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October 5 – 11, 2020 is designated as Active Aging Week this year. Celebrating the benefits of active living at any age, Active Aging Week showcases the capabilities of older adults as fully participating members of society.
Initiated in 2003 by the International Council on Active Aging, this week long celebration shows that adults age 50 and over can live fully in all areas of life. Active Aging Week promotes wellness activities and exercise plus healthier, more robust lifestyles.
This initiative is dear to me as the purpose of Journey With Healthy Me is to encourage others to experience health at every age. We do not need to consider ourselves shelved when we pass that 50 year mark. As we enter this golden season, our quality of life is greatly dependent on our daily health practices and our attitudes about aging.
At age 62, I’ve discovered that health and well being are very possible during my “senior” years. In fact, I feel more healthy than I have in many years.
Take a look at these seven ways to practice active aging, in recognition of this week AND to increase quality of life and overall wellness.
It’s Never Too Late to Improve Health
Four plus years ago, I embraced a plant based lifestyle, primary for health reasons. The results were so astounding that my mother and Greg decided to join me in eating a different way.
At the time, in my late 50s, I’d experienced decades of chronic, constant inflammation and pain along with a host of other disorders. My mother also dealt with a variety of moderate to severe health issues while Greg suffered from minor to moderate ailments. We all discovered that it is never too late to improve health and wellness.
I went from using a cane and facing the prospect of requiring a wheelchair to becoming pain and inflammation free and walking unassisted. Mom and Greg experienced improvements in all of their health conditions. The lesson we learned is that changes in diet and activities bring about huge changes in the body.
Practicing active aging goes beyond exercise. It is a proactive way of living and in reality, a way of life.
Seven Ways to Practice Active Aging
Incorporate these practices into your life to create a healthier quality of life.
Engage With Others
It is important to connect frequently with others, especially as we age. Older adults who socialize enjoy better health and quality of life. Lack of connection with others can cause sleep disorders, raised blood pressure and increase the chance of premature death. Loneliness and isolation may bring on depression and anxiety. During this year of social distancing it is even more vital that older adults connect with loved ones and friends via phone calls, zoom meetings and messaging.
Eat a Nutrient Rich Diet & Maintain a Healthy Weight
People require fewer calories as they age, however, they need more nutrients. Increase those nutrients by adding more fruits and veggies to the diet. Doing so helps prevent diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
A highly nutritious diet also maintains a healthy weight which lessens the risk for disability later in life. Obesity worsens arthritis and raises the risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and sleep related breathing disorders.
As part of a healthy lifestyle, limit alcohol, processed foods and sugar (which increases inflammation). And don’t smoke. Smoking damages the lungs and increases the risks for heart disease, strokes and various forms of cancer.
Have a Positive Attitude About Aging
A Yale University study found that older adults who had positive attitudes about aging lived seven and a half years longer than those with negative attitudes. That’s a significant number of additional years to enjoy life! Rejecting negative stereotypes and beliefs, such as “As I get older, I am less useful” has a great impact on quality of life and longevity.
“Our study carries two messages,” the authors of the study said. “The discouraging one is that negative self perceptions can diminish life expectancy; the encouraging one is that positive self perceptions can prolong life expectancy.”
Older adults with positive attitudes are also 50% less likely to develop dementia.
Practice shifting negative beliefs about aging. Create positive affirmations to repeat daily such as, “I am enjoying life.” Or say “I am healthy and active.” and “I am grateful for my good health.”
If we say often enough, “I’m getting old and useless” then we believe it as truth. And the body listens to what the minds repetitively says.
According to a study shared in 2017, exercise and moving the body, for 30 minutes five days a week, reduces premature death by 25%. Choose from walking, yoga, stretching, gentle aerobics, dancing, household chores or gardening. Sports such as golf, swimming and tennis are excellent as well as long as joints are healthy and moving freely. And actively playing with grandchildren counts!
Exercise helps older adults maintain strength and mobility and lessens the risk of injuries. It also improves mood.
Get Enough Sleep
Older adults may not require as much sleep as they did when younger. However, the quality of sleep becomes important. Many seniors experience restless sleep or may wake up and find it difficult to go back to sleep. Sleep deprivation is linked to cardiovascular disease, inflammation and decreased immunity. Plus it causes fatigue.
Most experts agree that seven to nine hours of sleep is optimal. More importantly, regularly established sleep patterns are associated with longer life and greater well being.
Try creating bedtime routines that prepare the body for sleep such as limiting electronics, taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, sleeping in a dark room and lowering the thermostat.
And napping for an hour in the afternoon improves memory and the ability to think clearly, while boosting energy. Don’t feel guilty for taking a nap! Shift that attitude and think of it as a reboot for the brain and body.
Chronic stress results in higher risks for cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and decreased immune function. And stress accelerates cellular aging, creating inflammation throughout the body. Additionally, it decreases the ability to think clearly and lessens enjoyment of life.
Common causes of stress for older adults include financial strain, relationship difficulties, work related issues and care giving pressures. To reduce chronic stress improve sleep habits, exercise, eat a nutrient rich diet, meditate and try relaxation techniques. Keep a journal and use writing as a way to explore causes of stress and identify patterns. And finally, avoid people who stress you out and situations that increase anxiety. If the news creates stress, stop listening to the news.
This is my favorite active aging practice. Experiencing and learning new things stimulates the brain. And that mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. Daily learning and trying new things sharpens the mind, boosts memory and concentration and lowers the risk of dementia. Plus, in my experience, it’s a fun way to engage with life and find tremendous enjoyment.
Learn a new language, hobby or skill. Travel to places you’ve never visited before, even if it’s in your own city. Create a new recipe. Listen to a new genre of music. Truly, the possibilities for new experiences are endless.
Last year, at ages 61 and 79 respectively, my mother and I did our first ever photo shoot for a national magazine! What a fun first experience for both of us.
What Practices Will You Include?
Getting older doesn’t have to be a negative experience. These seven ways to practice active aging offer steps toward being healthy at EVERY age.
I am enjoying these beautiful years with health, energy and a passion for living life to the fullest as my most authentic self. One of my greatest joys, beyond spending time with my family, is continuing to learn and grow as I explore the world and try new experiences.
I’m not slowing down anytime soon.
Practice Active Aging with These Amazon Finds:
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.