10 Tips For Aging Gracefully
(main page photo by Trocaire)
We all will live quite a long time given the advances in medical technology. But the way we age will depend on the choices we make now. We have the option of taking up a new hobby in retirement and ripping up the slopes of Lutsen or feeling out of shape, lonely, bored, and simply “old.”
How to get the most out of life as you age? Here’s my top 10 list for doing just that:
1. Maintain a healthy weight
Multiple studies on caloric restriction show that eating less calories prolongs life. Many of these projects studied populations such as the indigenous people of the Ryukyu islands who consume the Okinawa diet and have a life expectancy among the highest in the world (despite poverty and lack of access to medical care). Caloric restriction is thought to reduce insulin levels, reduce inflammation, reduce cardiovascular risk factors and improve memory.
This is sort of a no-brainer. Exercise is relevant to most of the points mentioned here. It helps to stall the aging process of muscles and bones. A little weight training goes a long way in osteoporosis prevention. One of the most common culprits in a downhill slide towards death is a hip fracture. Exercise throughout life helps improve balance. No walkers or canes for us, ladies and gentlemen! In this area with long winters, cross country skiing is a great option. It provides a stress-relieving serenity of the woods, good cardio and minimal injury risk.
3. Stay active mentally
New research shows that we can still grow new neurons, and perhaps more importantly, new connections between existing neurons, well into late adulthood. Mental clarity is a crucial part of living for most of us. Creating new neurons is actually relatively easy. Throwing your brain “for a loop” and learning something new all the time is a sure way to achieve that. It can be as simple as (if you are right handed) eating your meals with your left hand three times a week, learning how to juggle, or learning a new language.
4. Reduce inflammation
Too much inflammation speeds up aging. Therefore, behavioral choices that involve reduction of inflammation are essential. Certain diets full of antioxidant foods such as berries, mushrooms and nuts, have been shown to promote healthy aging by reducing inflammation. The so-called Mediterranean diet (olives, nuts, fresh fruits, etc) has been well studied in this respect. Interestingly, teeth flossing also appears to reduce inflammation. Stress, on the other hand, appears to increase body inflammation. Therefore, stress management is an important skill to master early on. More on stress later…
5. Get Enough sleep
Sleep is a key restorative process for our bodies, but as we age, the stages of deep sleep get shorter and sleep gets more fragmented. Get better sleep by setting an hour before bedtime to wind down — without television, facebook or loud music. Try to go to sleep around the same time every night. Turning off all the lights helps stimulate the melatonin production, which in turn turns on the body’s sleeping clock.
6. Manage Stress
Stress can age one tremendously. The stories of gray hair overnight after significant stress are true. Certainly, one cannot eliminate all the stress in one’s life but we can all learn how to respond to it in a more positive way. Relax, reflect, accept! Sometimes it is necessary to connect with a good therapist to evaluate one’s stressors and coping mechanisms in a non-threatening, impartial environment.
7. Cultivate positive emotions
Fostering positive emotions such as happiness, gratitude, forgiveness and acceptance is a key component to healthy aging. Positive living has almost nothing to do with money, power, property or prestige, and everything to do with avoiding the negativity of hostility, depression, isolation and pessimism. Laughter has been widely studied as a factor promoting human cooperation, reducing cardiac stress, reducing cortisol levels (the primary human stress hormone), increasing pain tolerance, and lowering blood sugar.
8. Stay connected
Meaningful relationships are one of the most consistent predictors of quality of life regardless of whether they are of the romantic or platonic variety. Join a book club, running group, weekly aerobics class, or even get to know your barista at the local coffee shop.
9. Engage in activities that are meaningful to you
People are much happier when they feel needed and when they give. It can be time, money, wisdom, attention... really anything with a positive attitude. If we compared ourselves to a car, meaning in life is the fuel that gets us around.
10.Connect with something beyond you
This last point relates to the whole idea of meaning of life, which is a can of worms much beyond the scope of this article. The bottom line is that our minds are wired in such a way that grappling with “meaning of life” questions comes naturally to us, and when we engage that ability, we more completely fulfill our human potential, whether it be with a spiritual relationship with a creator or the natural world. Connecting with a vast and timeless “other” is integral to our species’ expression of itself.
Ladies and gentlemen, good luck on this wonderful endeavor we call LIFE. You now have some tools to make it even better.