Getting older - it's not for wimps! Yes, getting older brings plenty of challenges but who hasn't endured plenty of challenges up to this point? Life is not easy at any age and we are continually faced with problems, setbacks, and difficulties. But we handle them; sometimes not well and sometimes we glide right over any hurdle life throws at us like it was a mere blip in the day.
Healthy Aging encompasses many factors, all of which are interrelated and interdependent. Our bodies and minds change and we need to define a new "normal". Our new normal, however, does not mean we sit back and let the years wear us down. Instead, it means we need to create and live a life that brings us happiness, fulfillment, and gratification.
Part of my new "normal" is weighing the risk/benefit ratio of some activities I once enjoyed. I stopped playing competitive softball many years ago after witnessing many women my age injuring their knees, backs, and shoulders. Sure, I could have kept playing and telling myself not to slide into base, but I know years and years of training and practice would have me instinctively slide on a close play.
Was it hard to give up softball? Yes and no. The hard part was letting go of getting together every week, competing, and celebrating after the game. The easy part was transitioning into new activities that bring less risk, but are just as rewarding. I have been able to practice yoga more often, bike more often, and spend time trying new things such as dragon boating and paddle boarding. As nearly 30 years of playing softball came to an end, an adventure in new pursuits began.
Healthy aging requires change, adjustments, and modifications that are appropriate for you. Aren't those all things we have had to do throughout life? Change is inevitable; it's how you deal with it that will determine how you age.
I have found in my work with "older" adults (never sure really what "older" means, but here I mean people older than me) that there are a few important and definable factors that contribute to a life well-lived. These include Preventative Care and Disease Management, Exercise, Proper Nutrition, Stress Management, Personal Safety, Continued Learning, Maintenance of Close Relationships, and Defining your Sense of Purpose.
A regular check-up with your physician, as well as appropriate medical tests and screenings, can uncover potential health problems that may arise. A colonoscopy can detect precancerous polyps, which can be safely removed before cancer develops. A blood test can determine nutrient deficiencies and produces information to be analyzed as markers of disease risk. A full blood work up including chemistry panel and complete blood count provides a quick overview of your health and provides important diagnostic information to your doctor. The CBC reveals various information about platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells, while the chemistry panel is used to determine cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels.
With this information, you can determine any action you may need to take to prevent or manage a disease. Maybe you learn you are anemic, which may explain the fatigue and weakness you have been experiencing. Treatment may be as simple as supplementing with iron, which could quickly improve your energy level. Most with mild anemia don't even realize they have it until it is discovered through a blood test. Left untreated, anemia can cause an irregular heartbeat, which could eventually contribute to heart failure. A simple blood test could prevent such long-term complications.
Without a proper snapshot of what is going on inside of your body, how can you decide how to best proceed to be the healthiest you! Use the information to take definitive steps to improve your health and quality of life.
Unless you live in a bubble, I am sure you have heard the importance of exercise is for overall health. But, are you doing it? The sad fact is that over 2/3 of the adult population fails to meet the basic exercise guidelines for health maintenance. Don't be part of that statistic. Exercise improves strength, cardiorespiratory endurance, balance, flexibility, and offers enormous benefits in the management and/or prevention of many chronic diseases. Though it sounds counterintuitive, exercise is also one of the best non-medical interventions for pain management.
Beginning an exercise program is not difficult. Start with what you know. Walking is a good choice. In fact, if you aren't currently exercising, a consistent walking program can do wonders to increase your overall fitness level and will help you develop a consistent exercise schedule. Once you are walking regularly and sticking to it, you should add a strength training program.
There is no need to add high intensity intervals, Cross Fit style workouts, or high impact circuit training until you have established a consistent schedule that you will actually follow and have developed a level of fitness that allows you to exercise continually for 30 minutes. There are plenty of introductory workouts to follow if you search, but if you would like a program individualized to your needs and lifestyle, consider investing in a Personal Trainer.
After a thorough Fitness Assessment and Health Evaluation, a Personal Trainer can develop a safe and efficient program for you to follow to reach your goals. Not sure if personal training is right for you? Feel free to contact me for more information.
There is a saying among many in the fitness community that good health is 30% workout, 70% diet; meaning that no matter how good your exercise program is, what you eat is even more important. Spending hours exercising every week won't offer tremendous health benefits if you follow your workout with a burger and fries.
Following a diet, purchasing "shakes" and meal replacements, or prescribing to a certain way of eating (ie gluten-free, unless you need to) generally do not work for most people. What?? You know someone who followed XYZ diet and lost a ton of weight and is feeling better than ever? I know - they work for a few people, but when you consider the fact that as the "diet" industry continues to expand so do our waistlines and health issues, you might begin to understand that the diet industry is all about making money. Really, isn't that the objective of most companies and industries?
So, no, I am not berating these companies, just pointing out that their bottom line is to make money from you - meaning more products, more subscriptions, more programs. If you lose weight and achieve your goal, you may not need those products, subscriptions or programs any longer, so they lose a customer and they lose money. A big conspiracy? Some say so. Conspiracy-theory aside, these companies are thriving because we keep purchasing from them. Unfortunately, most of the money spent has produced little or no lasting results.
Healthy eating need not be difficult. Incorporate plenty of vegetables, some lean sources of protein, healthy fats, fruits, and whole grains while avoiding/reducing added sugars, sodium, chemicals, and processed foods. Many people tend to overthink their eating pattern and become so overwhelmed they just stick to what they are doing. Or they spend a bunch of time researching the "best" diet while they continue relying on the drive-thru for their meals.
Keep it simple - choose fruit instead of processed pastries. Have grilled chicken rather than deep fried chicken fingers, oven roasted vegetables instead of fries, and sparkling water with a lemon twist instead of a large cola. Keep some nuts and seeds in the refrigerator for a crunchy snack (not too many though, they are high in calories).
Learn how to plan and prep your meals and fill your pantry with healthy staples. Learn to use herbs and spices to add flavors to your meals. Choose foods such as blueberries, salmon, and broccoli that offer many health benefits rather than candy, hotdogs, and onion rings that only contribute to poor health. It's your body, fuel it well and it will function and feel so much better.
Unmanaged stress can lead to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Though we cannot always reduce the stress in our lives, we can take steps to better manage it. The death of a close friend or loved one is something you cannot change, but you can learn effective ways to deal with the grief that you feel. Maybe a support group could help as you talk with others dealing with a similar situation. Or maybe you need some time to yourself to reflect and learn to live with your loss. Deep breathing techniques, meditation, and yoga can be effective ways to improve your mood and bring perspective to your situation.
Stress management is not about avoidance, but about learning techniques to help you best manage your stress. Of course you must face and acknowledge your feelings, but you must also learn to continue to live a positive, healthy life even when faced with unpleasant experiences. Explore some various techniques and find what works for you.
I have a variety of techniques to fall back on when I am feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes I need action - so I jump on my bike and go for a long ride or take a challenging fitness class. Other times I find I need some quiet time and will write in my journal, read, or spend some time in my favorite yoga pose - legs up the wall pose. I turn on some soothing music, close my eyes, and let my body just sink into the floor.
Healthy aging does not mean you will avoid all of the changes that occur as we age. What it does mean is that you will maintain a quality of life that will be active, engaging, and fulfilling.
Better Health, Better Life, Better You!
Check back for Part II