By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Actress Audrey Hepburn was once quoted: “I heard a definition once: Happiness is health, and a short memory. I wish I’d invented it, because it is very true.”
Those in agriculture this time of year would probably just as soon forget about looming taxes, preparing for planting and other stress-related activities for a while, but remembering the important things and following through on them right now will help kick start a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Vajeeha Tabassum, assistant professor of Internal Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, has a few tips, especially for older farmers. “Living a healthy lifestyle is a key thing to keep in mind for those that are 50-plus, it is really important to take responsibility for one’s own health,” she said.
“Keep your appointments with your doctors,” she added, saying that checking blood work, being up to date on immunizations and vaccinations and participating in screenings for cancer and other diseases will help keep farmers in good shape.
Tabassum pointed out besides regular physicals, it is important to go see a primary care doctor when any health symptoms are out of kilter. “This includes any change in your health conditions which could present as confusion, or ‘just not feeling myself,’ or could be even a fall,” she said.
Maintaining good health requires regular health monitoring and appropriate health screenings. “Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Talk to your doctor about them,” she added. “Get a flu shot. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming seasons.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone who is at least six months of age to get a flu vaccine this season. It’s especially important for some people to get vaccinated.”
It is no surprise exercise is also on Tabassum’s list: “Aerobic capacity, muscle mass and strength declines with age. All older adults can benefit from physical activity; in the presence of chronic conditions, some physical activity is better than none and participation in any amount of physical activity will result in some health benefit.
“For older adults, the benefits of physical activity, including lower mortality and functional independence, occur with initiation and maintenance of exercise. Even individuals who are previously sedentary but initiate exercise as late as age 85 demonstrate a significant survival benefit in three years, in comparison to individuals who are sedentary. I recommend that adult patients exercise some, depending on their time schedule.
“Keep it simple,” she said. “Don’t put too much on your plate, try to exercise 30 minutes for at least 3 to 5 days a week. Talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.”
Brisk walking is one exercise she recommends, with a note to keep hydrated. This is especially true if recuperating from a fall or surgery. “Your physician may prescribe physical therapy for fall prevention and balance training,” she added. “They can give exercises to do at home to reduce fall risk.”
Many farmers suffer from arthritis, with years of sitting in a tractor cab and adding stress to their joints. For these patients, aerobic activities should be selected that minimize joint stress.
Physical activity should be avoided during periods of acute flares; although one may experience discomfort during or following physical activity, further damage to the joint should not occur. Icing the affected area for 10 minutes following physical activity will provide symptom relief and can prevent inflammation.
“Stay active mentally, physically and socially, too,” Tabassum said, adding the holidays or right after can be emotional, depending on individual circumstances.
Rather than building up expectations of an event, she said just going with the flow and enjoying friends and family can take off the stress and reduce the risk of emotional disturbances.
Keep the winter blues away: “Finding a balance between acceptance of the inevitability of aging and doing what we can to remain vital and healthy as long as possible is crucial, and can be done by enjoying what you have. Count your blessings, feel grateful and enjoy the beautiful things you are able to experience, and move forward, aging gracefully.”