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Seniors, Don’t Tough Out Your Pain

Seniors, Don’t Tough Out Your Pain

As he approached his eleventh decade, the great vaudeville, radio, film and television comedian George Burns said, “I was brought up to respect my elders, so now I don't have to respect anybody.”

But until you live to such a ripe old age, it’s a good idea to respect your elders and offer them a bit of extra attention and understanding. That’s because in addition to being older and wiser, the elderly also have to contend with pain that’s more pronounced and lasts longer.

Researchers from the University of Florida tested the pain response of a group of volunteers with an average age of 21 and an older group, average age 68. They found that while both groups were exposed to similar levels of pain, in older adults levels of cytokines—immune system markers of inflammation that indicate the presence of pain—were higher and stayed elevated longer. The researchers recommend older adults should not tough it out, but treat pain early.

Our take? Whatever your age, you should do everything you can to reduce inflammation so there’s less pain later. Avoid inflammatory foods like red meats, added sugars and syrups, processed grains and trans fats. Enjoy regular physical activity (we say 10,000 steps daily, 30 minutes of resistance exercises weekly, and 20 minutes of sweat-producing exercise three times a week). Quell your stress response by meditating 10 minutes daily. As George Burns also said: “The single most important key to longevity . . . is avoiding worry, stress and tension.” He lived to be 100.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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