Top 7 Health Strategies For Men Over 60 [Men's Health Week]

Every man wants to be healthy and fit, right? Just ask your friends, they’re all for the idea – but the process of getting there can be daunting. Since June 11-18 is Men’s Health Week, we’re focusing on healthy aging for men and asked Judson Vice President of Member Wellness Frank Ondus for his best tips.

“The problem is, people decide they need to get into shape, but they want to be in shape tomorrow,” Frank says. “They want a quick fix and start by doing too much, too hard, too fast and too soon.” Then they injure themselves or just lose motivation, “so they quit trying altogether.”

But you can stay robust into your later years without all of that angst and suffering.

Here, Frank shares his top seven health strategies for men as they grow older:

  • Stay hydrated. Most people don’t make hydrating a priority, but it’s at the top of Frank’s wellness list. “One thing that happens as we get older is, we lose our sense of thirst,” he says, “and if you wait until you feel thirsty, it really is too late.” 

Once you get used to getting enough fluids, you want to continue because, “everything works better when you’re hydrated,” Frank says. “Your metabolism works better, your brain works better, your joints work better, even your eyes work better” because the aqueous humor (the clear fluid in front of your eyeball) is there, making your eyes function.

The biggest reason people don’t drink all the water they need is because they see it as a job. “You get this vision of sitting at a table with eight glasses of water in front of you, and you think, ‘how could I possibly drink all of it?’” The answer is, you don’t – not even a full glass at once. Frank’s tip is, “a bit personal,” but it works: every time he visits the restroom, he takes five big sips of water. “It’s incredibly simplistic, but it helps you to maintain those fluids.” And, he adds, any fluid counts, even coffee. “I wouldn’t recommend eight cups a day, but if you drink a cup or two, count it.”

  • Get enough shut-eye. “Just like water, everything works better when you’ve slept well,” Frank says. It’s important to stick to a schedule – go to bed and rise at the same time every day to support your circadian rhythm, that 24-hour cycle of night and day. “If you don’t maintain it, your intellect will suffer. You’ll be in a perpetual state of jet lag,” he says. Within that sleep time, you need REM (rapid eye movement) sleep – that deep sleep when we dream – which can be disrupted by a number of factors. Stress impedes REM sleep, as do breathing disorders such as sleep apnea. “If you’re tired all the time, you might have a stress or apnea condition that keeps you from sleeping well,” he says. “Get it checked out.”
  • Manage your stress. It’s no secret that stress can be a health hazard as you age, setting you up for heart disease, high blood pressure and other ailments. It also can prevent you from relaxing, enjoying your family, or simple activities such as getting absorbed in a good book or engaging in meaningful conversation with friends – and, as mentioned above, getting a good night’s sleep.

One remedy, Frank says, is physical activity. “Hard work is good for all of us; digging ditches for a living is far superior, health-wise, to a stressful office job.” A good cry or laughing creates the same effect on stress – the release of endorphins, sometimes called “happy hormones,” that allow our bodies to relax.

“Everyone has to have a formal stress management ‘program,’” Frank says, “whether it’s bowling, volunteering at your church, or playing cards with friends. We’re so inundated with stressors in our lives, we really need a plan for combating them.”

  • Which brings us to exercise. The standard, we’re told, is that adults should exercise for at least 15 minutes, three or four times a week, “but only 15 to 20 percent of adults do that,” Frank says. That’s one of the reasons why 68 percent of Americans are obese.”

Back in the 1920s, the government started tracking our calorie consumption and body weight. In that decade, we ate far more calories than we do now, but weighed less. “We were much more active. Now we use a clicker to change channels, we drive to the grocery less than a mile away – we live in a world of convenience,” Frank says.

But the body is meant to move. “It responds so much better when we lead an active lifestyle, and cardiovascular exercise – cycling, swimming, aerobic dancing – gives us strong heart and lung muscles. We’re healthier.” The key is to pick the right exercise. Frank advises older men to get good instruction from a personal trainer or therapist, then “do 30 percent of what you think you can do. People say, ‘I’ll start by walking a mile,’ or ‘I want to walk 10,000 steps’ – but why?” Frank says older men (and everyone) starting an exercise plan should, “absolutely rid your mind of any distance or time requirement. Go for a walk, and when you feel you’ve hit 30 percent of what you can do, then you decide to stop. Go home, record the distance you traveled or the amount of time you exercised on your calendar, and do 30-to-60-seconds more after giving yourself a day in between to rest.

  • Be more flexible. Most people, even those who exercise regularly, don’t stretch, Frank says. “It’s the first thing they skip. They tell themselves, ‘I’ll stretch later,’ but later never happens.” But flexibility is vital for your posture, and for developing strong muscles and bones, and stretching makes you more flexible. “Stretch for a few minutes every day, after your muscles have warmed up,” he says.

  • Make some muscles! “Your joints are only as strong as the muscles surrounding them,” Frank says, so muscle-building, especially for older men, is as important for healthy shoulders, knees and other joints as for body strength.

Three major muscle groups stabilize our knees: the quadriceps (in front of the knee, keeping the kneecap aligned with the center line of the femur); hamstrings (the muscles behind the thigh, supporting the back of the leg); and calf muscles. And you don’t need a gym or exercise equipment to strengthen those muscles. Quarter squats and leg curls are good for building quads and hamstrings. For calf muscles, Frank says, “simply stand on a step and raise yourself up and down until you feel a stretch in your calf. Those three exercises will keep your joint as strong as possible.”

  • Sorry, but you have to watch your diet. You can develop an exercise program quickly, Frank says, “but diet is a never-ending abyss of curve balls.” He cautions against popular low-carb diets for older men because too many proteins can be difficult to digest and are higher in calories than most complex carbohydrates per equal volume. People shouldn’t worry too much about what they eat, just aim for a good balance of 60 percent complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables), “no more than” 30 percent fats, and 10 percent proteins every day.

Just get started, Frank says, and diversify – especially with your exercises. “Take it from a wellness expert who works out every day, exercise can be boring,” he says. I hear people say they hate it, then look at me as if to say, ‘You probably think less of me now…’ But exercise is boring. The trick is to try mixing it up with different activities, and get a training partner. That alone will make a 1-hour workout seem like 20 minutes.”

Don’t dread the boredom – plan on it. Manage it. And most importantly, he adds, “know that it is impossible to start too slowly, and it is impossible to progress too slowly. To paraphrase Woody Allen, success comes from showing up. Just show up and start.”

Learn more about Health and Wellness Opportunities at Judson Park.

Note: We thank Judson Park resident Don Kuhn for serving as our “model.” You can read about how Don used exercise to prepare for knee-replacement in our next post on Thursday.

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