Good Health Starts Here Newsletter
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THE GREAT OUTDOORS
When the Great Outdoors Starts Taking Your Breath Away “It’s a myth that older people outgrow their reactions to outdoor allergens. Some do, but it’s not the rule for everyone. Older adults have the same outdoor allergies, including spring grasses and tree pollens, as younger adults have,” says Norman Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Lung Association (ALA). Over the summer, there are two health problems older adults need to be concerned with: outdoor allergens and the difficulties caused by heat-related air problems. This is especially true if you already have
lung problems that often develop with aging. “Allergies are an annoyance in normal lungs, but the problems are worse if you already have a lung disorder, like emphysema. Also, it isn’t uncommon for older people to develop asthma too,” Edelman says. Which Allergies Peak in Summer? Outdoor allergies are generally classified under the overall category of “hay fever.” It is estimated that at least 26.1 million adults suffer from hay fever. Specifically, the type of allergen that affects you will deter-
Walking Your Way to Good Health “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk,” Soren Kierkegaard, renowned Danish writer, once said. “Every day I walk myself into a state of wellbeing and walk away from every illness.” A short walk can go a long way in helping to maintain a healthy body and mind. Among other things, it offers you the chance to reflect, stay fit, and release mounting tension. Look no further than your legs to find nature’s means for guiding you to a state of physical and mental well-being. The benefits of taking a short walk each day are enormous. Virtually every system of your body is affected in some way by a regular physical activity like walking. The Physical Benefits A study done at University Medical Center Rotterdam in the Netherlands found that
Experts say it’s a myth that older people outgrow their outdoor allergies, like hay fever.
mine whether or not you will suffer during the summer. For example, if you are allergic to grass pollens (which is true for about half of all hay fever sufferers), spring and early summer are the main times you will be most affected. Weeds are abundant in almost all parts of the country from midsummer to late fall. Summer is also a time when mold and fungus seeds are prevalent. Adding the Ozone Factor In the hot days of summer, two air factors combine to make allergies, asthma, and other lung problems more dangerous. This is especially true for older adults. The first air problem is ozone and there are actually two types. One is protective—it’s the ozone
From Great Outdoors layer in the upper atmosphere that screens out sunlight’s harmful radiation. But there’s a destructive form of ozone, too. It’s what a lot of us call smog. Smog comes from gasses that get trapped in the atmosphere. Those gasses are produced by factories, dry cleaners, and vehicles that release dangerous chemicals called hydrocarbons. “For anyone who already has a lung condition, ozone will make their breathing more difficult,” Edelman says. Another air problem enhanced during the summer is particulates. “Particulates are haze and soot trapped in the air. They make both lung and heart disease more dangerous; experts think in older people who already have lung disease, particulates are often a cause of premature deaths,” Edelman says. The ALA says more than half of Americans—159 million people— live in areas with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particulate pollution. Watching for Air Alerts The first way to protect yourself from allergy or asthma attacks, or flare-ups of any lung conditions during the summer, is to know what generally causes your flare-ups and when they are at their peak. Grass is most likely to affect you in the afternoon and early evening, whereas ragweed peaks during midday. Every day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notifies the media and doctors’ offices the day’s expected air quality. A “Moderate” rating means be cautious if you are already sensitive. A rating of “UFSG” means the air that day is “Unhealthy For Sensitive Groups”—including older people and folks with lung disease. A general “Unhealthy” listing means the air is bad for everyone. You can find these listings easily on TV and in the newspapers. Find out if your local county issues Air Quality Index reports. If you have computer access, you can get this information from the EPA at www. epa.gov/airnow/. Once you know the day’s air quality may not be good for
you—either due to pollen or air factors—stay indoors or limit outdoor activities. If you have an inhaler, carry it with you. Other Protective Measures For older adults, buying an offthe-shelf allergy reliever is often not a good idea. “Ordinary allergy medications produce side effects in older people. Antihistamines may make you drowsy and lead to falls. In older men, they may enlarge the prostate,” Edelman says. “And older people with heart disease have to worry about decongestants—they make your heart go faster.” Instead, talk to your doctor about medications that might help Continued on next page
Smog contributes to respiratory distress, especially in people with sensitivities.
