Getting older doesn’t mean slowing down

RiverWalk Apartments experts share tips on balance, diet and exercise

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Aging is a fact of life. Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re all getting older.

As we age, it’s important to start paying more attention to how we take care of ourselves, and put more work into staying healthy.

As snow fell outside, many were on their computers last week learning just how to do that. RiverWalk Senior Apartments on Palisade Avenue hosted a webinar with The Riverdale Press last week focused on trends to stay healthy while aging.

Slush and ice can make traversing paths outside difficult for older folks, to the point where a simple trip and fall could be life-threatening. In fact, 80 percent of falls happen in winter, according to Angelica Zuniga, a physical therapist in RiverWalk’s rehabilitation department. That puts more than 800,000 people in the hospital each year.

One way to move around more safely outside is to walk with a buddy, Zuniga said. This buddy can help you speed up if you need to walk faster, or stay with you when you might need a bit of a slower pace.

Even more important, Zuniga said? Having the proper footwear. When walking outside, traction is crucial, so shoes with spikes on the bottom are best for traversing snowy terrain.

While boots are preferred for the outdoors, they aren’t the most comfortable shoes for older people, Zuniga said. One good alternative is to wear comfortable sneakers with a piece of rubber attached to the bottom for traction. This can prevent slipping on ice outside, while creating comfortable mobility indoors.

“Sadly, (the) winter season is where we have a lot of patients that come into the nursing home that fall down — not just outside, but also inside their houses,” Zuniga said. “It’s hard to move around … so the less movement, stiff joints, it adds up. Then once they get out of their bed or get out of their bathroom, they slip. And, unfortunately, falls happen.”

One way to prevent falls indoors is constant awareness of uneven floor surfaces throughout the home.

Using a cane or a walker also is a really good way to maintain balance, Zuniga said, but choosing between the two isn’t always easy. It depends on a person’s particular needs.

Canes provide some added balance, but not much. Yet they allow for more freedom of movement. On the other hand, walkers provide 50 percent more stability, Zuniga said, but are much bulkier, limiting where a person can go.

“You have to weigh which is better for you,” she said. “If you’re still having a problem with those things, of course, it’s always better to ask somebody that is a professional or knows better about it — like your health care providers, or physical therapists or doctors.”

For older people, there’s more to staying healthy than just maintaining balance. There is also a need to protect our heart and other vital organs by watching what we eat and drink. That healthy menu doesn’t have to be bland. In fact, RiverWalk chef James Iatrou tops his list with avocados.

They’re versatile, he said, perfect to be eaten on their own or incorporated into all kinds of recipes. Avocados are high in unsaturated fats, help lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fish like mackerel, herring, sardines and especially salmon are another great option, Iatrou said, because they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is a particularly good choice because it’s a good heart protector, is high in B vitamins, and helps regulate hormones.

If you’re trying to decide between wild or farm salmon, the difference is pretty small these days, Iatrou said — although wild salmon is still more nutritious overall.

For those with a sweet tooth, dark chocolate is actually very good for your heart, Iatrou added, although he recommends the sugar-free version.

“Those are just a few good sources of food that help with maintaining our heart health,” Iatrou said. “There are a lot more that you can choose from. These are just basic things that most people have easy access to.”

And how well is that diet coming together? There’s a way to check it, Iatrou said, through a smartphone app known as Heart Trends. While nothing like this could ever replace a doctor, it can measure heart health while performing daily activities.

Activities that might involve walking, cooking — or doing some actual exercise. It’s good not just for staying healthy, but also for reducing isolation and depression. That’s why it’s important for people to incorporate exercise into their daily routine, said Debra Rodriguez, RiverWalk’s wellness coordinator. That could include some light weight training — like with a one-pound dumbbell, with multiple repetitions every other day.

Exercise should take about 20 minutes between stretching, cardio and recovery, Rodriguez said. Stretching is especially important to do every day because it helps prevent injuries that could come from falls and other accidents.

“I have weird steps in my house,” Rodriguez said. “I fell down the steps, and all I could think about was breaking something. Give yourself time to stretch.”

Besides helping mitigate depression and falling injuries, Rodriguez adds daily exercise helps keep people healthier overall, allowing them to live longer lives.

“One of my favorite residents next door … she’s 103 and she swears that she exercised every day,” Rodriguez said. “And 70 is the previous 40. People are living well. They’re living older.”

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