Cosmo and I write a lot about healthy dating habits for seniors. Things that we’ve found lead to finding love and healthy relationships.
This article takes a look at senior health in general, and strategies to live longer in optimum health.
After all, dating can take some effort and energy, unless you’re very lucky and you find “the one” quickly.
The healthier you are, both physically and emotionally, the more likely you’ll have the stamina and mental faculties to keep up with dating.
And the more likely you’ll know how to choose someone who’s compatible and right for you.
After 50 or 60 (or maybe even earlier) aging begins to take a toll, even if only slightly at first. Ailments and complaints start to add up, some minor and some (sometimes) more serious.
And the older we get, the more rapid the progression typically is. A dear friend of mine called it “the slippery slope into decrepitude”.
The late, great actress Bette Davis is credited with saying
“Getting old is not for sissies.”
That’s sure enough true for me. Although I’m fairly healthy, I have several physical complaints. I’m sure you do, too.
Beyond the physical challenges, there’s the pervasive ageism that impacts many aspects of our lives.
Older people are often not revered in our culture.
But, despite ageism and physical decline, there’s plenty we can do to maintain good health, slow the aging process, and thereby promote our own healthy dating.
We can make smart choices and age well.
What are healthy dating habits?
The way to set healthy dating habits in motion is by first doing some work looking at who you are, how you like to live, who will be a good match for you, and planning a dating strategy that works for you.
You’ll find all this in our mature dating game plan.
Here are some of our popular articles that will get you started on the path to healthy and successful dating:
Healthy dating starts with a healthy diet and lifestyle
What is a healthy diet?
The thing to remember:
“Think of food as medicine. Your body needs the right fuel and enough activity to keep it running well. Maintain a good gut microbiome and you can stave off some diseases and be less sick if you get sick.”
Instead of getting to an optimal weight (whatever you feel that may be), think of getting to optimal health and getting your body to run optimally.
You may already know what constitutes a healthy diet, and which things you should avoid, but you may not know how to implement it or where to start.
You can start slowly by taking away the bad stuff. Replace poor food choices with good ones, little by little.
If you don’t know what a healthy diet look like, here’s a basic foundation from the American Heart Association:
You won’t go wrong with the Mediterranean diet which includes lots of fruits and vegetables, and not much red meat.
People who have an unhealthy diet, with too much processed foods containing too much salt and sugar, may not understand why diet is important.
They may take better care of their car than of themselves.
But like a car, our bodies need the right fuel and need to be tended to properly.
It makes sense that if you’re putting too much of the wrong things and too little of the good things into your body, it won’t work well.
Think twice about using alcohol and nonprescription drugs
I used to be a heavy drinker so I was ingesting way too much of a bad thing and it took a toll at the time. Cosmo also quit drinking alcohol many years ago. Believe me, we don’t miss it a bit. In fact, I think we both dodged a bullet by quitting when we did.
Unfortunately, drug abuse (including alcohol, cannabis and nonprescription drugs) is on the rise for aging boomers.
And a new study involving over 600,000 deaths from 1999 to 2020 shows a rise in alcohol-related deaths for people over 65, and especially for women.
The study doesn’t point to the reasons why women are impacted more than men, but it has been suggested that:
“Alcohol hits women differently: Women’s bodies tend to have less fluid to dilute alcohol compared with men’s bodies, which results in higher blood-alcohol concentrations and may make women more vulnerable to health complications.
Women are also at higher risk for depression and anxiety, said George F. Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and they might be turning to alcohol to cope, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Older women are also particularly prone to experiencing feelings of loneliness, he said, as they often outlive their partners.
The higher mortality rates among older women may also stem from the accumulated toll that alcohol takes throughout the course of one’s life. Women over 65 may not be consuming more alcohol than their younger counterparts, but suffering the health effects of decades of chronic drinking.”
Other things to consider: For older people, it may take longer to metabolize alcohol, leaving us under the influence for longer and potentially with worse hangovers.
Also, so many seniors are on various medications that interact poorly with alcohol.
Our immune system, compromised by age and various other factors, may struggle to defend against the impact of alcohol.
Overall, our tolerance for alcohol and other drugs goes down, putting us more at risk for injuries and illnesses.
It makes sense to me, and maybe to you too that, at this point in our lives, given our already declining bodies, to give up alcohol and other non-prescription drugs altogether. Certainly, anything more than a drink a day can cause problems.
If you agree, but find it hard to give up or even cut back on these substances, you may have an addiction problem.
To help you determine whether you have a problem, check out Rethinking Drinking, a guide from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Try giving up the substance for, say, a week and see how you fare. This should help you see how much you need the stuff:
- How much do you think about it?
- How much do you plan your day around having it?
- How much is it impacting your relationships?
- What do you feel like when you don’t imbibe?
