Although some symptoms of aging are genetically predetermined, it may be a relief to know that the choices that we make can improve our health. In fact, in people 65 and older, lifestyle is a larger determinant of health than genetics. Aging well means living to old age with vitality of body and mind. Despite the advances in science and technology, many factors undermine our success, including reliance on modern conveniences, eating heavily processed foods and lack of down time, exemplified by our 24-hour news cycleMost of what our bodies need is common sense!
To optimize your chances of healthy aging,keep the following concepts in mind:
Make Sleep a Priority
Most of us need about 8 hours per night. Important functions happen within the brain and body during sleep. Sleep has stages and too many disruptions and not enough time will sabotage the process. Going to bed and awakening at about the same times every day supports our natural circadian rhythm. Without optimal sleep, making the best lifestyle choices is much more difficult.
Get Enough Exercise
We are built to move. Pain, injury, poor activity tolerance, and frailty are not always due to aging, and can be consequences of neglect. That may sound harsh, but I hope to inspire optimism that disability is not predetermined and can be prevented or at least attenuated. The key is staying active or safely working up to increased levels of activity. The best fitness comes from a variety of activities, including cardiovascular, strength training and stretching. Modifying exercise for any limitations and not overdoing it maximizes fitness and minimizes injury in the gym and in life.
Fuel Up with the Right Food
The wrong foods can be toxic. We are made up of cells that require macronutrients (healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, prebiotic fiber, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, including the omegas) to function optimally. A balanced diet with all colors of vegetables, dark leafy greens, berries, nuts and seeds accomplishes this goal. Taking a multivitamin and eating only heavily processed foods does not. Wild caught fish, grass-fed animals and dairy in moderation can be part of a good diet. Excessive sugar intake contributes to a multitude of problems contrary to healthy aging, including diabetes, inflammation, and cancer. Artificial sweeteners aren’t better for you. Also make sure to stay hydrated; water is the healthiest drink.
It can be deadly, and is often insidious. It is best to avoid it altogether, but since that is not possible, having good coping mechanisms is essential. Exercise, yoga, meditation, music, religion, asking for help, taking vacations, counseling with a therapist, life coach or clergyperson, spending time with family, and supportive friends are all examples of quality stress management. Self medicating with alcohol and tobacco are not. Try to be aware of the toxic exposures — dysfunctional relationships, unhealthy work environments, unsafe habits — in your life and remedy or reduce your exposure to them.
Happy people have better health. Try to make the most of every age and every stage of your life. Keep learning, stay involved, give back. Do what it takes to add joy, productivity and a sense of belonging to your life. If you have not had a thorough physical in a long time, or if you are experiencing any symptoms that may be affecting your quality of life, please consider making an appointment with your physician.