always possible during the winter months and, if this is the case, taking a daily Vitamin D supplement is advised.
3) Maintain a healthy weight.
As you get older, you start to lose lean body mass like muscle and bone density and this can start to happen yearly from the age of 30. Being underweight weakens your bones so it is important to keep your weight in a healthy range. A good indication, although not exact, is your BMI. For most adults, a healthy BMI range is between 18.5 and 24.9, so try not to let your BMI fall below 19.
Those who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are at a higher risk of fragility due to the conditions causing further bone density loss. This can happen to anorexic and bulimic sufferers of all ages.
Older people should aim to consume a varied diet, consisting of enough calories for maintaining a healthy weight.
4) Limit your consumption of alcohol.
We’d recommend that you drink no more than a maximum of 2 units of alcohol per day. Any more than this has been demonstrated to increase the risk of bone fracture. Alcohol abuse has detrimental effects on bone health and increases a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis.
5) Stop smoking and definitely don’t start!
Smoking is a known risk factor for osteoporosis as it increases bone mass loss. In fact, smoking doubles the risk of hip fracture.
Generally, being healthy is the key to avoiding fragility and in particular preventing osteoporosis as we age. Having an annual health medical can highlight any areas of concern. They can monitor the progression of any pre-existing health issues, as well as detect arising conditions in the early stages. You can book your annual medical online
In addition to making healthy lifestyle choices, it is also important to book a doctor’s appointment should you notice any changes to your health. The sooner a health concern is addressed, the easier it is to treat. You can book a GP appointment online.
With every change of season comes a host of different medical issues, and winter can be one of the worst. With colder temperatures, shorter days, and seasonal illnesses circulating, it is one of the harder seasons to keep fit and healthy. There are certain conditions which are known to worsen in the colder months and so it is important to be aware of them and how you can best prepare yourself to keep healthy throughout winter.
These conditions include:
- Circulatory disorders, such as claudication, Raynaud’s disease, and chilblains
- Ischaemic heart disease
- Hypothyroidism (if untreated)
- Osteoarthritis and any joint disorder to include rheumatoid arthritis
- Seasonal Affective disorder
- Allergic rhinitis
To reduce the increased risk associated with the above conditions, it is important to have a check up with your GP, ideally in the early Autumn before the Winter months. This will give you the best chance of getting ahead and allowing you to prepare for the coming season. But, if for whatever reason, you were unable to have a check up in Autumn, it is still beneficial to have a check up during the Winter months.
During a check up for asthma and COPD it’s advised to have a peak flow and lung function check. Asthma and COPD are worse in the dry, cold weather, so it is important to make sure you have plenty of your prescribed inhalers. It is best to be prepared rather than be taken unawares by an attack of wheezing. It is extremely important to see a doctor if you develop winter wheezing and are short of breath, especially during the night as this is when asthma and COPD attacks are most dangerous.
Circulatory disorders are worse in the cold weather as lower temperatures constrict blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of pain due to claudication (pain in the calves after walking a certain distance), Reynaud’s (discolouration of the fingertips due to constriction of the blood vessels) and chilblains (small, itchy, red patches on the skin). You can prepare for all of these conditions by obtaining prescriptions for treatment but most importantly, by keeping warm and preparing for the cold.
Ischaemic heart disease is also worse in the cold weather due to the effect of constricting blood vessels. It is important to have a cardiac check to include blood pressure, and if you suffer from angina, to ensure you have the medication to treat this painful condition which is likely to be much worse in the cold weather. Avoiding the extreme cold and wearing thermal clothing may also mitigate against the likelihood of a heart attack or myocardial infarction if you do suffer from Ischaemic heart disease.
If you suffer from Hypothyroidism, it is a good idea to have an annual blood test. Left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause increased sensitivity to cold, which can be particularly unpleasant in winter.
For those with arthritis of any kind, the best way to avoid pain and stiffness in the joints is to keep warm and keep the joints moving. Find more information on Arthritis in Winter here.
If your mood tends to be lower in the winter months, each year, you should have a check up with your GP to discuss Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you are diagnosed with SAD, consider CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) rather than medication if you can, and invest in a daylight lamp as these do help.
Allergic rhinitis is another ailment that tends to crop up a lot around winter time. This is diagnosed when you have a persistent nasal discharge. This can occur either as a result of pine or autumnal tree leaf mould, or due to house dust or mould which is often exacerbated by central heating. In this instance, nasal sprays and antihistamines are often required.
Finally, the Norovirus peaks in November until April. This is a really unpleasant vomiting virus which is picked up from contaminated surfaces or foods. To help avoid this nasty bug, always wash hands when handling food and make sure food is washed thoroughly before cooking or eating raw.
If you know or suspect that you might suffer from any of these conditions, please do visit your GP to help you keep prepared. Similarly, if anything new arises you should see your GP as soon as you can; the earlier a health condition is addressed, the easier it is to treat.
In general, an annual medical is a good way to give you a full-body overview of your health, as well as monitor the progression of any existing health conditions. A varied, balanced diet and regular exercise will also be crucial in keeping you generally fit and healthy throughout winter.
For more information on our GP Services.