THE BLOG
03/12/2014 05:48 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2014

Aging Gracefully, Inside and Out

Wrinkles, gray hairs and achy joints are just a few outward reminders of getting older. Anti-aging creams, exercise regimens and healthy diets can all contribute to "graceful aging" but even still, we inevitably grow older. And, despite our best attempts to slow the process, we don't usually need a magnifying glass to see the impact aging has on our bodies. Aside from physical signs of aging that we can see and feel, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the aging process is simultaneously taking place inside our bodies. As we age, so do our internal organs.

Day after day, week after week and year after year, our kidneys work around the clock to filter toxins and wastes from our blood. The kidneys also help the body maintain a healthy balance of salt, potassium and other minerals and chemicals, determining which ones should be excreted as urine and which ones should stay in the body. Additionally, the kidneys produce hormones that help regulate blood pressure and that have a cascade effect on other organs and processes. Over time, this workload can take its toll on the kidneys and as we age, we can lose kidney function.

Kidney disease often develops slowly with few outward symptoms, so many people don't realize they have it until the disease is advanced. Awareness, especially for those at risk, is the first step to preventing or slowing the progression of kidney disease. The next step is getting tested.

Kidney disease has been found to be more prevalent in those over the age of 60, so in honor of National Kidney Month this March and World Kidney Day on March 13, I hope you'll help me spread the message that being over the age of 60 is one of the main risk factors for developing kidney disease and kidney failure. Additionally, according to recent estimates from researchers at Johns Hopkins University, more than 50 percent of seniors over the age of 75 are believed to have kidney disease.

The National Kidney Foundation recommends that everyone over age 60, in addition to those with diabetes, high blood pressure and/or a family history of kidney failure -- other major risk factors for developing kidney disease -- have their kidney function tested annually during an annual physical. A simple urine and blood test can identify early signs of kidney disease and declining kidney function.

In addition to getting tested for kidney disease, no matter your age, you can make keeping your kidneys healthy a part of your regular routine. Next time you reach for that bottle of expensive anti-aging serum, consider these five easy and inexpensive steps you can take to help your body and kidneys age gracefully:

  1. Commit to quit smoking. You'll protect your kidneys and save money, as well. Smoking slows the blood flow to vital organs like the kidneys, causing damage. Smoking can also lead to narrowed blood vessels and hardening of the arteries throughout the body. Because the kidneys are vascular organs (with many blood vessels throughout), hardening of the arteries can cause long-term kidney damage. Diabetes and high blood pressure -- two of the leading causes of kidney disease -- are also worsened when you smoke and smoking can interfere with medications used to treat high blood pressure, making them less effective.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Not many people look forward to stepping on the scale, but making this simple step a routine habit can play a big role in keeping weight down. Research has shown that those who weigh themselves daily are more likely to make regular adjustments to their diet and exercise habits, preventing weight gain before the pounds have piled up.
  3. Control high blood pressure and diabetes. Maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels is a critical way to prevent kidney disease and slow its progression. To lower blood pressure and protect your kidneys, reduce your salt intake and beware of high sodium levels in processed foods. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, take it seriously by taking medications as prescribed and following a healthy, low-sodium diet, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
  4. Get physical! Don't underestimate the importance of exercise and incorporate at least 150 minutes of increased physical activity into your weekly routine. You can start by making small changes, like parking further from the store when running errands and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. If you team up or find a walking buddy to help hold you accountable, you'll be more likely to stick with it. It's less likely to feel like a chore if you make exercise fun by finding physical activities that you enjoy.
  5. Avoid pain meds or take them sparingly. High doses and long-term use of painkillers may harm the kidneys, even healthy ones. Pain medications should be taken exactly as prescribed or as directed on the label, at the lowest effective dose, for the shortest period of time. Speak with your health care provider and pharmacist to evaluate the risks and benefits of taking a particular medication.

For more information about protecting your kidneys, visit www.kidney.org.

Have a question about your protecting your kidneys as you age? Ask in the comments below!