S.C. ranks 36th for senior health

Trouble bending over? Try exercises that stretch your back and the backs of your legs. 

Continuing our review and comments on the “wisdom” found in Kathy Allis’ Dell Sunday crossword, with the reminder that the attitudes expressed may be ageist and/or the result of planting her tongue firmly in her cheek!

You know you're getting old when: 

You get winded playing chess and you sit in a rocking chair and can’t get it going. These two are certainly exaggerations for most, but a worrisome 85 percent of those over age 65 do not get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and two episodes of muscle-strengthening per week (from the 2016 National Health Interview Survey). And, almost one in five report getting no aerobic exercise at all. Remember, even small amounts of exercise are better than none. Get up and move today and move more tomorrow!

You look forward to a dull evening. This one is a double-edged sword. Some of us have continued to say “yes” too often to things that really are not a priority and so need more than a few quiet evenings to reconnect with things and people that are truly important to us. Others have stepped back so far that they risk losing the benefits that come from interacting and exchanging ideas with others and perhaps doing something for those who are needy in some way. Moderation in all things seems a good remedy for this situation.

You sink your teeth into a steak and they stay there. Dental health is a relative bright spot for the current crop of aging amateurs. Our teeth are in better shape than those of any previous generation and we are much more likely to keep most or all of our teeth. Still, about one in five Americans age 65 or older is edentulous — toothless! Gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults and brushing (two minutes, twice a day with a soft bristle brush, replaced every 3 months or so), flossing at least once a day and professional cleanings and dental check-ups every six months are the recipe for preventing it.

Gum disease, also called periodontitis, is an inflammatory condition that probably makes us more susceptible to other illnesses, including heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia and diabetes. Despite improvements in dentures and denture adhesives, problems with fit and maintenance of nutrition are common. A new crop of cavities is also a frequent problem for aging amateurs, brought on by a dry mouth. Originally thought to be a problem of “normal” aging, it is more often due to antihistamines and antidepressants, but the list of medicines that can cause dry mouth is long (500 or more).

Talk with your prescriber if you have a dry mouth. Medication changes, or frequent sips of water may be all that is necessary. Sugar-free gum can help stimulate salivation, too. So, keep those pearly whites healthy! If you need help with dental care, dial 211 or visit www.sc211.org.

The little gray-haired lady you help across the street is your wife. This one is obviously sexist and doesn’t reflect the fact that it is often the female member of a couple who is doing the helping, or that couples are often same-sex. That said, the important issue for aging amateurs is the great value of a committed relationship. The data is clear that a healthy relationship with a significant other is associated with lower risks of heart disease, stroke and some cancers, as well as higher levels of happiness and longer life, by as many as eight years! On the other hand, unhappy relationships may move health in the opposite direction. Value your relationships, work on them when they are good, and work even harder if you are having problems.

You reach down to tie your shoes and wonder what else you can do while you’re down there. This one didn’t come from the puzzle, but from comedian George Burns. It has the sound of someone who does not move around very much and may not be so fit physically, but it has that twist, which suggests a twinkle in the eyes and a brain that is always working to figure out ways to do whatever we are doing a little better, and that’s good! When we struggle to reach down to tie our shoes, it probably means that we are not doing exercises which stretch our backs and the backs of our legs. A good source for stretching exercises is the Go4Life website at www.nia.nih.gov/go4life.

The bottom lines this time are: Take good care of yourself, including your teeth and gums, and take very good care of your spouse or significant other!

Bert Keller and Bill Simpson write the occasional column, “Aging for Amateurs.” Simpson, a retired physician, wrote this installment. Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome at agingforamateurs@gmail.com.