You Age If You Slow Down
At age 72, John Dunn said the Vail Valley has to be one of the best places in the world to stay healthy and active. He and his wife, Karen, have been living in the valley for more than 30 years.
John started running in his 30s and has continued ever since but began incorporating strength training into his fitness regimen about five years ago.
"I agree with whoever said you don't need to slow down as you age," Dunn said. "You age if you slow down."
John is registered for the Philadelphia Marathon in November and said he plans to do some hiking this summer, with the hope of climbing a 14er. He skis in the winter and continues his walking, running and strength regimens year-round.
Age, however, isn't as arbitrary to some. John and his wife share a life together, but they live it through very different bodies. Later years can lead to developing conditions, even after a past of health and wellness.
Every body is different
While John has been increasing his fitness dynamic in the past decade, Karen, who is 73, has been struggling with Inclusion Body Myositis, a rare neurological disease, since she was in her 60s.
She said the disease progresses gradually and is not painful but that she will continue to lose muscle control as she ages.
Karen works with certified personal trainer Stacey Vachon at Dogma Athletica in Edwards.
"I went to Stacey because it was obvious that regardless of what my doctor said, I was eventually going to be an indolent," she said.
Vachon said she taught Karen skills and strength to help increase her confidence. They worked together on endurance and balance so that Karen could go on walks by herself, park farther away in parking lots, open doors with one hand and climb and descend stairs on her own.
"Karen wanted to be self-sufficient as much as possible," Vachon said. "She increased her balance to the point that if she stumbles, she now just makes it part of a dance!"
Karen said she has no other health issues but does work with Vachon to keep her weight in check to maintain general health and avoid diabetes. She works with Vachon two to three times per week and does nightly exercises on her own.
"Stacey encourages me to walk," Karen said. "I do a little weight lifting at home in conjunction to what she's teaching me."
Karen said having a trainer really helps make fitness more specialized to personal needs.
"It's very, very important to have a trainer who is focused on you, especially as you get older," Karen said. "It doesn't have to be every week; it can be once a month or once every two months."
As her disease began to progress, Karen became more dependent on her husband and others. That's when she went to Vachon to be proactive about doing what she could to maintain her health.
Keep up with ?tness
"As humans get older, our strength, balance, neural function and bone density can decline even faster than our aerobic fitness if we don't train these aspects," Vachon said. "We also become more inclined to follow the same motor patterns, which can lead to some imbalance."
Vachon said working with a specialist can help people participate in the activities they love to their fullest potential and with a lower probability of injury.
"We are there to support you, and everyone is sharing one basic goal, and that is simply to be a better you," Vachon said. "Once you understand this, the fear factor of being in a gym disappears, knowing you are now in a place where everyone wants you to be successful."
Vachon recommends doing something physical every day to stay active and to stay young in your head and in your heart. She also recommends keeping a journal to stay on track and create positive patterns with wellness, fitness and nutrition.
Dr. Tracee Metcalfe, adult hospitalist at the Vail Valley Medical Center, said consistent exercise regimens will help men and women in their 70s maintain their health.
As people age, body composition increasingly changes from muscle to fat, Metcalfe said. Exercise can help people maintain muscle and stamina, and Metcalfe recommends 30 to 60 minutes of exercise, five times per week.
"The exercise does not have to be vigorous; it can be walking, biking or swimming." Metcalfe said. "Try to do some weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or lifting weights, three times a week for 30 minutes."
Metcalfe said to eat a healthy diet and to eliminate smoking. She said to limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
She also recommends reducing your risk of falling and injury by removing throw rugs, cords and clutter from your home.
Dr. Drew Werner, a family practitioner in Eagle, said that although balance, vision and strength are factors that people in their 70s should pay attention to, mental wellness is also critical.
"In this decade, people experience the loss of friends and family, and they begin to see their peer group decrease," Werner said. "This can easily lead to social isolation."
He also said that the loss of vision, strength, reaction time or memory loss may make it harder for people in this age group to continue to live independently. It's important to recognize problems, even small ones, and talk to your doctor and decide how best to prepare for life changes, he said.
"Don't fear life's struggles, or they will overcome you," Werner said. "Ask for help, and people will often be ready to give."
Sharing love and life
"Staying active and on top of health maintenance will make it easy to stay healthy in the future," Metcalfe said. "It's important for people who are aging to stay mentally active and to get more involved in their community."
Werner recommends remaining socially active by maintaining a willingness to step out of a peer group and find friends and activities generally dominated by younger people.
Karen said she and John enjoy entertaining friends, and she said she has embraced her interest in needlepoint and has even gone to needlepoint retreats.
"Although I have problems physically, mentally I am a student at heart and I enjoy life," Karen said. "I think it's important to keep a positive outlook, and I think friendship and laughing are always important."
Physical wellness recommendations by Dr. Tracee Metcalfe
for men and women in their 70s:
• Yearly physical exam, skin exam, blood pressure, weight and body-mass index, regular dentist visits and cleanings.
• American Association of Ophthalmology recommends yearly eye exam to look for glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.
• Cholesterol and diabetes check every three years.
• Colonoscopy if not already performed and then follow-up based on family history and initial result.
• Hearing exams every three years.
• Screen for osteoporosis if this has not already been done.
• Consider checking thyroid, B12, iron, vitamin D.
• Make sure vaccinations are up to date, including a yearly flu, shingles, pneumonia and tetanus every 10 years.
• Polypharmacy starts to become a real problem at this age, so ask your doctor to review all drugs you are on at least once a year to make sure there are no drug-drug interactions or medications that can increase your risk of falls. Make sure your doctor knows all the supplements you are taking.
• Discuss feelings of depression with your doctor.
• Hormone-replacement therapy: evaluate whether it is still needed and, if not, try to discontinue it.
• Pelvic exams: Metcalfe said the American College of Gynecologists recommends yearly pelvic exams to look for vaginal cancer and vaginal dryness and to help with incontinence. Women should have yearly pelvic exams and mammograms, Metcalfe said, but pap smears can be discontinued if you have had three normal exams and if you have no risk factors for cervical cancer.
• Consider having testosterone levels checked.
• Address any urinary issues you are having with your doctor.
• Discuss with your doctor whether or not a prostate screening is right for you.
Metcalfe said the American Urological Society and the American Cancer Society discourage a prostate screening if life expectancy is less than 10 years. However, she said that there are plenty of people in their 70s for which a prostate cancer screening is perfectly appropriate.