Health and Wellness
We may be healthy right now, leading active lives and following our interests and pursuits. However, one thing is certain, our bodies and minds are changing slowly but surely as we age. So what are all the things we can do to stay healthy and active as long as possible? The answer:
- Ensure that you maintain a nutritious, balanced, heart-healthy diet
- Exercise! Keep both your body and mind active
- Don’t smoke!
- Get regular check ups – and don’t forget your eyes, teeth and hearing
- Develop and maintain safe habits to avoid accidents and prevent falls
We will address each of these topics briefly. Use this as a starting point to do your own reading as required, and make a commitment to yourself to follow these recommendations. Mind and Spirit are addressed in a separate section.
Nutrition and Diet
Nutrition and diet are central to maintaining good health. A very large number of articles, books, dietary suggestions and recipes can be found; a Google search on “nutrition and diet” results in 222 million hits! The consensus opinion of specialists and professionals is that a well-balanced, heart healthy diet is the best approach. We encourage everyone to consult their physician and/or nutritionist as needed, and tailor their diets to meet their taste buds and their individual wellness needs.
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation has excellent advice for South Asiansin particular:
“The South Asian diet can be high in calories and rich in saturated fats. The increased risk of heart disease makes eating a well-balanced diet important for South Asians of all ages. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods. There are some simple rules you can follow for healthy eating:
- Balance your meals
- Eat smaller portions.
- Emphasize healthy carbohydrates.
- Eat lean protein.
- Limit fat, oil and salt intake.
These are a few of the changes you can make to help you control your weight, blood sugar and lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides). By making some changes, you can reduce your risk of a heart attack.”
Such a diet, accompanied by appropriate exercise and physical activity will not just reduce your risk of a heart attack, but will in general help you stay healthy longer.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has a very handy brochure on Healthy Eating for South Asians
The 188-page book Indian Foods: AAPI’s Guide to Nutrition, Health and Diabetes – 2nd Edition , written by a team of medical doctors, researchers and registered dietitians is an excellent reference. It is published by The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) and is available free of charge. It provides detailed guidelines for developing an appropriate diet.
We provide links to a few other articles that are likely to be of interest to the South Asian community:
Whole Foods Plant Based Lifestyle • Pushkala Raju • India Currents the author recommends adapting the Indian way of cooking to a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes, while excluding or minimizing meat, dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.
Why A Plant-Based Diet May Offer the Best Protection for Your Muscles As You Age The article reviews results of a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, showing that women who consumed the recommended amount of vegetables were found to cut their odds of having low muscle mass basically in half.
Many recent studies are pointing to the health benefits of spices and other ingredients used in Indian cooking in various ways; reducing inflammation, reducing risk factors for the development of chronic illness, dementia etc. An example is the benefit of turmeric, widely used in Indian cooking. The article Key Health Benefit of Turmeric: Improved Brain Health discusses one such study.
There are a number of websites that provide healthy recipes for those who like Indian cuisine. TarlaDalal.com lists a number of “healthy heart recipes” for you to check out. EatingWell.com has several recipes from Indian, Asian and other cuisines. And the website Food.com also has a section on healthy Indian recipes. We have not done our due diligence to verify these recipes are indeed “healthy;” we leave that task to our readers!
Finally, Sukham is collecting and making available interesting and healthy recipes from our volunteer and reader community. If you would like to share a recipe with our readers, please email it to us at [email protected] for inclusion in this repository!
Exercise and Fitness
You have certainly heard that some form of physical activity and exercise is beneficial for everyone, including senior adults. To quote the The National Institute of Health, it is “One of the Healthiest Things You Can Do:”
“In fact, being physically active on a regular basis is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Studies have shown that exercise provides many health benefits and that older adults can gain a lot by staying physically active. Even moderate exercise and physical activity can improve the health of people who are frail or who have diseases that accompany aging.
Being physically active can also help you stay strong and fit enough to keep doing the things you like to do as you get older. Making exercise and physical activity a regular part of your life can improve your health and help you maintain your independence as you age.”
Physical activity prevents or delays many diseases and disabilities. Quoting the NIH again: “Scientists have found that staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay many diseases and disabilities. In some cases, exercise is an effective treatment for many chronic conditions. For example, studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes benefit from regular exercise. Exercise also helps people with high blood pressure, balance problems, or difficulty walking.”
And further, “Regular, moderate physical activity can help manage stress and improve your mood. And, being active on a regular basis may help reduce feelings of depression. Studies also suggest that exercise can improve or maintain some aspects of cognitive function, such as your ability to shift quickly between tasks, plan an activity, and ignore irrelevant information.”
