Diet and exercise are oft-touted requirements in the effort to lead a healthy life, and for good reason. But the mind-body connection deserves attention as well. Keep your mind at ease, because UAB News You Can Use has you covered. From beating the blues, to healthy ways to decompress, we’ll feature expert tips to benefit mental health. And when it comes to your body – what do you need to know to keep it healthy through the years? We’ve got answers this month, so check back each week for the latest.
For many men and women older than 30, the fun of birthdays fades with aging, but experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham offer advice on how to slow aging and boost self-esteem.
“Photoaging — or the changes induced by chronic UVA and UVB exposure — is responsible for accelerating the skin’s aging process,” said Marian Northington, M.D., director of UAB Cosmetic Dermatology.
“Daily incidental sun exposures — running out to the car, going to the mailbox and exercising —add up and result in wrinkles, sun spots and potentially cancerous lesions,” Northington said. “The No. 1 way people can prevent photoaging is wearing a 30-plus SPF sunscreen — one that contains zinc oxide — every day.”
While “Have you had your flu shot?” is a common question this time of year, experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say there are other vaccinations that are important, including a pneumonia shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 62.3 percent of adults 65 years and older have never received a pneumococcal vaccination. UAB Family Nurse Practitioner Program Manager D’Ann Somerall says that statistic needs to be much lower.
“Pneumonia can be devastating to older adults, especially those with co-morbidities,” said Somerall, a UAB School of Nursing educator and a nurse practitioner at the UAB School of Nursing Foundry Clinic in Bessemer, Ala. “Generally what happens when older adults get pneumonia is that it doesn’t clear for months. It can lead to immobility, primarily because they can’t breathe well.”
For a smoker 65 or older who is already compromised with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or has bronchitis or asthma, the risks a pneumonia infection can bring could be shattering.
“When people with those conditions get pneumonia, it’s so debilitating to them that we often are not able to get them well,” Somerall said.
Whether it is simply waking up on the wrong side of the bed or a bad week at work, many situations may trigger an onset of the blues. One University of Alabama at Birmingham mental health expert says feeling down is a form of depression and should be addressed.
“I think depression is a spectrum, and full-on depression is when you experience things like impaired appetite, disrupted sleep, lack of concentration and ruminative thoughts,” said Diane Tucker, Ph.D., professor of psychology. “Feelings of discouragement or the blues are on that continuum, and I think it is important to be attentive to those feelings.”
Tucker said when one is down in the dumps, he or she should look at his or her “life equation”: how time is being spent and what is being done to help nourish self-worth.
“When people feel down, they’re less likely to be doing things that help them feel centered and personally efficacious,” Tucker said. “One of the first steps to feel better is to reach out to your network of good friends or social contacts. They can help provide a validation of the strongest parts of oneself.”
The dizzying pace of work, tending to kids, juggling schedules and threats of government collapse can stress even the most composed people, and stress itself becomes a problem.
“Stress can have many negative effects on the body, such as fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, insomnia, weight loss or gain, muscle tension, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure,” said Jane Roy, Ph.D., associate professor of human studies in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education. “You need to find an activity that helps reduce your stress.”
Roy and her human studies colleagues, Larrell Wilkinson, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Retta Evans, Ph.D., associate professor, put heads together to share stress-management tips:
Get moving: All three experts agree that movement is a great, natural way to de-stress.
“A single bout of aerobic exercise appears to affect a particular neurotransmitter that has an antidepressant-like effect in the brain, and the increase in blood flow to the working muscles causes a decrease in muscle tension,” said Roy, who plays tennis to distress.