Dr. Walter Bortz, an octogenarian marathon runner and Stanford professor, says it best: “It’s not how old you are. It’s how you are old.” Dr. Bortz has long spoken out against what he calls disuse syndrome, which are problems that arise from not using our health assets—our muscles, our brains, etc. It reminds me of the old exercise saying “use it or lose it.” Dr. Bortz’ message to Americans is that by using it (exercise, physical activity, social interaction, learning, etc.), we can boost our overall health and save ourselves lots of money on medical bills in our later years. That’s because the healthier we are, the better we are at fighting disease and limiting the negative impacts of aging.
Dr. Bortz offers several health tips, but here are a few worth pointing out.
- Be physically active. When we’re younger, exercise is optional. When we’re past 50, exercise is mandatory. Nearly any kind of robust exercise counts: walking, swimming, riding a bike, jogging, etc. Especially past 50, our legs become our most important body parts.
- Take charge of your health. If you have access to a wellness plan through work or a local health club, use it. Rather than go this route alone, include a family member or friend for accountability and encouragement. Don’t be discouraged from starting slowly and building up your efforts over time. Do remove any physical or mental obstacles (within reason) that may hamper your efforts. For example, some women avoid working out because it “ruins” their hair; so maybe work out in the early morning before your hair is fixed up for the day.
- Maintain personal relationships. Stay socially active and be involved in family and friends’ lives. Find a cause to support (even as an older person) and get involved in it. Keep your brain sharp too by solving crossword puzzles, reading, learning a new language or musical instrument. Kill two birds with one stone: join a bridge club or a chess group or a square dance club.
- Steer clear of any aging “remedies.” Prescriptions and supplements are often too easy to turn to, instead of just facing a harsher truth: a need for a long-term change in personal behavior. Need to lower your blood pressure? There are prescription drugs that will do that, but they won’t eliminate the underlying causes. The tougher medicine to take is changing your diet permanently, lowering your emotional stress, getting regular exercise day in and day out, etc. A pill may be faster at getting results in the short term, but it’s also way more expensive in the long run.
Which brings us back to Dr. Bortz’ original point: better health as we age saves all of us healthcare money down the road. If like many Americans you feel you haven’t saved enough for retirement, one way you can “save” is simply by living a healthier lifestyle now. And you’ll feel better to boot. What do you think about Dr. Bortz’ suggestions?