In its Exercise Guidelines for Seniors, The Cleveland Clinic lists the benefits of exercise beyond improving cardiovascular fitness and pulmonary function:
Exercise helps to:
- Control blood pressure
- Protect against diabetes
- Ward off depression, anxiety, and insomnia
- Enhance balance and strength (minimizing accidental falls)
- Prevent osteoporosis
- Decrease the risk of certain cancers
- Maintain normal weight
- Decrease cholesterol
- Improve cognition
- Lessen the pain of osteoarthritis
So what are you waiting for! Consult with your doctor, understand your limitations, if any, and begin your exercise and fitness regimen today! Exercise and fitness routines are even better when you join others interested in the same activities. Several options available in the Bay Area can help in this regard:
Bay Area Older Adults promotes group activities including exercise, walks, hikes, yoga, meditation and martial arts in several cities in the East Bay, Peninsula and South Bay.
Local Community Centers and Park & Recreation Departments offer a variety of Senior Programs. Examples include San Francisco Recreation and Parks, and numerous Senior Centers in Santa Clara County as well as other Bay Area Counties.
Various fitness centers such as 24 Hour Fitness offer group group exercise classes are designed to help seniors and older adults maintain their cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility.
Balance and Fall Prevention
“Each year, more than one-third of people age 65 or older fall. Falls and fall-related injuries, such as hip fracture, can have a serious impact on an older person’s life. If you fall, it could limit your activities or make it impossible to live independently. Balance exercises, along with certain strength exercises, can help prevent falls by improving your ability to control and maintain your body’s position, whether you are moving or still.
— National Institute of Health/Senior Health”
The NIH Senior Health website describes some simple but effective balance exercises for older adults. Their suggestions for flexibility exercises are also worth considering. A web search under ‘balance for seniors’ will yield dozens of other suggestions.
According to Medicine Net.com,
“General safety measures both at home, and away from home, are encouraged and recommended to elderly patients and their family members. Falls and injuries, confusion, adherence to medical instructions, and future health and financial planning are among the concerns pertinent to elderly care.”
The Health in Aging Foundation provides a handy brochure on home safety for seniors.
Medical Checkups & Preventative Care: Physical Exams
The Senior Citizen Journal explains the necessity for regular medical check ups for older adults, including preventive services to help you avoid health problems or to identify them early. It also discusses American Medical Association Guidelines for medical tests:
“Everybody young and old should get a yearly checkup from their doctor. This allows the doctor to monitor your general health and will give her/him a point of reference should an issue come up. This yearly checkup is especially important for senior citizens, who generally have more health concerns and may need more monitoring than others. Here are the following tests recommended by the American Medical Association that should be done with regularity and why they’re so important for senior health. The reader is advised to bear in mind that these are only guidelines, and are not to be substituted for advice from one’s primary care physician or specialist.
There are many routine tests that can help maintain and monitor a senior’s health. Blood pressure, height and weight should be checked at every doctor’s visit including your yearly exam. This is for monitoring purposes and because a large drop in weight and height could indicate the beginning of a serious condition. Blood work should be done every year and the tests that are run from this work will vary from patient to patient. All blood work should include a blood count, glucose tests, thyroid tests, and any other tests that will check for conditions relating to your family and medical history. A chest x-ray is generally recommended once a year, although some medical experts do not recommend it that often. This will show the general condition of the lungs, an area that is vulnerable in many seniors. A fecal occult blood test should also be done once every year to check for blood in the stool and could be very helpful in the early detection of colorectal cancer. A sigmoidoscopy should be done every four years to also help detect colorectal cancer, unless otherwise indicated. Colonoscopies should also be given every five years, except for those that are high-risk or have already been diagnosed with polyps or colon cancer. Then, obviously, the surgeon’s advice must be followed.
These are tests that everyone should have done but there are also tests that are specific to men and women that should also be done every year to maintain good senior health. A man should plan for these tests annually: a prostate exam and a prostate specific antigen test (PSA), which is simple blood work that will detect the possibility of prostate cancer. Women should plan on adding to their yearly tests: a mammogram to help detect breast cancer; a pap smear and pelvic exam (some recommend this every 2-4 years); and measurement of bone mass to detect osteoporosis, a condition that occurs mainly in women and causes bones to become very fragile and delicate.
The yearly exam is only one aspect of senior health but it is a very important aspect and should not be overlooked.”
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention systematically reviews the evidence of effectiveness and develops recommendations for clinical preventive services. Detailed Recommendations for Primary Care Practice for almost one hundred different health categories are available on the Task Force Web site. Those on Medicare will find the Guide to Medicare’s Preventative Services useful.
We want to emphasize that these are general guidelines. Every individual should get an annual medical check up and consult their primary care physician to determine what tests are relevant and necessary for him or her.
The CDC’s (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) Health Information for Older Adults provides links to information on a number of topics such as exercise, healthy eating, nutrition, brain health etc., in addition to several common health conditions and illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia etc.
