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22 tips to stay healthy and happy from middle age into retirement

My dad has not always been a big reader. In childhood he was too busy playing football and in adulthood, between his work and his family, he simply could not find time to read for leisure.

During retirement, however, he finally found the time to find books that suited his interests. He quickly became fascinated by the various tips and tricks he discovered about how to keep his brain and body agile and in good health as the years go by. Many of which he found in his son’s books, but a large number he tracked down without any help from me. He is living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Over the course of 2022 he compiled a list of 22 ways to be happier and healthier in later life for his local community men’s group. So I thought I’d share them here as I whole heartedly agree with his recommendations.

1.If you are taking any prescription medication be sure to read ‘Too Many Pills’ by Dr James Le Fanu as prescription drugs often do more harm than good.

Always consult your GP before making any changes to your medication but get a second opinion for any condition that does not improve or you are told is chronic – it might not be! Don’t be too trusting. Research the drugs yourself before discussing pros and cons with your GP.

Carefully check the possible side effects of any drugs you take with any symptoms you have. Be aware that your tolerance to medication will change over time as your liver and kidneys age.

2.Get a good nights sleep. A regular 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night with 2 hours deep sleep is essential for optimum physical and mental health. If you do not get enough sleep it will also effect your memory and cause other symptoms that could be mistaken for dementia.

3.Exercise for a minimum of 30 mins a day – aerobic exercises that increase the heart rate. Some arteries carrying blood and immune cells to areas of your brain are tiny and just one fifth the size of a human hair so you need to exercise to pump and improve the flow of blood to keep your brain healthy.

4.Eat a rainbow diet.

Eat as wide a variety of veg, fruit, nuts and seeds as possible to maximise your immune function. The wider the variety the broader the protection. Consider going organic to reduce intake of pesticides.

Eliminate or at least minimise processed foods and red meat as they increase the risk of cancer.

Drink alcohol in moderation and not every day. Give your liver a chance to recover!

Take vitamin D supplement from September to March because of lack of sun exposure. Unless of course you winter in your villa in the Canaries😊.

5.Where possible, reduce the amount of toxic air you breath. Pop on a PM2.5 mask in areas where air quality is particularly poor. For example, on the underground, in heavy traffic , near building sites etc.

6.Minimise stress by routinely doing things you enjoy every week e.g. any exercise, yoga, hobbies, music, painting, dancing, chatting etc. Use breathing techniques and meditation to reduce stress at any time of the day.

Get out into nature. The perfect way to reduce stress.

7.Always protect yourself from UV from sunlight and also blue light from TV, PCs and phones. Google ‘how to protect your eyes from UV and blue light’.

8.Take action to avoid trips and falls. Falls and fractures significantly hasten the end of life for older adults. So at home, use motion-activated lighting and ensure route to the bathroom is clear. Outside, never rush, take your time, take care where you step and wear sensible footwear. Learn how to fall to avoid fractures.

Get your eyes tested once a year. Ask your optician if you have any drusen when they do the OCT scan. Drusen are deposits on the macular that are the precursor to AMD.

9.Stay connected. Make the effort to try out new hobbies, meet new people and check in on old friends.

10.Morning coffee. Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s.

11.Sort out your hearing to prevent isolation and maintain brain stimulation.

12.Develop a bias towards positive thinking as optimists – ‘positive thinkers’ – live about 7 years longer than pessimists.

13.Floss your teeth daily as some evidence that the immune system has difficulty killing harmful bacteria in your teeth and this bacteria can reach your brain. Also save you a fortune in dental costs!

14.Stretch your brain from time to time by learning a new language, musical instrument, dance etc. Take yourself out of your comfort zone to challenge your brain to prevent the ‘use it or lose it’ effect and to grow new brain cells and neural connections.

Install the free App ‘Duolingo’ and spend 10 minutes a day learning a new language. A quick and easy way to stimulate growth and health of neural connections in your brain.

It’s the act of focusing and trying hard to do something new that stimulates the growth of brain matter. Checkout ‘brain plasticity’ to learn more about this.

15.Above all, spend time doing things you enjoy every week. ‘Laughter’ and having fun are the best ways to quickly eliminate stress.

16.Avoid negative people – or ‘manage’ them to stop constant stress as chronic stress undermines the immune system.

17.Try using your mind to focus your immune system to help heal any health problem you might have. Visualising ‘positive thoughts’, Mind Body healing does work – it’s how the placebo effect works. Checkout ‘Mindpower’ by Dr Vernon Coleman.

18.Try to reduce any excess abdominal fat as this type of fat causes continuous low level inflammation, reduces immune function and triggers chronic health problems. Reducing carbs and processed foods is a good way to do this.

19.Checkout what’s in your tap water and consider using a water filter to remove heavy metals and other contaminants harmful to health.

20.Take steps to avoid trips and falls. Falls and fractures often lead to complications in older people significantly increasing the likelihood of premature death. In the home, use motion-detection low level lighting and remove all obstacles on the route to the bathroom. Outside, never rush, take your time, look around and take care where you step. Wear sensible footwear.

Learn to fall safely – relax and crumple into the fall if you can’t prevent a fall to reduce risk of fractures. Gary teaches this.

21.If you have to take a course of antibiotics remember they will wipe out both bad and good bacteria. During and after taking antibiotics be sure to eat healthily to recolonise your gut with good bacteria. Go organic. Then take probiotics for a healthy base of bacteria and prebiotic food to feed and multiply the good bacteria. In this way any bad bacteria is overwhelmed by the good bacteria. Your gut is then primed to optimise your immune system protection. If bad bacteria gets a hold this will undermine your health.

22.Keep this in mind:-

Your body can easily deal with stress in short bursts but it will start to let you down if stress is chronic/continuous. This is because parts of the immune system shut down when stress hormones are detected. You need ‘all’ your immune cells flowing through your blood and lymphatic system to every cell in your body to detect and devour harmful bacteria, viruses, pre cancerous cells and other toxins that invade your body ‘every day’ through what you eat, drink, breath, injury , stress etc. ‘Partial’ protection for long periods leaves you vulnerable.

I thought that was a pretty comprehensive list of excellent advice. I hope you find it useful.

In addition to these monthly Brain Blogs I also tweet regularly (@drjacklewis) and have recently launched a new business called Brain Man VR (www.brainmanvr.co.uk) , which uses virtual reality to improve Team Work and individual cognitive flexibility.

Catch you next month…

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Dr Jack