If it feels like the substance is controlling you, don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help.
My thoughts and suggestions on a healthy diet
I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching nutrition, and I plan out healthy meals for us each week, based on whole foods. Fortunately, we both have the time it sometimes takes to make healthy meals.
We rarely eat out or get takeout food. Besides being less healthy, it’s just not as tasty as homemade.
We’ve cut out sugar and white flour, replacing them with honey for our coffee and tea (or maple syrup for the little baking I do) and whole grains.
Here are some suggestions:
Drink lots of water. Down a tall glass as soon as you get up each morning. We perspire considerably overnight so we wake up dehydrated.
Be sure to eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods and ingredients, such as these noted by Harvard Medical School. [More about my experience with inflammation later.]:
You’ll note that all of these items are part of the Mediterranean diet, which is all the more reason to get on board with this diet.
A few other strong anti-inflammatories to incorporate into your cooking and diet:
- Black pepper
- Green tea
Overall, if you follow a plant-based diet, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor:
“Eating a plant-based diet based on whole foods has been shown to have myriad health benefits, including reducing your diabetes risk, improving your gut microbiome and generally helping you live longer.
Most experts (Harvard Medical School, for example) define plant-based as a diet primarily made up of plants, with small amounts of meat, fish and dairy consumed very occasionally — anywhere from a few times a week to a few times per month.”
Additionally, plant-based diets (even ones that include some meat) are significantly better for the environment.
“The more plant-based you can make your diet, the more planet-healing it will be.”
A healthy lifestyle can lead to healthy dating
Beyond a healthy diet, living a healthy lifestyle may be even more important once we hit the senior years.
Here are some suggestions and thoughts on healthy living:
- Exercise at least 150 minutes per week. More is better. And housework, yardwork and other movement that’s not part of your formal exercise routine do count.
- Include aerobics and cardio in your exercising.
- Do some weight lifting a few times a week to build and maintain muscle, which will help you be more mobile and self-sufficient.
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Don’t get sucked in by social media. It can be damaging. Allot a small portion of time to it.
- Be a lifelong learner. Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
- Set aside time to do things you love, that bring you joy.
- Deal with stress as best you can.
- Get annual blood testing to check for diabetes, inflammation, and other critical indicators.
- Think about getting an at-home blood pressure monitor. They’re quite inexpensive.
- Be mindful of your mental health.
I’ve had worries about my own health lately
My own health has been in my thoughts maybe too much for the past few years.
As I’m sure is true for many of you, these Covid years have brought health issues into the spotlight, with worries about catching the virus at every turn.
Then things eased up as the threat of being infected lessened. But I have to say, my worries about Covid still linger.
Cosmo and I shy away from situations where crowds of people are likely to be. And we still mask up sometimes.
About a year ago I realized I was due for a number of tests and doctors visits that I’d put off since Covid hit.
It started with the dentist which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I hadn’t visited in quite a few years.
Luckily, except for a few fillings and some dental bone loss which comes with aging, everything looks pretty good there.
Next was a colonoscopy, my second one.
It’s an unpleasant experience for sure, but getting the all clear on this test is always a big relief and worth the discomfort and hassle.
Some of the ensuing doctors visits and tests I had over the next 2 months left me shaken.
Luckily, my mammogram was all clear.
A comprehensive eye exam showed cataracts that haven’t progressed enough for Medicare to cover it, so I’ll wait on this. An annoying thing to live with, but not so bad.
Then the problematic news came.
If you’ve had a Medicare annual wellness exam, you know how severely lacking it is. Typically, it doesn’t include blood work and the standard 15-minute appointment doesn’t allow more than a superficial going-over.
So I got a new doctor who was part of a concierge program that included many perks with this doctor, including comprehensive blood work that looked at a few dozen indicators. In each of these 35 or so areas, my results were excellent.
The only concerning number was my cholesterol, which was elevated, as it always has been. Previous doctors never suggested I needed to do anything about it.
I also got a Coronary Artery Calcium (CAC) Test for the first time. My number was low, indicating only mild plaque buildup.
But my doctor called me in alarm and gave a dire prognosis. I could have a heart attack or stroke at any time. She urged me to immediately get on statins.
I’m extremely averse to getting into the pharmaceutical go-round.
One medication often leads to others, until you need to take even more of them to offset the symptoms of the initial ones.
I’ve never taken anything more than an occasional aspirin or Claritin for allergies.
But she had me so panicked, I almost acquiesced. But then I thought, “let me research this”.
So I spent hours and hours on reputable sites, but especially on the National Institutes of Health, where I discovered some interesting things:
Coronary plaque starts building up in most people from the time they’re in the 30’s and 40’s. So having a mild buildup, as I do, is normal.
