Aging is a natural part of life, and let’s face it, it’s better than the alternative! While we can’t stop the passage of time, we can certainly make the journey of aging a healthy and fulfilling one.
Healthy aging isn’t just about maintaining physical health; it involves nurturing your mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. As you age, you should be thinking about healthy choices and behaviors. So, let’s explore the wonderful world of aging gracefully, one step at a time.
Nurturing Your Mind: Wisdom Knows No Age
Mental well-being starts with good sleep, which improves your brain performance, mood and health. It’s harder to get good quality sleep as we age, and we often need more sleep. I’m not talking about how many hours you spend in bed. Improving your possibility of getting nurturing sleep begins with sleep hygiene. We need to pay more attention to the things that affect our sleep. Is a pet disrupting your sleep? Do you have a partner who snores? Do you snore? What’s the lighting like in your bedroom?
Folks don’t always get themselves in a pattern of being relaxed and clearing their mind, getting mentally prepared for bed. Ask yourself if you are preparing your mind for restful sleep. You should do this at least 30 minutes to one hour before bed. Is your room cool enough? Dark enough? Free of blue lights from electronics that stimulate your adrenal glands and create a negative circadian pattern?
Without good sleep practices, people often turn to sleep medicines. Once in a while someone reaches for a Tylenol or Advil PM or Prosom or some other medicine that has sleep medicine in it. Most of those who use an antihistamine, which is a central nervous depressant that can last 6 or 8 hours, you wake up a little groggy the next morning. So that’s the downside. Melatonin in small amounts can help, but there are non-medicine choices. I would rather see folks go for an evening walk and read before bed, moderate your alcohol intake. More than a glass of wine can disrupt sleep patterns.
Often, people get up in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep, and they watch TV or surf the internet. This is not good because it activates adrenal glands that produce cortisol and begins a circadian rhythm and pattern where you’re more likely to be up the next night at that time. You’re better off to lay in bed, even if it’s 20 or 30 minutes and meditate, have peaceful thoughts, count sheep or imagine yourself floating in water, laying on a beach – somewhere peaceful that allows you to relax your body and ease back into sleep.
For others, your bladder is what wakes you up. As we age, our bladder muscle tends to get less toned (like the rest of our body) and it’s harder to empty our bladder fully and completely when we urinate. So, make sure you dial back the amount of water you drink 1-2 hours before bed, and be sure you urinate before you go to bed. So that should help lessen the urge to get up. We also know that if you sleep deeper, you’re less likely to have those nerves in your bladder fire to make you want to get up and urinate. And maybe you really don’t need to urinate, it’s just become a habit. Maybe if you instead lay there and relax your body, your bladder will relax, and you can go back to sleep.
Social interactions are your mind’s superfood. I believe that as you reach retirement, it’s a good time to re-assess your relationships to identify any unhealthy ones and then shift to give adequate time to the relationships in your life that are healthy. Be honest about the people who are negatively affecting our psyche. And maybe you begin to distance yourself from relationships that bring you down and reduce your mental sense of wellness and health.
This also means cultivating your relationships with the people who are most important to you, especially your family. Now that you have the time to do it, I urge you to make it a priority to plan the next trip, the next dinner together, and actively plan to do the things you enjoy doing and find fun. Spend time with loved ones, and friends, and even make new connections. Conversations and laughter are the best mental exercises, and they’re much more enjoyable than endless reruns on TV.
Strong friendships are the key to a happy life. You should make a point of spending time with friends and family and engaging in group activities. Meaningful conversations and interactions combat feelings of loneliness and keep your mind engaged. Researchers at Brigham Young University recently discovered that people with stronger social relationships have a 50 percent greater chance of survival than those who don’t. In the Blue Zones, five longevity hotspots around the world, socializing with friends is an important part of life. Okinawans have moais, groups of people who travel through life together. Sardinians finish their days at a local bar, chatting with friends they’ve known all their lives. And Adventists potluck.
