Late Summer 2002
How to Make Sure You Enjoy Life As You Get Older

Seniors "There are two things we can all do to make sure we enjoy a good quality of life as we get older," says Beata Skudlarska, MD, chief of Geriatrics at Bridgeport Hospital. "We can exercise, and we can make sure to get enough calcium in our diets."

As a geriatrician (a physician specializing in healthcare for older adults), Dr. Skudlarska often sees patients whose quality of life is sadly affected by the fact that they can't get around as easily as they did in their youth. Muscle weakness and brittle bones are the primary causes for this problem.

Throughout life, calcium calcium is essential for strong bones. Lack of this important nutrient leads to loss of bone density, a condition called osteoporosis. Bones become brittle, break easily, and mend poorly.

Calcium not only helps to strengthen bones; it also boosts the benefits of treatments such as estrogen or hormone replacement. Because menopause speeds the rate of bone loss, calcium is particularly important for women—who are four times as likely as men to suffer from brittle bones.

People over age 65 should take 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily, unless their doctor advises otherwise. That comes out to about five cups of milk or calcium-fortified orange juice. (Hint: Don't wait until you're a senior citizen to start pumping up the calcium. Adolescents should get 1,200 mg per day; adults 1,000. If you take a supplement, check the label to make sure you're getting enough calcium.)

Make sure you also get plenty of vitamin D, nicknamed the "Sunshine Vitamin" because it's activated by sunlight. It helps your body to use calcium effectively. A supplement should contain 600 units of vitamin D-that's about 3 glasses of milk. Another good way to get your D is to go out in the sunshine and do the next important thing for a healthy lifestyle...

Exercise increases your strength and flexibility, and even improves your lung power. Results for older adults: fewer falls, greater independence, and more vitality.

The greatest health benefits come from doing 30 minutes of any physical activity three to five times a week for 30 minutes or more. "Break it up into three smaller 10-minute sessions if you like," says Dr. Skudlarska. Try to include all three fitness components—strength training with weights, bending and stretching for flexibility, and weight-bearing exercises such as walking (one of the best ways to maintain bone strength).

Make sure to get plenty of calcium and exercise now, and you'll improve your chances for a healthy old age!

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