The song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” often makes people smile. Does this simple phrase provide benefit for healthy aging?
Negative effects of worry and stress can include sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, weight changes, hypertension, and poor concentration. Happiness may not be so easy to define but is generally felt to be a sense of well-being.
Medical studies rely on people to self-report their feeling of happiness. Most of us would suspect that happy people would tend to live longer, provided other factors were equal. Some studies support this but there is also a large study, which followed women in the U.K. that states happiness and well-being do not appear to effect mortality.
In my experience with patients, I have found that living well – at any age – may be more important than living long. Fear of living with memory loss or other disability, such as a stroke, are concerns raised by many individuals. This can certainly affect well-being and happiness. Elderly people who have a sense of purpose appear less likely to die of Alzheimer’s disease and may have protection against strokes. I encourage people to find things that they enjoy and participate in new activities. It might be gardening, volunteering, a new exercise class, an art class, a book club or something else. You are never too old to learn something new.
Nutrition is also an important part of healthy aging. Think of food as medicine. Following a Mediterranean-type diet is a good choice and good medicine. In some studies, the Mediterranean diet has been found to be beneficial for preventing cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. The diet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grain cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; and a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meat and sweets. Making changes towards a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle does not have to be complicated and realizing the benefits can be extremely motivating.
Dr. Nancy Councelbaum is an internist at Hoag Medical Group in Irvine – Sand Canyon. She is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics and has a special interest caring for seniors and providing a team-based approach to care. She can be reached at 949-371-8388.