When I was young, in my twenties, I came down with a flu every winter, stuck in bed for a week, achy, miserable and barely lucid. By age 30, I got smarter and I was taking the vaccine every year. For me, it has always worked – except for that one year sometime in my forties, the year I forgot to get the flu shot.
For two weeks I was barely conscious, too sick to care if I lived or died. What went on during those 12 or 14 days – phone calls maybe? did I watch TV? maybe a friend dropped by? I have no idea.
When finally the fever lifted, my head cleared and I got out of bed ready to return to the world, I found on the kitchen counter two, empty, one-gallon jugs that had once held water. I had never bought bottled water in my life, not in gallon containers or any other size. But there they were.
In all the years since then, every now and then, I wonder if, in the fog of flu that year, I walked to the corner bodega and bought that water. And, since I sleep naked, if perhaps I did that without putting on clothes, in the fog of flu, and the guys at the bodega colluded with my neighbors to not embarrass me by mentioning it.
Who knows. But I've never skipped the vaccine again.
IT'S ANNUAL FLU SHOT TIME
Last week, I stopped by the pharmacy for that annual innoculation. The pharmacy has my records from years past so it took only about five minutes and cost me nothing.
In general, Medicare Part B covers the price if your physician accepts assignment. There are a couple of nuances to that you will find here.
WHO SHOULD GET THE VACCINE
This is serious business for elders.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the flu shot for everyone six months of age and older. But it is especially important for
”...anyone who is 65 years of age or older; nursing home residents; and people with serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, lung disease or HIV. Caregivers for older adults should also get vaccinated to avoid spreading the flu,” explains healthinaging.org [pdf].
WHO SHOULD NOT GET THE VACCINE
People who are allergic to eggs, have had allergic reactions to flu shots in the past, or have been diagnosed with Guillian-Barre Syndrome should not take the flu shot.
Mark you calendar today to get the flu shot. Soon. In my area, pharmacies give it without the need for an appointment. If that's not so where you live or you would rather see your physician, do arrange for it. Influenza can be deadly for old people.
EXERCISE FOR ELDERS
There have now been so many studies proving, confirming and reconfirming that exercise is the best medicine known to mankind, it cannot be questioned. Every one of us should be up and moving around as much as our physical condition allows.
The effectiveness of exercise on physical and cognitive wellbeing is so conclusive that the experts have been left for the past several years arguing not if we should, but what type, duration and intensity of exercise does the most good.
WHAT KIND OF EXERCISE?
Most experts suggest that four kinds are necessary: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. But newer studies are suggesting that for people who cannot and for elders, something as simple as brisk walking can be enough to help.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE?
For the past few years, most experts recommended that all people, including elders, need at least 150 minutes of the four kinds of exercise per week.
For people who have been sedentary for a long while or have conditions that might prevent that much work, that is a lot. But early this summer, WebMD reported on a new study that suggests that less is almost as good:
”'The biggest jump in benefit was achieved at the low level of exercise, with the medium and high levels bringing smaller increments of benefit,' said Dr. David Hupin, of the University Hospital of Saint-Etienne, France.
“The low level of exercise is equivalent to a 15-minute brisk walk each day, according to Hupin.”
You could do that even at home on rainy, cold days. Jack up the volume on some music you like and keep moving for 15 minutes. Time magazine reported further on the same study.
”...there’s growing consensus among some exercise researchers that perhaps people, especially the elderly, can still achieve improved health with less.
“'Fifteen minutes per day of moderate and vigorous physical activity could be a reasonable target dose in older adults,' the study authors conclude. Small increases in physical activity may enable some older adults to incorporate more moderate activity and thus get closer to the current recommendations. If more may be better, ‘Even a little is already good’.”
Note the last sentence of that quotation. I am seeing that again and again in my readings about exercise and old people. Even a little helps and is better than nothing.
Also, if you aim for more than that do only as much as you can. That is, don't be lazy, push yourself as far as is reasonable, but don't rush toward the goals you set.
When I first began my daily home workout routine several years ago, I could not do more than two pushups – only two - before collapsing and we're talking those girly type of pushups on my knees, not toes. I now do 50 without too much effort but it took a year to get there. Do as much as you can but not to much as to injure yourself.
Here are some online sources to help you think through an exercise program.
• CDC Basics of Exercise for Older Adults: Not quite up to date as the study I've quoted above but a good explanation of levels of exercise.
• Today's Geriatric Medicine is similar to the CDC page but more detailed.
• Physical Activity Guidelines for active older adults from health.gov.