Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

March 15, 2009

Table of Contents

  • What Happens in Vegas (Industry news)
  • Asked and Answered (Solutions to seniors' health questions)
  • Cyberchondria (Could you have this widespread ailment?)
  • Controlling Constipation (Practical advice)
  • Affordable Health Care (A place to start)

What Happens in Vegas

Principals of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) are packing their bags for Las Vegas to attend the National Council on Aging and American Society on Aging's annual conference. On March 17th of the conference, SFA will accept the 2009 National Council on Aging Health Promotion Institute's Best Practice Award. The association is being recognized for its educational training of older adult fitness professionals on an international scale. SFA provides distance-learning courses in senior group-exercise instruction, personal fitness training, and long-term care physical activity management. Be sure to see the next issue of Experience! which will provide a report on the proceedings -- because contrary to popular belief, what happens in Vegas won't be staying there!


Asked and Answered

Experience! readers haven't heard from SFA author Jim Evans since January, but that doesn't mean his in-box hasn't been filled with wellness-related queries from older adults far and wide. In the following articles of today's issue, we'll catch up with Jim as he discusses three timely health matters. Jim Evans is a 41-year veteran of the health-fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior fitness consultant.


Cyberchondria

DEAR JIM: My grandson gave me a computer for Christmas last year because he thought his 75-year-old grandmother needed to "get in touch with the real world." I must admit it has been a wonderful experience. I never imagined how much information and social contact is available on the Internet, and I am having a ball. Recently, however, I have gotten into the habit of "googling" whenever I feel under the weather. I just type in my symptoms -- like headache, stiff joints, dizziness, and so forth -- and my computer comes up with all kinds of possibilities of what might be wrong with me. But when I call my doctor and tell him that I think I might have a particular medical problem based on my findings, he makes me feel foolish for calling and says it's nonsense. Is he right? FEELING FOOLISH IN FAYETTEVILLE

DEAR FEELING FOOLISH: Well, yes and no. There is a lot of valuable information on the Internet, but a lot also depends on how we interpret it and whether or not we are qualified to interpret it the right way. In this case, your doctor is probably right, but don't feel bad because I am just as foolish as you are. You see, we are both suffering from a modern condition called "cyberchondria" or "Internet self-diagnosis," and there are millions of people just like us all over the world.

Several months ago my wife and I were traveling in northern California and spent a night at a motel. The next day, after we arrived back home, I noticed a rash of small red blisters developing on my lower torso and one leg. I immediately went online and pinpointed what I thought was the problem: bed bugs! I was so sure of my self-diagnosis that I was fully prepared to write a scathing letter to the motel and demand a refund for my discomfort. However, I decided to wait a few more days before contacting the motel. I'm glad I did.

After about a week, the rash seemed to have stopped spreading but, just to be sure, I scheduled an appointment with my physician to confirm my self-diagnosis. I described my symptoms to her before my office visit and told her I was sure I had been bitten by bed bugs. I was absolutely certain I was right, but as soon as my doctor walked into the examining room and saw my rash, she said without hesitation, "You have shingles." I realized at once that I was a cyberchondriac.

A self-misdiagnosis may be less serious or more serious than what actually ails us. This doesn't mean that we should stop googling about our health concerns on the Internet, but it does mean that we should stop trying to interpret our symptoms as serious or even terminal because of what we find. Sometimes just worrying about what we think is wrong can create legitimate health issues. So let's schedule regular checkups with our doctor and let him or her figure out what is really wrong with us. After all, we might find a hundred different reasons for a headache on the Internet, but which reason is the right one for our particular headache? That's why doctors go to medical school.


Controlling Constipation

DEAR JIM: My husband, age 71, suffers from chronic constipation. It is making our lives miserable because he is constantly bloated and has painful hemorrhoids from straining during bowel movements. We don't do anything together anymore because of his continual pain and discomfort, and it has made our "golden years" less than glittering. I should probably mention that he takes several pain prescriptions for other medical issues. I love him dearly and just want to find something to help him feel better so that we can get our lives back while we still have some time left. Is there anything you can suggest to make this condition more tolerable? SUFFERING IN SILENCE IN SALEM

DEAR SUFFERING: Constipation is generally defined as straining frequently during bowel movements, passing a hard stool fewer than three times a week, and regular bloating or abdominal discomfort, according to the Mayo Clinic. Almost everyone experiences constipation at one time or another, but regularity varies among individuals, too.

While usually not dangerous, constipation can be very uncomfortable and can greatly diminish quality of life. There are many causes and I'm sure by now that your husband and his physician have probably discussed most of these issues. One of the most overlooked causes of constipation is certain prescription medication including drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease, depression, and high blood pressure -- and, especially, narcotics to control pain. In fact, narcotic pain medications such as codeine (e.g., Tylenol #3), oxycodone (e.g., Percocet), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) have been known to precipitate severe constipation with fecal impaction which can be extremely uncomfortable and painful to resolve. Most doctors have to make a judgment decision with regard to the overall benefits of the medication they prescribe as opposed to the risk of side effects. Your husband's doctor may be able to prescribe alternative medications without the same side effects if, indeed, his medication is a factor in his constipation.

The most immediate natural suggestions that I would offer to you would be to make sure that your husband eats a well-balanced diet including natural fiber, drinks plenty of liquids, and exercises regularly. This physical activity does not have to be a complete exercise regimen (I doubt that your husband would feel like it anyway), but even a simple daily walk around the block -- something to get the body moving -- can make a big difference. Hold hands, talk with each other, walk at a pace at which he feels comfortable, and enjoy each other's company. He will probably grumble and complain all the way, so it will be up to you to set a positive tone until he begins to look forward to the experience. Physical movement stimulates the entire body to higher function and performance -- and does a lot for the mind, too!


Affordable Health Care

DEAR JIM: I am a single woman 58 years old with a good job. However, my company doesn't have health insurance and I can't afford it on my own. I'm in relatively good health, but I feel extremely vulnerable if anything should happen to me. Is there anything I can do to protect myself? UNINSURED IN URBANA

DEAR UNINSURED: You are not alone. According to the National Coalition on Healthcare (NCHC), almost 47 million Americans are uninsured even though the U.S. spends more money on health care than any other industrialized nation. What to do if you are one of those 47 million?

While an accident can happen to any of us, many chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression, anxiety, colon problems, and others can be discouraged or managed with regular physical activity. The Surgeon General of the United States, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Heart Association all tout the benefits of exercise in disease prevention.

It is generally recommended that you participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day. You don't have to join a gym, run a marathon, or climb a mountain. Even a simple everyday activity like walking can make all the difference in the world. The important thing is to make it an integral part of your daily life just like eating and sleeping.

As I have said many times before, exercise is not a cure-all, but it can go a long way toward maintaining our health and preventing many of the ills that might befall us. It is cheap and everyone can afford it. Not surprisingly, however, many people will not lift a finger to take care of themselves. Enroll in your own health insurance program by starting a regular exercise program today. Until you obtain coverage -- and afterwards, too -- prevention is the best medicine.

Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

Free SFA basic membership: If you aren't already a member of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA), just sign up online at www.seniorfitness.org. There are no fees or membership dues. And, we don't give out our members' personal information to others! When you join SFA, you'll receive our e-newsletter "Experience!" which will bring you older adult fitness news, research, and wellness tips.

Fitness and health professionals: You may distribute copies of Experience! to your exercise clients and patients as a free newsletter service. Copies of Experience! or excerpts therefrom must always ascribe credit to the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA). To fulfill that requirement, include the complete banner (title information at the top of each newsletter) as well as all post-newsletter notes, messages, copyright information, and the SFA logo.


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