The era of growing old in a rocking chair has passed, and the face of aging has become younger and more active. I have a colleague who has always told his patients that exercise is a three-legged stool of cardio, strengthening and flexibility, and more and more research is pointing towards healthy aging as following that same philosophy. According to a series of articles in the International Council on Active Aging Journal, the keys to healthy aging include exercise, relationships, spirituality and mental health.
I have encountered a range of people on the aging journey. Some have embraced it, others have begrudgingly accepted it and rest have bluntly indicated that aging is not for the weak.So if you or someone you know is further along on this aging, how does one balance the keys to enjoying and embracing this natural part of life? As with many things, in life, though they’re easier said than done.
As a personal trainer, I tend to lean toward encouraging movement and activity to ward off the downward slide of aging. I have certainly seen the benefits of exercise in my elderly clients. They may grumble about having to do it and complain about how they can’t do what they used to do, but once they embrace it and I ask them to pay attention to the little things that are changing it is amazing what they report. One client was able to go up and downstairs at church more easily. Another was able to stand taller despite life long scoliosis. Yet, another was able to stand and sing, dance during a Broadway show and stand to cut her husband’s hair on both sides without having to sit down.
As I look more into the research on healthy aging, other aspects seem just as or perhaps more important than exercise. The biggest predictor of healthy aging is developing healthy and strong relationships, not really surprising, when I stop to reflect on all the patients who to me seem to have the aging thing down. Strong and healthy relationships stave off the feeling of loneliness, functional decline and mental decline. The research also points to and emphasize that the quality of the relationship is more important than quantity.
The saddest thing that I have heard my aging clients state is that many of their friends are becoming ill, debilitated and, worst case, dying and their social circle is getting small. Couple that with the fact that many times families are spread out and add the inevitability of grandchildren growing up.
So if social relationships are important, how do we establish those throughout the aging process, research suggests staying involved by
- Reaching out
- Being open and positive
- Not fearing technology
- Joining groups (church, bookclubs, etc)
- Considering moving into a retirement community (think dorm life at different stage).
Another aspect of healthy aging centers on mental health, keeping your brain active. Just like with your body, “if you don’t use it you lose it seems to be the best mantra. According to the experts, doing crossword puzzles and word searches may not be enough. They are now saying that you need to challenge your brain beyond especially if you have no problem completing those puzzles. They are suggesting that the way in which you structure and live life effects your mental health, so throw away the recliner, tuck the remote deep into the cushion and try some of the following to sharpen the brain:
- Engage in your community
- Exercise 3 days/week for 45 minutes each day
- Take a college course you have always wanted to take
- Work/volunteer at something that requires you to perform at a standard
- Get outside.
The final leg to the stool of healthy aging is tied to mindfulness and spirituality as tools to keep focused, centered and connected. The experts make the following reminders:
- Give yourself grace to change what you can and accept what you can’t
- Don’t resist the natural process
- You may not be able to choose the circumstances but you can choose how you respond.
“My goal is to age gracefully and to maximize exercise and good eating habits. I exercise to get strong, not skinny. I want to have energy to enjoy life.”
~Pat K , a Back on Track Participant and grandmother
For information about classes that are offered specifically with the aging population in mind, please visit our Academy for Sports and Wellness Page at http://www.pt-cpr.com/academy/wellness/class-description