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Managing stress helps ensure golden years shine: doctor

TORONTO — Recognize periods of high stress in life and learn to manage them, delegates were told during the Advancing Women in Agriculture conference in Toronto this month.

Dr. Marla Shapiro shared her own story facing breast cancer, the sudden death of an infant and the fatal illness of a 25-year-old daughter.

“Stop and give yourself time to act as opposed to react,” she said, citing the increased health risks from sustained levels of stress.

Shapiro suggested taking time for yourself, learning to say no, getting help from family, friends and the community, recognizing that the grief is shared with others and finding ways to move ahead in life. For her, that meant starting a foundation in her daughter’s name.

Shapiro said managing stress is one way to age well in a time when women are living longer.

Data shows women who reach age 65 are expected to live 20 more years, while men are likely to live another 17 years.

Shapiro said 60 may be the new 40, but it all depends on managing key areas.

“You can’t always control what life give us, but what we can control is what you do with it,” she said.

“Focus on yourself. Without it being a priority to you, you won’t make changes.”

Shapiro said no diet plan is better than another.

“What matters is that you stay on a diet that works for you, that will sustain your weight,” she said. “Weight is a predictor of many concerns.”

For example, she said a person’s current body mass index can be a predictor of dementia two decades later.

Estrogen offers protection from heart disease, a top killer, but dissipates with menopause and declining levels in the body. In addition, enzymes that chew up fat decline as estrogen declines.

Shapiro said it’s common to see fat gathering on the hips and migrating to the midsection.

“Fat in the centre of the body is very unfriendly,” she said. “If your waist circumference is more than 35 inches, it’s a problem.”

Don’t be a weekend warrior when it comes to exercise.

“You can’t make it all up on the weekend. That’s a good way to injure yourself,” she said. “Be more active through the whole week.”

Shapiro noted the value of fitness trackers that are now common.

“Get up and move throughout the day.”

She cited the importance of preventive screenings for cholesterol, colonoscopies and mammograms, and after 60, bone density tests.

“If I had waited till my 50th birthday for my first mammogram, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.”

Tips for aging well:

  • be active
  • eat well
  • quit smoking
  • limit drinking
  • get sufficient sleep

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