“Cholesterol itself is not dangerous. It becomes problematic, however, in the presence of inflammation. Inflammation creates free radicals, which damages cholesterol and other fats. This activates the immune system and starts a cascade of events that ultimately creates plaques in the arteries, causing atherosclerosis. Uncontrolled inflammation makes plaques unstable and vulnerable to rupture.”
I also came across compelling extensive research on statins for older people. Turns out that statins can pose problems for us that don’t occur as often in younger people.
Although it’s the most widely prescribed drug, it’s not what you’d call “safe”. Beyond the well-known muscle aches and pains, it can induce things like elevated glucose and liver enzyme levels.
And statin use may be associated with a higher Parkinson’s Disease risk, whereas higher total cholesterol may be associated with lower risk.
There’s even evidence that a high cholesterol number combined with a low inflammation number protects against cancer and other disease.
The conclusion I reached for myself was that, since my bloodwork had revealed very low inflammation, the cholesterol and heart calcium numbers were not of concern.
I met with my doctor and laid out my case. Surprisingly she concurred, and actually put it in writing in her notes. She agreed that my chances of having a heart event were extremely slim.
Even though I’d already decided not to go on statins, her affirmation clinched the deal.
I’m not suggesting that, if you’re on statins, you shouldn’t be. Every situation is unique. But I am suggesting that you consider researching medications and treatments, and have discussions with your doctors about them. Be an advocate for yourself.
I’ve outlined my health gripes above to illustrate that, although testing and diagnostics can reveal issues, you can still be in relatively good health.
For me, the lesson is that taking good care of myself pays off. My all-important low inflammation number is the result of a healthy diet and exercise.
And it was even more drilled into me that I have to be a vigilant advocate for my own health. I can’t turn that over to healthcare professionals.
As noted by Dr. Marlena Fejzo:
“Medicine has become so corporatized, it’s vital to do your own research online. Published studies on any medical condition, from highly reputable journalistic sources (Mayo Clinic, NIH, Harvard Medical School, John Hopkins, et al), are readily available through googling. Read study results yourself. It would be nice if doctors were doing this research themselves, but, most likely, they’re not. Inundated with paperwork and large patient loads, they rarely have (or won’t take) the time.
So it’s really up to you, for your own well-being and peace of mind. Relay any new information you have uncovered and present alternatives to your doctor. In most cases, he or she won’t be offended. If they are, then get another opinion. From my own personal experience, I’d say this is the safest route to take toward making an informed decision about your own, or loved one’s, health.”
Another thing I learned: If test results show something concerning, ask the healthcare professional something like this, which I didn’t think to ask:
“Is this something that often comes with older age?”
For my recent experiences, knowing that the things happening to me also happen to most other people would have eased my anxiety.
Some things that threaten healthy dating
Many seniors and others fall prey to unscrupulous business practices and useless or even dangerous products.
We’re lured by boasts of how certain products will improve our health and wellness, but little scientific evidence exists to support their claims.
As I noted above, we’re also often plagued by poor healthcare advice and treatment. In addition to the kind of experience I had challenging my doctor about taking statins, there are some other things we all need to look out for and be mindful of.
The massive so-called “wellness” industry
Some of us choose to use food and lifestyle for good health.
Some of us turn to supplements and other non-foods for what we believe will bring us good health.
It’s very easy to get sucked in by the claims made by these products, that promise all kinds of positive health outcomes.
In general, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA like prescription medications and it can be difficult to determine the potency of any given ingredient in the supplements.
Here are some marketing tactics used by these companies you should be aware of:
- Jam-packed ingredient lists
- Vague terms like “boosts” and “supports”
- Questionable studies
And then there’s “medical gaslighting”
More and more patients experience what’s come to be known as “medical gaslighting”.
The term refers to the 1940’s movie “Gaslight”, in which a wealthy young woman was made nearly insane by her greedy husband who was trying to find jewels that were hidden somewhere in the house by the woman’s late aunt.
The movie took place before electricity was in homes. The husband would turn up the gaslight in the house at night when he was searching for the jewels. When the woman wondered why the gaslights were flickering every night, he told her she was crazy. Hence, he “gaslighted” her.
Present day, medical gaslighting refers to:
“Patients who have felt that their symptoms were inappropriately dismissed as minor or primarily psychological by doctors.”
Women seem to be victims of this more than men.
“Many patients, particularly women and people of color, describe the search for accurate diagnosis and treatment as maddening.
“We know that women, and especially women of color, are often diagnosed and treated differently by doctors than men are, even when they have the same health conditions.
Studies have shown that compared with men, women face longer waits to be diagnosed with cancer and heart disease, are treated less aggressively for traumatic brain injury, and are less likely to be offered pain medications. People of color often receive poorer quality care, too; and doctors are more likely to describe Black patients as uncooperative or non-compliant, which research suggests can affect treatment quality.”