For me, I decided at some point to make more of an effort to contact and talk to an old connection more frequently. I had an old friend, my best man, and we hadn’t seen or talked very often. Now, once a month we talk and every three months or so, we drive and meet halfway to see each other. And whenever we get together, we say, “We should do this more often.” Because it’s so uplifting and brings us both joy. It’s an effort; it takes planning, and it takes time, but worth it.
Spiritual Health: Nurturing Your Inner Self
Do you have spiritual health and are you actively pursuing it? If you’re someone who is religious and it brings you joy, listen – you have the time, so make the effort to get together with a group of people, whether it’s going to church, a Bible study group or even a book club. Spend time with people with similar beliefs and values. That’s fellowship.
Spiritual health doesn’t necessarily refer to religion though. It’s about connecting with your inner self and finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Really think about your values, passions and what gives your life meaning. Knowing this can guide your decisions and bring a sense of fulfillment.
Connect with Nature. We are so lucky to live in Boca Grande, recently named America’s Best Small Beach Town by Travel and Leisure magazine. Since it’s your backyard, go ahead and spend time outdoors, appreciate the beauty of nature and feel connected to the world around you. It can uplift your spirit and provide a sense of tranquility. While you’re at it, cultivating a sense of gratitude for the present moment help foster positive emotions and enhance your overall well-being.
Physical Health: Caring for Your Body
Those same Blue Zones also teach us the importance of a healthy diet and staying active. As we age, our gut doesn’t absorb nutrients as well, so we are more likely to need supplements, you may be low in vitamin D or B. When you pass 65 or 75, you might benefit from a water-soluble senior multivitamin. They are designed to help fill the void. Not everyone needs one but for most of us, a silver vitamin can be helpful, especially when you’re traveling or not eating well.
That iron stomach you used to have isn’t what it used to be, so that second or third piece of pizza may not sit so well. We also need to be sure that meals are eaten at least three hours before bedtime. As we age, the muscles in our lower esophageal sphincter can’t squeeze as tightly, so you’re more likely to have heartburn and reflux when you lie flat in bed.
Seniors over 70 tend to lose a pound of muscle a year, so while they may have lower caloric needs, they need to be sure to get an adequate amount of protein. Plant protein is healthier than animal protein. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is key. Stay hydrated and limit processed foods and sugary snacks.
Regular physical activity has numerous benefits. It improves cardiovascular health, strengthens muscles and bones, and enhances flexibility. Activities like walking, swimming, or yoga are gentle yet effective. Get out there and maintain your muscle mass; if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Ideally, you’re doing 30 minutes of cardiopulmonary exercise five days a week. That’s the minimum. If you meet that minimum of 150 minutes a week, you will feel better, your blood pressure will be better, and your heart and lungs will be in better shape – there are clear health benefits. That 30 minutes of exercise needs to be nonstop. If you play tennis, that’s a good workout but it’s not the continuous one you need. On the days you’re not playing, go for a walk at a brisk pace where you can still comfortably talk. Or try biking or swimming – something continuous.
Flexibility becomes more important as you age because you tend to it even more than muscle mass. If you’re still running or playing tennis in your sixties and approaching your seventies, that’s great. But you have to begin to work more on flexibility and add in balance exercises. You’re less likely to fall and less likely to get injured. The risk of injury from a fall becomes a greater threat as you age. And when you get to 80, falls become the biggest threat.
Do preventative maintenance on your body. Just like an old car, there’s a higher risk that something could break as you age, and we want to catch things early and prevent more significant issues down the line. An annual exam helps us watch for changes in kidney and liver function, healthy bone marrow, healthy blood count, healthy heart, lungs and eyes.
It’s also a chance for patients to bring up any aches or pains they are noticing that might not be a big deal, just a normal part of aging. Or they may be downplaying a symptom that is suggestive of something serious. The annual visit is a good chance for you to describe new symptoms that are new since your last visit and talk about whether or not these are issues.
Live your best life
Film star Bette Davis was quoted as saying, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” It requires a willingness to confront the inevitable challenges of advancing years. In the end, healthy aging is an all-inclusive journey. Your mind, body and spirit are interconnected, each supporting the other. So, I say – embrace the adventure of growing older and celebrate your achievements.
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