By Martha Tempest, NBC-HWC, CLC
When is the last time you pondered what your health might look like in your senior years? For many of us, the answer is “never.” Our busy lives can keep us so focused on the present that we rarely fast forward to consider what life will be like 20, 30, 40 years from now.
When you imagine yourself at 65, what kind of lifestyle do you envision? Are you active and able to keep up with your grandchildren or does a bad back slow you down? Are you traveling during your retirement or do health problems keep you close to home?
Looking ahead can be a powerful exercise because it reminds us that the decisions we make now can have long-term repercussions. We can’t control our future, but we can certainly influence it.
So what can we do now that matters?*
Take care of your body. It’s the only one you have.
Maintain or work toward a healthy weight. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight can help decrease cholesterol levels and blood pressure. This lifestyle change can improve your joints and sleep, reduce the risk of diabetes and increase your lifespan.
Eat healthy foods. Although there are many options for healthy eating, most experts recommend eating whole foods, those “as close to their natural state as possible,” rather than processed foods. Learn to savor good foods like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats as what you eat can affect your metabolism, immune system and mood. A Mediterranean type diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains and includes less dairy and meat than the typical Western diet, is recommended by many doctors and dieticians to support good health and help prevent disease.
Tackle those “bad habits” now. This can include quitting smoking, minimizing alcohol consumption and addressing emotional eating. Bear in mind that habits are not always easy to change, and you may need help finding your inner motivation. Additionally, some habits are actually true addictions for which you should contact your medical or emotional health provider, a tobacco cessation coach or a professionally supervised support group for help.
Stay active by finding movement you enjoy. Consider joining a gym or taking a class in fitness, yoga, Pilates or spinning. You can even stay active for free by walking, swimming and dancing. Even everyday activities like gardening and housework count.
At work take the stairs, plan for wellness walks or walking meetings when possible, or perhaps work at a standing desk. When sitting at a desk, don’t forget to at least stand up and stretch every hour.
Finally, remember to vary your physical activity to include exercises for endurance, strength, flexibility and balance. Keep moving!
Drink water. Up to 60 percent of the human body is water. Staying well hydrated benefits the body in numerous ways as water is essential to the kidneys and to bodily functions. When dehydrated, the skin is more prone to potential disorders and wrinkling.
Protect your skin. Block sun damage by avoiding intense sun exposure, using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing. Avoid dry skin, reduce stress, and get enough sleep, ideally 7-8 hours a night. Talk to your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin, like a rash or mole that changes in color or size.
Sexual activity has health benefits too. Regular sexual activity has been shown to boost immunity, have a positive effect on the heart, reduce the risk of high blood pressure and even relieve head pain associated with migraine or cluster headaches in some people. In addition, various studies show sexual activity can improve sleep, relieve stress, boost self-esteem, lower men’s risk of prostate cancer and – here we go again! – increase one’s lifespan.
Learn techniques to minimize stress and stay positive.
Practice mindfulness. Remember what was said earlier about living life in the present? That’s mindfulness in a nutshell. A vast number of scientific studies have shown that mindfulness can greatly enhance wellbeing through actual brain change, more fulfilling relationships, improved health and an increased ability to live with joy. So slow down and eat a meal or snack mindfully, download a mindfulness app and listen to a guided meditation, practice yoga as little as 12 minutes a day or start a gratitude journal and train your brain to focus on the positives.
Nurture relationships. Positive social connections can strengthen your immune system, help you recover from disease faster and may extend your longevity. Take the time to invest in relationships that bring you joy. You can meet people who share similar interests by taking a class, joining a group or volunteering for an organization.
Think positively about aging. Research shows that the way we think about aging can influence how we age. Several studies from around the world show that those with a positive perception of growing older are healthier, happier, have a lower risk of dementia and even live years longer. In 2009, Yale professor Becca Levy, Ph.D, introduced the term “stereo embodiment theory” and described how cultural influences lead to internalized attitudes about aging that can have a long-term impact on health.
“We have found the risk of dementia goes up with people who have taken in more negative age stereotypes from their culture, but you also could think about it in the opposite way, that people who take in more positive age stereotypes seem to have a cognitive advantage over time,” Levy said.
In more recent studies, Levy pointed out four factors that influenced the perceptions of older adults: health, intergenerational contact, legislation and social climate. Over recent years, more research from other countries, especially Germany, is supporting Levy’s team’s findings.
Finally, be encouraged. A survey by the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics found 65 to 79 is the happiest age group for adults. So stay active, social, and curious; learn new things, embrace new experiences, and take care of your body to live life to the fullest now and into the future!
*Always consult with your physician before making changes to your diet or starting any physical exercise program.
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