LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates Smart Behavior

A Fortieth Celebration

After a recent reunion with some health professionals I've known for more than forty years it seemed appropriate to merge aspects of our conversation with another celebration-the 40th anniversary of the community in which I live.

Perhaps it's because we are well into our 7th or 8th decade of life that my friends and I adamantly affirmed that it is a myth that to be aging in America is to be sick and frail. In fact, it is individual choices and behaviors attained through a focused effort, combined with a positive attitude, that determines how well we age.

Opinions varied on what successful aging meant to each of us. One believed it's important that we arrive at a certain age with no physical or mental impairments while another argued it was a matter of merely staying alive until our ninth or tenth decade of life. Another reasoned that though genetics and inheritance need to be considered when it comes to longevity, it's lifestyle choices that play a huge role in whether someone will, or will not, develop a debilitating life-changing disease. In other words, what someone does and doesn't do with his/her body triggers aging faster. My doctor friend, a medical oncologist, said that thirty years ago her eldest patients were in their 70's. Ten years later there were more patients in their 80's. Now it's not uncommon to see women and men in their 90's who are strong enough to be candidates for aggressive surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy to treat cancer. I added my own strongly held belief that it's never too late to lower the risk for premature death and disability. In short, we need, daily, to actively intervene to change the course of what some believe to be inevitable. That is best done by maintaining a positive attitude, remaining physically active, eating well, and working with available resources to forge our health future.

Ultimately we agreed that older adults tend to flourish when they maintain the highest possible physical and mental function. At first glance, this seems a classic paradox: people who age well are those who maintain high function, and those who maintain high function are those who age well. Older adults do best if they believe in their ability to learn, to stay in the mainstream of life--to persevere by adapting rather than quitting when challenges come their way.

Consider these options for ways you can age successfully.

  1. Use it or lose it. As with any skill or capability we have learned our mental and social abilities deteriorate if not challenged.
  2. Keep moving. Physical activity is the closest thing we know to a fountain of youth. Staying active-even just 30 minutes of walking most days-can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, depression and even dementia. Endurance activities (walking, cycling, dancing, swimming), flexibility and balance activities (stretching, yoga, tai chi) and strength training (just a few pushups, sit-ups, use of weights twice a week) work wonders to keep us independent.
  3. Challenge our mind. Our brain continues to build neural pathways throughout life-if we use it. Conversations with friend, word games, learning a language and singing help keep us mentally sharp.
  4. Stay connected. We are social creatures who need human interaction to thrive. Cherish family and friends, rebuild neglected friendships, join one of Leisure World's many activities and stay open to meeting new people.
  5. Never act your age. When we follow our hearts rather than the obsolete expectations of aging, we can stay colorful, creative and engaged in life.
  6. Beware of threats. Most of us have some risk for certain disease or conditions. Don't neglect annual exams, keep immunizations up to date, and take advantage of screens for cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.
  7. Eat for the long haul. Like sophisticated machines our bodies must have proper fuel to function. Drink water and eat a diet that's lower in fat and added sugar, higher in fiber, balanced, varied, and provide sufficient calories. Avoid dieting and the nutrition fads that come and go.
  8. Don't neglect opportunities to spend time with younger people. Try mentoring, storytelling at schools or libraries or volunteer for organizations that work for the benefit of children.
  9. Be needed. There are many opportunities to work for the betterment of those who are less fortunate. Social research reveals that activity that allows us to help others gives the payback of better mental health for ourselves. This includes tending plants and caring for pets to keep us engaged in life.
  10. Laugh. Humor makes our life journey more pleasant for us and for those around us. Humor is the mainstay of life. It allows us to bear discomfort, fear and loss, and still go on; it even stimulates the immune system. The most common trait seen in people who age to 100 is a sense of humor and optimism.

We human beings are amazing creatures. When we are physically and mentally fit, spiritually focused, psychologically intact and emotionally supported we can continue to live long and well.

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LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates
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