Fight Aging’s Skin Cancer Risks “Some of my older patients feel that since they aren’t in the sun anymore, they can’t get skin cancer. But remember, you have been exposed since you were running around as a two-year-old without sunscreen,” says Angela Bowers, M.D., a dermatologist at Baylor Medical Center in Grapevine, Tex. Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer. It affects one in five Americans, with men over 50 especially at risk. The American
Academy of Dermatology has labeled skin cancer an “unrecognized epidemic.” Ninety percent of the risk comes from sun exposure. The good news: of the three most common types of skin cancer, two are relatively benign and even the most malignant is highly curable if treated early. The most prevalent form Basal cell cancer (BCC) is the Continued on back
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and using sunscreen help protect your skin for overexposure to the sun.
From Walking moderate levels of activity, including walking, can add 1.3 years to your life. Walking has been linked to losing weight and decreasing blood pressure, and there may be some links to staving off Alzheimer’s disease. Research from the University of Pittsburgh found that walking can reduce the likelihood of developing Type-2 diabetes, even in overweight individuals. Experts say if you already have diabetes, walking is one of the ways you can control the disease and many of its consequences. Walking for Mind Walking affects mental health, too. A study at the University of Texas observed that clinically depressed participants experienced an improvement in mood after a 30minute walk on a treadmill. Walking reduces stress. That seems to be related to the fact that walking triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation. Your Walking Equipment Walking generally requires very little equipment. The main thing you need is good walking shoes. It is best to get an expert’s help, but here are two points to keep in mind. Buy your shoes later in the day when your feet are swollen a bit. You
Walking reduces stress. That seems to be related to the fact that walking triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation. don’t want to buy shoes that fit fine in the morning but don’t fit as you continue walking. Also track how many miles you walk (an inexpensive pedometer will help) and replace your walking shoes every 300 to 600 miles; sooner if you are overweight or walk a lot. So Why are You Still Sitting? Everyone—even if you think you are in good physical shape—should get a check-up and approval from their doctor before starting a walking program. If you have any physical problems, like diabetes or a heart condition, it may be better for you to join a fitness club and walk with some supervision, instead of doing it alone. Once you incorporate walking into your daily life, it eventually becomes as natural as brushing your teeth—only more enjoyable. You are likely to find it something you look forward to, rather than a chore. No excuses! Ways to start walking Unlike other forms of physical
Get Your Vitamin D There is more and more evidence that getting enough vitamin D is just as critical for fighting bone loss as your calcium intake. It used to be believed that 400 I.U. of vitamin D was all anyone needed daily, but for older adults the recommendations have risen. The latest estimates indicate you should be taking in at least 600 I.U. and 800 is even better. Now that summer is here, the good news is your main source of
vitamin D— sunlight—is easily available. About 15 minutes of exposure is all you need, but make sure to wear sun protection. It screens out damaging ultraviolet rays, not vitamin D. If you don’t get out much, there’s always a calcium/vitamin D supplement. Talk to a qualified dietitian or nutritionist for more information.
Walking is good for you both physically and mentally.
activity, such as jogging or swimming, a walk can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. Here are some simple steps: • Saunter around the neighborhood. Always make sure to have proper sun protection, even on cloudy days. • When the weather is bad, try mall walking. Call your local mall; they may open early to accommodate walkers. • Do your chores via foot power. Whenever possible, walk to the grocery, bank, or cleaners. Avoid the drive-through. • Look for a walking club. Check bulletin boards at your local supermarket, place of worship, fitness and medical centers. From Great Outdoors you fight allergy season. A nasal spray that’s a simple saline (salt) solution may help you. Finally, keep fighting for cleaner air. Many places have banned smoke-free environments because of public support. The ALA says you can help change other environmental standards, too.