We also point you to a couple of resources in the Bay Area that specialize in and focus on the health of South Asians:
The South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital aims to promote increased awareness, conduct research and reduce the high incidence of coronary artery disease and diabetes in South Asians using a culturally sensitive lifestyle approach. Their data show that People of Indian descent have heart attacks at much younger ages despite being a healthy weight, mostly vegetarian and nonsmoking. South Asians are also four times more likely to develop diabetes than other populations. In 2014 El Camino Hospital and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) established an alliance combining their strengths and expertise to benefit patients and the local community across a continuum of health care services. One of the first examples of this collaborative effort is the South Asian Heart Center and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) are partnering to provide more comprehensive, coordinated care to South Asian patients seeking help with heart disease and insulin resistance. Watch this this 3-minute video: “Partnering for South Asian Health.”
The Stanford South Asian Translational Heart Initiative, Ssathi, provides services with a similar focus.
Dental, Vision and Hearing Checkups
It is astonishing how many individuals tend to neglect their dental, vision and hearing health until they have an issue. Reasons typically are fear or dislike of dentistry, or lack of insurance coverage, or cost of insurance for one or more of these services. We at Sukham urge all seniors to get regular dental and vision checkups, with a dental cleaning every six months and an annual vision test. Insurance is available for such services, and vary in cost and coverage. Individual needs vary, and some conditions may be covered under medical insurance. QuoteWizard has a useful article on Dental, Vision, and Hearing Care with Medicare. Another useful article How to get vision, hearing and dental care that’s not covered by Medicare by Philip Moeller recently appeared on the PBS Newshour website.
Alternative, Complementary and Integrative Medicine
Almost everyone of Indian origin will have grown up with some knowledge of and experience with Ayurvedic medicine, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, as well as the practice and benefits of Yoga, Pranayama (breathing techniques), Meditation etc. Many people of Indian origin (as well as others) in the US believe in the benefits of these ancient practices and disciplines. Over the past few decades, these benefits are being recognized and brought into the sphere of medical practice in several major hospitals and clinics across the Western Hemisphere. We typically hear about them as Alternative or Complementary medicine.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Healthexplains the terminology in an interesting article — Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name?:
“Complementary Versus Alternative
Many Americans—more than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children—use health care approaches developed outside of mainstream Western, or conventional, medicine. When describing these approaches, people often use “alternative” and “complementary” interchangeably, but the two terms refer to different concepts:
- If a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary.”
- If a non-mainstream practice is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”
True alternative medicine is uncommon. Most people who use non-mainstream approaches use them along with conventional treatments.
There are many definitions of “integrative” health care, but all involve bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. The use of integrative approaches to health and wellness has grown within care settings across the United States. Researchers are currently exploring the potential benefits of integrative health in a variety of situations, including pain management for military personnel and veterans, relief of symptoms in cancer patients and survivors, and programs to promote healthy behaviors.”
Quoting further from this article:
“Most complementary health approaches fall into one of two subgroups—natural products or mind and body practices.
This group includes a variety of products, such as herbs (also known as botanicals), vitamins and minerals, and probiotics. They are widely marketed, readily available to consumers, and often sold as dietary supplements.”
“Researchers have done large, rigorous studies on a few natural products, but the results often showed that the products didn’t work. Research on others is in progress. While there are indications that some may be helpful, more needs to be learned about the effects of these products in the human body and about their safety and potential interactions with medicines and other natural products.”
“Mind and Body Practices
Mind and body practices include a large and diverse group of procedures or techniques administered or taught by a trained practitioner or teacher. The 2012 NHIS showed that yoga, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, meditation, and massage therapy are among the most popular mind and body practices used by adults. The popularity of yoga has grown dramatically in recent years, with almost twice as many U.S. adults practicing yoga in 2012 as in 2002.
Other mind and body practices include acupuncture, relaxation techniques (such as breathing exercises, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation), tai chi, qi gong, healing touch, hypnotherapy, and movement therapies (such as Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, Pilates, Rolfing Structural Integration, and Trager psychophysical integration).
The amount of research on mind and body approaches varies widely depending on the practice. For example, researchers have done many studies on acupuncture, yoga, spinal manipulation, and meditation, but there have been fewer studies on some other practices.
Other Complementary Health Approaches
The two broad areas discussed above—natural products and mind and body practices—capture most complementary health approaches. However, some approaches may not neatly fit into either of these groups—for example, the practices of traditional healers, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and naturopathy.”
There are numerous books, articles, refereed journal publications and websites devoted to these topics. We direct you to a few below. A simple internet search will help locate many more.
The US National Library of Medicine has an extensive discussion of Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
The Mayo Clinic discusses complementary and alternative medicine.
Dr. Andrew Weil, a well known American physician, author, spokesperson, and advocate for holistic health and integrative medicine has a popular website and blog.